They are popping up everywhere as a growing part of Flint’s economic base. Just how much impact new businesses are making is a question that’s drawn increased attention.
They seem to be ever-present, but in order to get a true sense of their numbers you have to get out into the community or online to find them, because the majority of Flint’s hundreds of start-ups aren’t brick-and-mortar operations. Their storefronts are often social media pages or websites with digital welcome signs, and their cash registers are portable, square devices or online payment portals.
Although the most generate enough revenue to sustain their operations, they frequently remain invisible to many consumers, says Tracy Newt Palmer, a small business advocate and owner of Trendsetters Productions.
“This is unacceptable and a puzzling reflection of the lack of understanding of the collective impact that the many businesses like mine have on Flint’s economy,” she says. “I have created countless events to support our city’s start-ups from my own personal pocketbook, while millions have been given to advocates to support and grow small business operations like mine.”
That, Palmer says, needs to change.
“The smallest funding can go a long way in elevating Flint’s small business operations,” she adds.
The most recent event, produced by FAIM Boutique owner Marquitta Harris, drew more than 150 supporters who came out to see the spring fashion lines of more than 10 young designers including Grind24/7, Kold Karma, Konflicted Kulture, Jemini Green, Pressure Applied Clothing, Ray’s Royalty Clothing, Say It Aint Krispy Shoe Repair and FAIM Boutique.
In the absence of outside investment, events like FAIM boutique owner Marquitta Harris’ recent Unity Fashion Show allow businesses to support one another.
“What the participating entrepreneurs sell gets reinvested and poured back into the local economy,” Harris says. “Behind every fashion designer is a long line of service-providers from make-up artists, stylists, photographers and models to local print shops, sound and lighting companies, and food vendors.”
“When we invest in each other we all grow,” says Harris, whose boutique has become an independent business incubator.
Palmer and Harris bear evidence to the circle of life among Flint’s small shops, and they want others to recognize their growth potential. Their local call-to-action is buoyed by an increasing body of evidence that points to the efficacy of small business support.
Nationally, small business growth has emerged to become a major part of the economy, representing 47.5 percent of the country’s workforce, according to the 2018 Small Business Profile report published by the U.S. Small Business Administration
Although there are a growing number of small businesses in Flint and Genesee County and more than 152,000 across Michigan — the newer companies appear to be responsible for most of the economic increase.
“We see that,” says Brian G. Glowiak, the CEO of Metro Community Development, a local development advocacy organization committed to creating inclusionary opportunities for community economic growth and the funding partner behind the downtown expansion of the Glam Box Boutique, Hoffman’s Deli, Churchill’s Restaurant and Flint City T-Shirts.
“When we pay attention to and support small businesses in their start-up stage, the return on investment is magnified,” says Glowiak. “Businesses that receive early support, both financial and technical, frequently see less business failures, higher employment and more community growth.”
That’s the inspiration behind Metro Community Development’s BizBox program, which provides business tools, financing and one-on-one support from business experts. Since its inception slightly more than one year ago, the program has delivered more than $1.3 million in funding to 10 local business owners like Glam Box Boutique founder Deria Brown and Hoffman’s Deli owner Heath Hoffman. Currently, there are 26 additional businesses participating in the early stages of the program.
The younger the company, the more jobs created, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research. The Bureau reports that companies less than five years old create nearly 20 percent of all new jobs in the country.
In Flint many find that entrepreneurship is a pathway to expand more quickly and exponentially than through traditional employment.
“Most designers like me got tired of looking for or working in dead-end jobs,” says Destin Julian, 22, founder of Grind 24/7. “When we couldn’t find the kind of jobs needed to advance ourselves and pay our bills we created our own.”
That’s the impetus behind the tidal wave of growth among Flint’s young bosses, says Julian who hopes to eventually hire other young residents to support his business.
Palmer and Harris are joined by Say It Ain’t Krispy founder Vantrell Harris and others, who collaborate more frequently.
“We’re finding that there’s strength in numbers,” says Palmer. “And over time, we are gaining knowledge of how to use our collective assets to deliver bottom-line results.”
Collaboration is the X factor Flint needs to re-energize itself and drive its resurgence, Palmer adds.
“We are a growing part of Flint’s economy,” says Palmer. “And to date, it’s been a D-I-Y (do it yourself) job. We’re pretty proud of that, but certainly think there’s room for us in Flint’s boardrooms and banks.”
Editor’s Note: Jackie Berg is the founder and principal of TheHUB Detroit and TheHUB Flint, and the recipient of the Association of Women in Communications 2018 Vanguard Award.