Global Detroit: ProsperUS sparks microenterprise in three Detroit communities

“New immigrants have been the lifeblood of American cities for our entire history,” said former state representative and majority floor leader Steve Tobocman. “A resurgence in American immigration rates in the last 20 years has reversed decades of population decline in many of the Midwest’s and Northeast’s largest cities (e.g. Boston, New York, Chicago). Low-cost housing and commercial retail space present exciting opportunities for immigrant families and ethnic enclaves to invest in vacant areas; and resurgent, immigrant-led retail districts spark new life into entire neighborhoods. Pockets of immigrant-led growth present some of Metro Detroit’s most exciting neighborhood success stories." 

Tobocman’s 2010 Global Detroit report on the impact of immigrants on the economy suggested that one way to encourage this trend was with the development of employment and entrepreneurial programs that can maximize the contributions of refugees, asylees, and other low-income, grassroots entrepreneurs.

With the help of a recent $2.1 million three-year grant from the Kellogg Foundation, as well as a one-year $335,000 grant from the New Economy Initiative for Southeast Michigan, Global Detroit’s recommendation is becoming a reality. Partnering with Southwest Housing Solutions, Global Detroit is developing a collaborative that will provide training, technical assistance, and microloans to grassroots entrepreneurs. 

ProsperUS Detroit is a place-based entrepreneur training and micro-lending program to help foster the creation of businesses in three of Detroit’s neighborhoods: Cody-Rouge on the northwest side of Detroit, Detroit’s north end, and southwest Detroit. ProsperUS partners with community-based organizations to find untapped talent within their own neighborhoods, host trainings within these neighborhoods, and connect low-income immigrant and minority entrepreneurs with character-based lending. 

ProsperUS staff will work closely with senior leadership at Southwest Housing Solutions and with carefully selected community partner organizations to deliver micro-entrepreneurship training, micro-finance lending, and technical assistance to low-income immigrant, ethnic, and African-American communities in Detroit.

Over the past several months, ProsperUs Detroit has worked with several potential community partners to refine the program design, including ACCESS in the Cody-Rouge area; Vanguard Community Development Corporation, Central Detroit Christian Community Development Corporation and Focus: HOPE in the North End; and the Southwest Detroit Business Association, SER Metro Detroit, Latino Family Services, the Consortium of Hispanic Agencies, Society of Hispanic Business Owners and Professionals and the Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Southwest Detroit.

ProsperUS is based on a successful model in Minneapolis-St. Paul pioneered by the Neighborhood Development Center over the past two decades. NDC and its community partners have trained 4,000 low-income residents of immigrant, ethnic, and minority neighborhoods since inception, resulting in 800 new businesses. Of those, 468 are still in operation; and those businesses annually returned $68 million to the economy in the form of payroll, business expenses, taxes and rent, yielding a 64 percent return on investment for the project. 

ProsperUs Detroit’s goal is to give these grassroots entrepreneurs the tools needed to build their version of the American Dream. The program is in the process of selecting its first round of community partners, as well as program staff, including entrepreneurial trainers and a program director. The first trainings are expected to begin in September. For more information, interested persons can contact Hector Hernandez at Southwest Housing Solutions here.

Global Detroit contributes an article to Model D each month.
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