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by Jennifer Youssef / The Detroit News
Detroit -- If anything is going to bring Detroit back to prominence, it's the vision, talent and innovative thinking of small businesses and entrepreneurs, Dr. Carl Schramm, president and CEO of the Kauffman Foundation, said today.
Schramm, speaking at the Detroit Economic Club luncheon, said entrepreneurs and small businesses are central to restoring the vitality that once made Detroit a great city; they will create new jobs and new wealth, he said.
The rise of Detroit in the 20th century was a result of entrepreneurs such as automotive icon Henry Ford taking risks, innovative thinking and start-up companies that provided jobs.
"This city can do it all over again," he said.
One of the Kansas City, Mo.-based foundation's missions is to foster and advance entrepreneurship, promote entrepreneurship-friendly policies and facilitate the commercialization of new technologies by entrepreneurs. The foundation last week released a study showing that young companies are the main drivers of job creation. Companies less than five years old created nearly two-thirds of net new jobs in 2007, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Detroit's greatest assets are the plethora of "human capital" and a new mayor who is well-versed in the business world, Schramm said. Mayor Dave Bing, who founded The Bing Group, an automotive supply company, could be a real boost to the city's economic growth.
"I have a hunch if there's a blessing (for Detroit's business climate), it's Mayor Bing's experience," Schramm said.
The biggest detriment to entrepreneurship is the state's tax burden, he said. The government too heavily regulates and taxes small businesses.
Sam Singh, senior consultant to the New Economy Initiative for Southeast Michigan, a philanthropic effort between 10 national, regional and local foundations to help restore southeast Michigan's economy, said Schramm's message was "challenging." He agreed with his assessments that Detroit and the region need to change their thinking about business.
"We have to be very proactive to help support start-ups and help people who want to stay here get their businesses up and running," he said. "We have to send the message to the rest of the world of the assets we possess. Other people are telling our story, and they don't have the full picture."
NEI's work is to strengthen institutions and organizations that have the largest impact on entrepreneurial activity, and creates stronger connections to the other organizations inside that network.