A call to Detroits young people see the opportunity

July 6, 2012
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After nearly 40 years of small business advocacy, I experienced one of the greatest reinforcements of that advocacy last weekend.

I was in Detroit for the wedding of my youngest brother’s daughter. We took a drive through the area where the University of Detroit is located. I attended the university from 1960-1964. The devastation is hard to imagine. Where we once walked as college kids at night, you would not want to walk today at high noon.

Blame it on politicians, racism, unions or inevitable decay: The solution is in people's capacity to own, operate and succeed in a small business.

There are people in Detroit. They need the basic goods and services of grocery stores, hardware stores, pharmacies, etc. Providing such services is what business does. The same is true of the cities of Saginaw, Flint, Pontiac …

I am not that smart, but something is wrong here.

Why aren't these needs being met by the people who live in the area? The solution to poverty is jobs. A lot of people create their own jobs through self-employment. Growth of their business provides jobs for other people. Next thing you know, you have a thriving community.

Following the Detroit fiscal crisis is discouraging. The struggle between the taxpayers and the tax recipients is a study in illogical ideology. How can the unions fail to understand the simple concept of Mother Hubbard's cupboard?

But that’s not the fundamental problem.

Fewer than 50 percent of Detroit's students graduate from high school. The school system is a study in dysfunction. Yet, the greatest concerns are the classic union issues of pay, security, benefits, etc. The education of Detroit's kids is secondary to the welfare of the majority of the school system’s employees. God bless the good ones and the opposite wish for the bad ones.

But that’s not the fundamental problem.

Detroit politics has been stunningly corrupt. Cronyism is rampant. Paying taxes must be horribly discouraging, knowing your hard-earned money is being wasted by irresponsible and dishonest bureaucrats.

But that's not the fundamental problem.

I could go on forever with the list of reasons or excuses for the empty shell that is all that’s left of a once-vibrant city. But as a humble inner-city college graduate who has only walked across Harvard's campus, I think I know what is wrong with Detroit.

Attitude is destiny. Detroit's attitude is what created all the other problems that plague the city. If Detroiters had the right attitude, they would not tolerate the bad schools, crooked politicians and financial shenanigans.

How do you get young people to see opportunity instead of discouragement? There are unmet needs for goods and services in what is still the state’s largest city. The person who controls the checkbook controls the situation.

Until the young people of Detroit buy into the concept of self-actualization through business ownership, the news will be about businesses opening in the suburbs.

In Lansing, we have leadership that is small-business friendly. Both the Small Business Tax and the Michigan Business Tax are gone. The budget is under control. The Small Business Association of Michigan touts the concept of economic gardening, which has great application to the economic condition in Detroit.

The situation is ripe for the young people of Detroit to take advantage of an improving state business climate to learn to grow new companies in what are now fallow fields.

Paul Hense is the retired president of local accounting firm Hense & Associates, and past chairman of the Small Business Association of Michigan.

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