- Michigan must shift public spending away from punitive systems towards more innovative and collaborative approaches that will beget thriving communities.
- “The next Fortune 500 company is already here. The idea is with someone in our ecosystem – within our region,”
- “Cities aren’t designed to do everything.”
Advancing Criminal Justice Reform and Economic Development With Public-Private PartnershipsJune 1, 2023
Leaders from the New Economy Initiative, Michigan Justice Fund, and Joe Louis Greenway Partnership highlight successful public-private partnerships in economic and community development, and the potential to support criminal legal reform while discussing the challenges and best practices for developing and implementing such partnerships. Gathered in the discussion were:
- Ashley Carter, Director, Michigan Justice Fund, Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan
- Wafa Dinaro, Executive Director, New Economy Initiative (NEI)
- Leona Medley, Executive Director, Joe Louis Greenway
- and moderators Melanca Clark, President and Chief Executive Officer, Hudson-Webber Foundation
- and Ric DeVore, President, Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan
Dinaro shared that the New Economy Initiative (NEI) was born in response to the adage, “When the U.S. gets a cold, Michigan gets the flu.” Through pooling philanthropic funds, NEI works to make the economy more resilient and diversify the industry in Southeast Michigan, with a focus on entrepreneurs and micro businesses. “Detroit has been on the forefront of entrepreneurship support and doing this work,” with the initiative evolving to become a national model. 50% of Michigan employees are employed at small businesses, so it is critical that they receive resources to help them grow. “The next Fortune 500 company is already here. The idea is with someone in our ecosystem – within our region,” she predicted.
Led by Carter, the Michigan Justice Fund is an initiative of the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan that addresses the issue of mass incarceration across the state. It does this by supporting the economic mobility of directly impacted people, reducing the state’s reliance on incarceration, and supporting advocacy and movement work. With Michigan ranking as 10th in the U.S. for most people incarcerated by population, their goal is to “shift public spending away from punitive systems that we know don’t deliver the results we’re looking for, towards more innovative and collaborative approaches that will lead us to more thriving communities which are going to be our answers to public safety.”
The new Joe Louis Greenway is a 27-mile-long pathway that connects Detroit’s most challenged neighborhoods to the beauty of the riverfront. The Partnership, headed by Medley, acts as a steward to the stakeholders and provides programming and services. Medley would like to see the Greenway become an attraction in our Region such that “not only are we driving up to Mackinac, but people from Mackinac are driving to Detroit to experience the Greenway and our communities in such a way that highlights the neighborhoods and businesses in their best way.”
These seemingly unrelated organizations and initiatives work together in partnership in surprising ways. For example, Dinaro said because entrepreneurship has a low barrier to entry, NEI can step in to provide opportunities for returning citizens and insert them into the entrepreneurial pipeline. Building on this, Carter suggested investment in career training for formerly incarcerated people as an obvious solution to Michigan’s workforce shortage. Additionally, Dinaro said that residents of the neighborhoods along the Joe Louis Greenway should be included in the development of their communities and have a voice when it comes to what the business landscape looks like as things change around them.
Medley emphasized that “cities aren’t designed to do everything.” Partnerships bring in stakeholders that are able to invest in large-scale projects that can support lifetime positive results for residents. When met with a question about the value of green spaces for residents, Medley explained that years of disinvestment in Detroit convinced residents that parks aren’t for them, but for tourists to enjoy. The city needs a psychological shift because although Detroit is the Motor City, “the motor is not the car, it’s the people.” She concluded, “I don’t subscribe to who we are not, I subscribe to who we are. You can’t tell me who Detroit can’t be.”
This Mackinac Policy Conference session was hosted by Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan.