By Jamiel Robinson
Can everyone win socioeconomically in Grand Rapids? If we were to base our answers off of the current data the answer would unequivocally be NO! Grand Rapids currently ranks 51 out of 52 as worst cities economically for Blacks (http://www.grbj.com/articles/81533-grand-rapids-ranks-among-worst-economically-for-african-americans). Also, nearly 45% of Black residents in Grand Rapids live in poverty. The lack of Black businesses specifically second-stage Black businesses can be attributed to the current state of the Black community and economy in Grand Rapids. Unlike startups, second-stage businesses are no longer concerned about survival. And in contrast to small businesses and lifestyle entrepreneurs, second-stage businesses are significant job creators. So, how can Black businesses win and grow into second-stage businesses in a competitive environment?
Competition and competitiveness is an essential element in business. Competition drives businesses to constantly improve the quality of their products and services. So competitiveness amongst businesses is a great thing but not if it’s creating a zero-sum outcome within the Black business community. If competition is preventing overall socioeconomic gains for the Black community then we must rethink what we consider competition and success within the Black community. How do we begin to address the zero-sum outcomes that are currently being perpetuated in the Black community.
We must create an environment and climate for everyone to be able to benefit, prosper and win in Grand Rapids. Within the Black community we must begin creating aggregated success outcomes. Black businesses must become strategically collaborative. Black businesses face institutional barriers that can stifle and impede their growth. This is the reason strategic collaboration will prove to be a powerful tool that help Black businesses survive their startup years and grow to second-stage businesses. We must also advocate for policies at the city and county level that will create targeted geographic economic development tools that will put capital investments and resources within neighborhoods that have for decades been economically depressed.
Grand Rapids is positioning itself as a world class city but will be unable to attain that status by leaving part of it’s citizens behind. A world class city is one where all people are actively included, involved and engaged.
We find ourselves at another crossroad in our journey as a city where the next 3-10 yrs will determine how well we live for the next 40yrs. Will Grand Rapids continue it’s Tale of Two Cities? Will Grand Rapids continue to ignore it’s marginalized citizens and blame them for their current position and not the historical and institutional racism and barriers or will Grand Rapids tear down those barriers and become a city where Everyone Wins.