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Pancakes & Politics – April 21, 2011


Business leaders are ready to get out the gardening tools, dig in and get dirty in order to propel Detroit’s development efforts forward.

Groundbreaking efforts to support urban growth gained momentum at the Michigan Chronicle’s sold-out Pancakes and Politics forum last week. The event, which attracted 500 blue chip business and community leaders, spurred lively dialogue among its five highly-regarded panelists who expressed unanimous agreement that the time to turn over outdated urban business development strategies has come.

Panelist Michael Finney, Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) president and CEO, opened the discussion which centered on “economic gardening” efforts, once better known as business retention efforts.

Panelists agreed that instead of “hunting” to bring in new businesses from out of town, Detroit leaders should cultivate the entrepreneurs already established in the city.

The event, sponsored by the Michigan Chronicle and Real Times Media, was the second in the annual four part Pancakes and Politics series.

In addition to Finney, the panel of business experts included Sandy Baruah, Detroit Regional Chamber president and CEO; David Egner, Hudson-Webber Foundation president and CEO; George Jackson, Detroit Economic Growth Corporation president and CEO; and Don Gilbert, Quicken Loans founder and chairman. Host Carol Cain of WWJ-TV’s “Michigan Matters” fielded questions from the audience, asking panelists to identify the major issues and possible solutions to Detroit’s economic situation.

“Wealth is created, not flown in,” Gilbert said in response to a question about bringing businesses to Detroit. He showed faith in local entrepreneurship and even suggested that it be included in public school curriculum.

Jackson agreed, saying, “Most of our projects are already here. It’s the lack of capital that really hurts us. That’s the key to economic gardening.”

The solution? Invest, invest, invest.

When Finney mentioned that Avalon International Breads, a popular Detroit bakery, was having trouble getting finances for an expansion, Gilbert offered his support. He suggested forum attendee and business partner Josh Linkner of Detroit Venture Partners LLC, agree to cut Avalon co-owner Ann Perrault a check for $2 million before the forum concluded.

It is this type of rapid response to business opportunities that will further propel Detroit’s resurgence, according to Perrault who is encouraged by the partnerships she sees emerging between the city’s stakeholders and neighborhood groups.

“I’m a community based person,” she said. “In order to flourish, we need to build more relationships at all levels. That’s what it means to create a local growth economy.” As for the $2 million loan, it could be in the works for Avalon soon.

“I have a huge interest in supporting small businesses,” Gilbert said. “I’ve heard about Avalon and am interested in helping them grow. My partners will discuss details with Perrault and see if they can work something out.”

Baruah also believes a united effort is the key to success.

“We’ve got to stop slicing and dicing ourselves as a region,” said Baruah. “Far too often, we engage in battles which pit county versus county, Black versus White, suburb versus city. We have forgotten what we learned on the playground as children — that divided we stand alone.”

Egner believes there’s no one solution to Detroit’s economic crunch.

“It’s the development of little ideas that all connect,” he said. “It’s about self- interest. For instance, it’s in Dan’s self- interest to make it work with Avalon.” What it all comes down to is putting plans to action.

“We have too many plans on paper. It’s time to figure out how to take what’s written on paper and turn it into jobs,” Finney said.

Gilbert, who runs one of the country’s top mortgage lending operations out of Detroit, has no complaints about operating in the Detroit.

“We hear about all this conflict but we have flat-out not run into any of that stuff,” he said. “All these projects and plans have to go to action. We gotta just say ‘go!’”

The next Pancakes and Politics forum will be held May 12 at the Townsend Hotel in Birmingham. The region’s Big Four leaders will discuss the state of the region. Panelists include Detroit Mayor Dave Bing, Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano and Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel. For additional information call (313) 963.8100.


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