Ten years ago, when Global Detroit was just getting started, Steve Tobocman recalls a lack of infrastructure and support for immigrant-led businesses. Now the region is known as a “national leader for immigrant inclusion, particularly around the economy.”
“The entire ecosystem of small business supports in Detroit in the last decade has really transformed. There's a lot more support of microenterprise and small businesses. And the inclusion of immigrants is also transformational,” says the executive director of the nonprofit that develops and leads programs centered on global talent, entrepreneurship, and neighborhoods.
“We're really proud of what we've helped build in our region in the last 10 years,” he says. In the past decade, Global Detroit has “invested our time as an organization in being a trusted connector,” both to groups like the New Economy Initiative, which supports small businesses, and nonprofits as well as within communities.
This year, Global Detroit was set to celebrate its 10th anniversary by marking some of the progress it’s made in helping build a more inclusive economy since releasing its first study documenting immigrants’ economic contributions to the region, but amid the pandemic, the organization has “moved from helping grow businesses in a growing economy and helping them get access to resources ... to emergency COVID response,” Tobocman says.
“Right now we are very much involved in the front lines of responding to the coronavirus issue and the dollars that we raise are really going to help us connect immigrant small business owners and residents and families to the resources they need,” Tobocman says.
Global Detroit has launched a crowdfunding campaign with the goal to raise $10,000 by July 31. The organization has seen about a 25% drop in revenue loss as a result of the pandemic. Global Detroit also relies on corporate support, grants from foundations, and fee-for-service contracts for its funding, so the smaller donor campaign combined with the larger-scale funding sources are critical pieces of its operating budget.
As part of its COVID-19 response, Global Detroit launched a resources page — with many of the fact sheets translated into Arabic, Bangla, Chinese, and Spanish — that covers topics from health and housing to small business support. Some of the top concerns the organization heard from the communities they serve ranged from how to get a test without a primary care physician to understanding stimulus payments to how to reopen businesses safely.
The campaign comes at a time when Detroit is still grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic and President Trump’s latest immigration policies, including last week's announcement to block the entry of skilled foreign workers (H-1B visas) as well as L-1 visas for workers being transferred within a company, both of which have significant implications for the region, which is home to the automakers and global companies.
Those policy measures “are going to really hit the business community pretty hard,” Tobocman says. Recovery in the immigrant community is important for the region’s recovery as a whole, and the recent moves by the Trump administration put that at risk, he says.
“These are critical jobs, hard to fill, specialized skill [jobs] that really help us become a destination point for global industries like automotive design and manufacturing and create additional jobs around that. And so, I fear that this will mean a loss of thousands of jobs beyond anything with the coronavirus.”