Kathi Kucharski oversees Invest Detroit’s grants program. Here she discusses the organization’s commitment to job growth and retention and why it is vitally important to Detroit’s success.
Supporting businesses and projects that grow and retain job opportunities in Detroit and the region is one of Invest Detroit’s fundamental goals. We believe that local, attainable jobs are a key component of economic growth and Detroit’s success. As a fundraiser for Invest Detroit, I often cite the challenges that Detroit residents face when I make a case for supporting our work. The good news is that many things have improved in the city, but the economic statistics still stun me every time I share them: half of Detroit households have an income of $30,000 or less and 34.5% fall below the poverty line. Despite our gains, our poverty rate remains more than double both the state and national rates.
How our city got here is a decades-long story. The root causes are many, but jobs (or a lack thereof) is one common theme. Urban sprawl, racial tensions, and technological advances led to the loss of countless good-paying, unskilled jobs within the city; inadequate public education/workforce training and a poor regional transit system continue to keep quality jobs out of reach; and the resulting unemployment and underemployment are key factors that contribute to high levels of poverty.
Changing Detroit’s story is not a small task, but Invest Detroit believes that access to quality jobs is a critical piece to improving economic opportunity and quality of life for residents. It is a priority for us to invest in real estate development, small commercial and industrial businesses, and startups that create and retain good jobs and that cultivate a stronger, more equitable workforce within the city. To amplify our efforts, we often partner with others who share this priority, such as the Detroit Development Fund, Detroit Economic Growth Corporation, and the City of Detroit.
With the help of philanthropic partners, our core work is providing inclusive loan, grant, and technical support to build the capacity of Detroit-based, female, and minority developers, business owners, and entrepreneurs to launch or grow businesses that create new jobs and keep existing jobs in the city. And when we talk about jobs, we mean the kinds of jobs that target existing Detroit residents and meet their current needs – full-time jobs, living-wage jobs, jobs with benefits, jobs with training, and jobs close to home in their neighborhoods.
This is why Invest Detroit supports small businesses such as Dymond Designs Beauty School and Detroit School for Digital Technology (CEO Jamie Kothe and COO Karlos Harris pictured above); they both have a goal to provide accessible paths to workforce training and certifications that can lead to good-paying careers. This is why we support local emerging developers of color who are rehabbing vacant buildings in the Livernois-McNichols neighborhood; they are creating space for local businesses, such as Detroit Pizza Bar, that want to hire residents. And this is why we support small industrial and manufacturing businesses, such as Michigan Farm to Freezer; they are dedicated to providing jobs and workforce training for homeless and returning citizens in the city.
Last year, Invest Detroit supported 52 projects/businesses that created or retained 464 jobs, bringing the total to 9,804 since our work began. Our focus recently shifted from Downtown to the Detroit neighborhoods, increasing the number of these jobs that directly impact Detroiters each year. We have a long way to go, but one by one these jobs are building greater economic opportunity, which I believe is slowly changing Detroit’s story for the better.