Writer: Kim Kisner

SBN Detroit Talks to Southwest Detroit Business Association’s President and CEO Laura L. Chavez-Wazeerud-Din

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Published On January 16, 2024

The Southwest Detroit Business Association has been in existence for almost 70 years with a mission to support the community’s vision for a healthy, vibrant neighborhood.

SBN Detroit spoke to the association’s president and CEO, Laura L. Chavez-Wazeerud-Din about the work being done with both businesses and residents to achieve this.

Q: What is the impetus behind the Southwest Detroit Business Association?

A: In a nutshell, we are here to dismantle barriers and bring resources to business owners and residents in Southwest Detroit.

Q: What kinds of barriers?

A: Southwest Detroit is a diverse community.  Basic things such as navigating the City of Detroit website are difficult because it’s in English only.

SDBA works to dismantle barriers by fostering community engagement and promoting economic inclusivity.  We aim to create an environment that protects, promotes, and preserves local businesses and the community by addressing challenges such as economic disparities, access to capital, language barriers for a population that is almost 70% Hispanic, and enhancing the overall business ecosystem in Southwest Detroit.

We also help residents and business owners navigate the new developments in the area. We are happy to see the city thrive but don’t want that to happen to the detriment of this very historic and culturally relevant community.Image000000 150x150

Q: Your programs include a focus on business development. Tell me about this.

A: One way we do this is through our Façade Improvement Program that’s been in existence for twenty years. Some might call this a beautification project, but I think it’s a sustainable model for our businesses. This program helps business and property owners improve their storefronts by providing grants for architectural services and reimbursement for up to 50% of construction costs.

The scope of this program has grown through the years and we’ve expanded it to include multiple business corridors in Southwest Detroit, such as W. Vernor Hwy, Michigan Ave, Springwells, Mexicantown, and Junction just to name a few.

It has been funded by JP Morgan Chase for the last 17 years and we are now looking for a new funder.

We also have a Small Business Advocacy Center. This year we were able to leverage funding from the state of Michigan and bring $800K in equity investments to minority-owned business owners for projects and job creation. An example of this is Dunamis Clean Energy Partners. They were awarded $321K to build out a second line to produce electric charging stations.

Another shining star for us this year was saving 16 food vendors that were slated for closing by the city. These vendors failed to receive certifications and pay the associated fines. This was a result of the vendors not understanding the process due to the language and communication barrier. Many didn’t even know they were slated for closing. We worked for months to ensure that not one of them closed, and that was a huge success.

Overall, we work to make sure all development and infrastructure is inclusive and equitable to residents and businesses and reflects the culture of the community. An example of this is the La Joya Gardens development. This is an affordable housing mixed-use, mixed-income building that will provide 53 residential units and include retail on the first floor. It is a new building, construction began in 2023. The community named this complex via a naming contest we held.

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Q: Elaborate on how you work with businesses to facilitate the continuation and enhancement of a stable, economically healthy community.

A: We are here to serve everyone from young start-ups to those doing business for decades.

We collaborate with partners and other non-profits to bring resources and we are a small business resource hub. Our business community does not always feel safe and comfortable in seeking out resources outside of the community, so we facilitate bringing resources to them here on-site. We are a trusted advisor and conduit with a mission to help our businesses thrive and to make sure that Southwest Detroit is an integral part of the city.

Q: Fill us in on your work with the Southwest Detroit Greenlink Project.

A: The work we do here is making sure that we are thoughtful and strategic in terms of urbanization and population growth. The ultimate goal is to make Southwest Detroit a tourist destination. We work to get buy-in from the community and preserve the stories of the community.

We have run multiple engagement meetings, open houses, surveys etc., to make sure the voice of the community is heard.

Two components make up the vision of the Southwest Detroit Greenlink. The first is to complete the Greenlink and all of its sections and the second is to link the Southwest Detroit Greenlink to the other community greenways.

Goals of the Greenlink include encouraging residents to walk and bike, giving tourists a welcoming place to frequent local businesses and restaurants, enhancing the economic value of residential and commercial property, and facilitating investment in homes and new businesses.Screen Shot 2024 01 12 At 9.54.02 AM 150x150

Q: What are your biggest challenges?

A: Funding. Also making sure people understand that this work is relevant. The City of Detroit has a lot of layers and it’s our job to secure the resources that are essential and necessary for this community to thrive.

Q: What are the biggest opportunities?

A: Bridging the digital divide is a big opportunity, and we have had several entrepreneurs rise up since the pandemic to help do so.

Engaging with our youth is also a huge opportunity. The Center of Music & Performing Arts Southwest (COMPÁS) is a program that began in 2007 that helps bring mentorship to young people. We work with schools to make sure they understand that SWBDA is a resource. A lot of the kids in the community have been around their family businesses and in many cases these kids are helping to run the websites, and social media, and more. We are a resource to help bring the businesses into the next generation.

Q: How can businesses get involved?

A: Go to our website to find out more. Walk in any time from 9 am to 5 pm to 7752 W. Vernor Highway or call us at 313-842-0986.


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