New Community Transformation Fund supports people of color in business

On Jan. 20, we celebrated Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and legacy, including the iconic 1963 speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., in which he urged America to “make real the promises of democracy.”

Unfortunately, the dream King articulated so vividly remains deferred for too many in the U.S., including West Michigan.

People of color, especially, still struggle to realize the promises of opportunity and prosperity that King envisioned. Many haven’t fully benefitted from our region’s economic success over the past decade.

We’re determined to help change those circumstances — today and for generations to come.

Together, we’re announcing the formation of the New Community Transformation Fund, a Grand Rapids-based investment fund created to attract and support businesses owned and operated by people of color. The goal: raise $25 million in capital to increase ethnic and racial diversity in business ownership and entrepreneurship in West Michigan.

Bank of America and the Consumers Energy Foundation each have provided $200,000 to lay the foundation for this endeavor. The Right Place Inc., West Michigan’s leading regional economic development organization, will support the fund as it raises and deploys capital.

Each of our organizations is committed to diversity, inclusion and equality. Without these key elements, we limit our talent, resources and the business opportunities needed to thrive in an increasingly competitive global marketplace. Put simply, West Michigan won’t meet its economic potential until we can all share in the opportunity and prosperity.

The New Community Transformation Fund will focus on attracting and supporting:

  • Companies in West Michigan owned by people of color. To receive funding, businesses must locate, operate and remain in our region. The same goes for any companies acquired with the use of New Community Transformation funding.

  • Businesses intended to provide multigenerational wealth creation within historically disadvantaged groups in our society and community. Investors will have the opportunity to grow existing businesses with critical mass or new, high-growth businesses that are scalable, sustainable and perpetual.

We cannot afford to wait.

Our West Michigan business community is at a critical crossroads. If we don’t correct the disparity in business ownership rates among people of color, we will miss crucial opportunities and limit our region’s long-term economic viability.

Ultimately, investing in companies owned by people of color will make a significant positive economic impact across our region and throughout the state. With access to capital, these business owners have the potential to create more jobs, revitalize distressed communities and help preserve America’s standing as a market leader and producer.

Using the powerful metaphor of America presenting people of color with a bad check, King said: “We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity in this nation.”

We passionately agree and hope the New Community Transformation Fund is a small step toward positive and lasting economic change in West Michigan.

Garrick Rochow is the executive vice president of operations for Consumers Energy, Renee Tabben is the Grand Rapids market president for Bank of America, Birgit Klohs is the president and CEO of The Right Place, Skot Welch is the general partner for the New Community Transformation Fund and Kwame Anku is the fund consultant for the New Community Transformation Fund.

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