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Global Detroit: ProsperUS turns vision into neighborhood action

ProsperUS coming to Detroit's Northend
ProsperUS coming to Detroit's Northend
Seventy new minority-owned businesses in Detroit’s low-income neighborhoods and $10 million a year into Southeast Michigan’s economy. That's the aim of ProsperUS Detroit, the latest initiative from Global Detroit, in collaboration with Southwest Housing Solutions and several community partners, that offers a new solution to revitalize Southeast Michigan’s economy, and with less than a month until ProsperUS Detroit launches in three Detroit neighborhoods, there is much cause for excitement.

When asked what most excites Kimberly Faison about the launch, ProsperUS’s director of entrepreneurial relations says, "I am looking forward to meeting all the participants." Prior to joining ProsperUS, Faison worked with the Woodward Corridor Initiative in real estate and business development and has over 10 years of experience in community development. 

As the director of ProsperUS, Faison will oversee 600 aspiring entrepreneurs from all around the city, as well as the trainers and lenders working in conjunction with the program to put the participants’ visions into action. ProsperUS participants will have access to 12 classroom sessions and 10 hours of one-on-one training, during which time they will develop a business plan for their proposed venture. At the end of the program, the graduates can apply for a character-based, rather than credit-based, loan to put towards their businesses. 

Faison points out that ProsperUS’s model is a place-based community development strategy, in addition to one that empowers the budding entrepreneurs it targets. ProsperUS differs from other entrepreneurial-training programs in that the organizers have given specific attention to creating classrooms where the teachers reflect the backgrounds of the students. In addition, ProsperUS gives careful attention to the specific needs of the communities in which it holds trainings. 

In its first year, ProsperUS will conduct trainings in three Detroit neighborhoods--Cody Rouge, North End, and Southwest Detroit--which are, respectively, predominantly Arab-American, African-American, and Hispanic/Latino. The program hopes to branch out to other low-income and immigrant neighborhoods and populations including Hamtramck and Seven Mile Road east of Woodward Avenue.

ProsperUS Detroit’s place-based approach to community development works from the principle that every neighborhood has within it the talent and potential to revitalize itself and its economy. ProsperUS is modeled after the Neighborhood Development Center (NDC) which launched in Minneapolis/St. Paul in 1993 and proved highly successful in revitalizing low-income neighborhoods. 

"It's about taking the human assets that we have and really developing them to a higher level and for those assets to remain in the community," says Faison. "A lot of times when we see people are not contributing positively to their neighborhoods...that's just from being disconnected from possibilities and resources." ProsperUS aims to connect the dots, providing resources and removing barriers for those who wish and carry the potential to make greater contributions to the culture and economy of Detroit. 

Funded by a three-year, $2.1 million grant from the Kellogg Foundation and a one-year, $335,000 grant from the New Economy Initiative (NEI), ProsperUS Detroit is Global Detroit’s most well-funded program. ProsperUS will hold 27 workshops conducted by established community partners and provide $650,000 in microloans as well as ongoing support and assistance to guide graduates of the program and their businesses. The expected 70 businesses sparked by ProsperUS will employ 300 individuals, with an annual payroll of $3.6 million, and bring in a projected $10 million annually to Southeast Michigan’s economy.

But Faison iterates that the numbers are not the most important part of the ProsperUS Detroit equation. "Our goal is to make (the participants) a lot more competitive in the world, even if they decide not to open a business. It’s not just about counting the number of businesses," he says. "But also about the number of lives improved. My vision is that we will see a lot more leaders growing from the inside-out."

Beyond the individual development of participants within the program, Faison says that the success of these aspiring entrepreneurs and their communities holds greater opportunity for Detroit and all of its residents as a whole. "We are connected. Our cities. Our economies. Our roadways. Our waterways. It’s all connected, and you can choose the level of the experience that you have," he says. "We’re growing the human capital in a whole different way and building leadership skills that will positively impact the community."

With all the excitement over the potential of the ProsperUS Detroit initiative and what it could bring to the city, Faison remains most excited for the factors we cannot predict--who will sit in the ProsperUS classrooms, what will their ideas be, how will their visions transform over the course of the program, and how will they unleash their visions into their communities and their city. 

"I am looking forward to meeting all of our participants," Faison says, "and for them to know that this is a program where their ideas are valued and that they are community assets."

ProsperUS Detroit’s first classes are scheduled to begin the week of Sept. 24.

If you are interested in learning more about ProsperUS Detroit, contact Kim Faison at kfaison@swsol.org. To learn more about Global Detroit and how internationalization is revitalizing southeast Michigan’s economy, visit www.globaldetroit.com.

Ajooni Sethi is the Global Detroit Communications Intern.
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