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Community extends a hand to the Detroit Regional Chamber

The Arab American News

July 28, 2016

According to Detroit Regional Chamber President Sandy Baruah, the Chamber’s number one job is to attract capital, talent and business investment into the 11 counties in southeast Michigan.

“Through our efforts and other partners we work with at the state and local level, we are marketing southeast Michigan to the domestic and international communities,” Baruah said.

The AANews Publisher Osama Siblani hosted an event with Baruah and community members at Byblos Banquets on Tuesday, July 26. Those in attendance included Dearborn School Board Trustees Mariam Bazzi and Fadwa Hammoud, 19th District Court Judge Candidate Abbie Bazzi, 19th District Court Magistrate Helal Farhat, City Councilman Mike Sareini, Dearborn Heights City Councilman Dave Abdallah, Garden City Hospital President Saju George, Wayne County  Deputy Chief Mike Jaafar, among other local business owners, lawyers, pharmacists and law enforcement officials.

The Detroit Regional Chamber is one of the region’s oldest and largest chambers of commerce in the country, having served the business community for more than 100 years. With 81 employees, the Chamber is dedicated to powering the economy of southeast Michigan and carrying out its mission through economic development, education reform, regional collaboration and providing valuable benefits to members.

The local leaders used the meet and greet with Baruah to address issues of concern to local businesses, ranging from education to evolving laws on operating a hookah lounge.

Siblani told Baruah that Arab involvement with the Chamber has been minimal and that the community could prosper from the organization’s assistance.

“We wanted to plug the Chamber into our community and see how we can benefit from it,” Siblani said. “The Chamber has an influence and the guidelines to a final destination with the state and county.”

Baruah told the community that participation from ethnic groups and immigrants was a necessity to the Chamber, as it aims to place Southeast Michigan on the map as a business and economic hot-spot.

He noted that the organization remains bi-partisan, even as it works closely with state officials.

“The policy work that we do is primarily, but not exclusively, at the state level,” Baruah said. “We have a full-time lobby shop in Lansing and a full-time staff at Lansing that is devoted to supporting a broad business-friendly agenda. And I’m happy to say that the lobby shop has been voted the second most effective lobby shop in the state.”

Baruah also discussed measures the Chamber has been taking with Gov. Snyder to provide educational reform to Detroit residents.

The Chamber is spearheading two scholarship programs in Detroit that offer two years of community college and a potential four-year college degree at no cost. The Chamber is looking to expand the program to neighboring cities.

Baruah said the national average per region of adults with a higher degree stands at 60 percent, but in the Southeast Michigan region, it is only at 37 percent.

“It has been a collaborative effort with the governor,” Baruah said. “One of our critical goals is increasing the number of percentage of adults with some sort of higher degree or advanced skill certificate…we need to have the talent to fill the jobs.”

Community members took an opportunity to inform Baruah of the evolving laws on operating a hookah lounge, which started at the state level and trickled down to local ordinances.

In recent years, hookah lounge owners have spent thousands remodeling their establishments to meet state standards, which do not allow food to be served in the same setting as the hookah smoking areas.

Although the law was passed, it was never enforced by either the county or the state, which resulted in many establishments disregarding the rules. This forced local municipalities such as Dearborn to step in and create their own ordinances.

The state law caused a great deal of confusion and led to a decline in revenue for many local businesses, because customers preferred to eat and smoke hookah at the same time.

“You make an investment and in the middle of the game they change the rules,” Siblani said. “And that is not fair. We have so many people who own lounges. When you see how this industry has been dealt with on the city level and on the state level, it doesn’t make sense.”

Councilman Sareini further elaborated on the unnecessary obstacles to which hookah lounge owners are subjected.

“It’s the worst thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” he said. “Business owners come to us and say, ‘I’m losing business because I did what the law said.’ A customer says, ‘Well, I want to eat and smoke at the same time.’ So they go to another business that’s not abiding by the law.”

Baruah said he was not familiar with the hookah restrictions until local community members brought it to his attention. He offered suggestions on how to change the law, suggesting a task force be created to draft a new legislation and to lobby Gov. Snyder’s administration for approval.

“It sounds like it has the unintended impact of looking very discriminatory,” Baruah said of the current law. “[A change] sounds like something we can support. If the governor green lights it and says okay, then that’s an easy call for us. If it’s not something he’s approving of, then I have to work the system.”

Local leaders said they plan on organizing a task force and coordinating with Baruah.

To learn more about the Detroit Regional Chamber visit:

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