Want to have a big impact on Michigan’s economy? Think small

We came. We saw. We brought pin-up models. Not everyone can say the same for the Mackinac Policy Conference.

Typically, the conference is about big things – big ideas, big names, and big companies. This year my colleagues and I thought it would be fun to bring a few small ideas, small names and small businesses to this large gathering. We wanted small businesses to be more than just a talking point at the conference, so we decided to have a coincident event on the island that we called “Building Bridges to Small Business”.

Four independent Detroit companies have set up camp at the Mission Point Resort. I brought shimmering accessory trunks from my own store, the Peacock Room, a women’s clothing store in Midtown. Cyberoptix, a company that has screen printed nearly a million pieces of clothing in the Eastern market and is among the top 10 best-selling artists on Etsy.com, brought in ties and scarves. Sweet potato sensations, a second generation restaurant and bakery in Old Redford specializing, you guessed it, in sweet potato treats for nearly 28 years, has come armed with pies. Rebellious nell, a jewelry company that employs underprivileged women, four of whom have helped out of life in shelters, brought jewelry made from layers of graffiti from Detroit.

And we didn’t just bring our businesses; we brought our stories.

So how do pinup models fit into this, you ask? To promote our event, we organized a small army of them to welcome conference attendees arriving at the Mackinac ferry dock. With beaming smiles and donning retro maritime dresses, our models gave each person an invitation accompanied by a sweet potato cookie (if you’ve ever had a Sweet Potato Sensations cookie, you know they’re a pot- very effective de-vin). They were charming, disarming, and eager to share the small business gospel. And the people listened.

More than 250 people came to the beautiful Mission Point Resort to celebrate our cause, even if we were a little off the beaten track of the delegates. And those who couldn’t attend wore our “Think Small” buttons on their conference cords as a sign of support, including Mayor Mike Duggan, Senator Debbie Stabenow, Senator Gary Peters and several members of the City Council of Detroit.

The Importance of Small Businesses to Michigan Communities

According to a recent American Express OPEN study, homes with ZIP codes contained a central neighborhood dominated by strong independent businesses saw their value increase by 54.2% more on average than those without. These numbers cannot be ignored as the Michigan real estate market recovers and we seek to improve every neighborhood in Detroit.

Mayor Mike Duggan once made the connection between small businesses and vibrant neighborhoods. His Automobile city match The program kicks off this year, pairing vacant storefronts with entrepreneurs to activate them, making our neighborhoods more vibrant and injecting more tax revenue into our local economy.

A lot of the talk I heard about Mackinac revolved around jobs, jobs, jobs. But we have to ask ourselves: who is going to bring in these jobs? Instead of focusing on poaching brilliant companies outside of Michigan, we also need to look to our own local talent. Small businesses tend to be tied to the communities around them, not the next state that gives them a tax incentive.

There are now many companies in Michigan that, with the right support, can become our next big companies, if not our next global brands. Example: Campbell Soup Co. just bought Garden Fresh Salsa for $ 231 million. And Campbell’s isn’t exactly chopped liver – uh, chopped tomatoes.

Where did Garden Fresh start? In the back room of a Ferndale barbecue restaurant, in a five gallon bucket. Today, the company employs more than 450 of our neighbors and will expand the footprint of a $ 14.5 billion business right here in Michigan.

It is also no coincidence that the sponsor of “Building Bridges to Small Business” was Cynthia Pasky of Strategic Staffing Solutions, a Detroit-based company that started 25 years ago with a handful of employees and now generates nearly of $ 300 million in annual revenue worldwide.

At the end of the Mackinac Policy Conference, Governor Rick Snyder, Detroit Regional Chamber CEO Sandy Baruah, and conference chair Mark Davidoff announced the House to-do list. I know the Detroit Regional Chamber understands the critical role small businesses play in our economy, as Mr. Davidoff is committed to “supporting the revitalization of Detroit neighborhoods … through the promotion of entrepreneurship” as a priority. absolute. He cited the importance of closing the gap of opportunity that many Detroiters face. In particular, women and people of color find higher education and formal employment opportunities beyond our reach. Rising tuition fees, glass ceilings and wage differentials sometimes limit our potential. By fostering paths to entrepreneurship, we are opening doors that are otherwise closed or narrowed for some of us in the traditional job market.

With large organizations supporting small businesses, our partnerships, like those that made Building Bridges to Small Businesses possible, can result in something more than the sum of our parts. Together, we will lay the foundation for the future of Southeast Michigan.

Rachel Lutz is the owner of the Peacock Room, a women’s clothing store in Midtown’s Shelton Park.

All pictures from Marvin Shaouni.