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Economic Inclusion Must Top Priority List

From The Detroit News

By Sandy Baruah and Mark Davidoff

Oct. 29, 2015

The national discussion on racial and economic equity that has grown in intensity over the last year resonates with leaders in Detroit, the region and our state. As a new era of economic growth is defined, we should consider also addressing the breadth of economic opportunity in a unified manner, causing economic inclusion to run parallel to economic development atop the list of regional priorities.

Economic inclusivity could multiply the impact of Detroit’s momentum. Investments being made in the city, and across our state, will likely inure greater returns if the opportunity is shared. Leadership from business, political and philanthropic circles, and the community can have a role in setting the tone for this commitment.

The road to addressing such a complex issue as economic equity must start with difficult, honest and continuing conversations. We all can and should consider Detroit “Our City,” from longtime residents who epitomize the spirit and resiliency of Detroit, to motivated Millennials working in and now living in the city, to invested employers proud to do business south of Eight Mile, to the suburbanites flocking to enjoy all that is great about Detroit. They perceive Detroit through their own lens, but they consider Detroit theirs.

Key to Detroit achieving a unified recovery is ensuring that “Our City” includes the broadest possible meaning – with all parties engaged. There is a great foundation for elevating this agenda given the recent partnerships evidenced between the public and private sectors and the unprecedented political alignment between Lansing and Detroit under the leadership of Governor Rick Snyder and Mayor Mike Duggan.

The Detroit business community recognizes the significance of its role. As important, it realizes there has to be an intentional effort to extend opportunity to all corners of the city. That recognition was evidenced during the poignant town hall discussion at this year’s Mackinac Policy Conference, where business and philanthropic leaders discussed how to bring together what could otherwise be “Two Detroits.” We also saw it this past summer when Mayor Duggan’s Grow Detroit’s Young Talent program exceeded its goal of providing 5,000 young Detroiters summer jobs through activating businesses based throughout the region in making a commitment to this program’s success.

Currently, work continues on the Detroit Regional Chamber’s 2015 Mackinac “To-Do List” to increase financial literacy in Detroit’s neighborhoods and narrow the opportunity gap by promoting entrepreneurship and micro-lending. The Chamber is partnering with the John Hope Bryant’s nonprofit Operation Hope and the city of Detroit to recruit businesses to host additional Hope Inside Centers, like the one that opened this April at the Northwest Activities Center with sponsorship from Fifth Third Bank. These centers can transform communities by empowering residents to manage their personal finances by improving their credit scores, turning renters into owners and dreamers into entrepreneurs.

Although there are encouraging signs, these are just the early steps in what will likely be a long journey. Helping Detroit realize its ultimate recovery may require a sustained effort, more candid conversations and an engaged business community focused equally on economic development and economic inclusion. We have an opportunity to be a light for the nation on what a true recovery really means.

Mark Davidoff is Michigan Managing Partner of Deloitte and Chair of the Detroit Regional Chamber Board of Directors. Sandy Baruah is president and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber.