Grand Rapids economic development group working to improve the success rates for Black businesses plans HQ

GRAND RAPIDS, MI — Grand Rapids Area Black Businesses (GRABB) is still aggressively working on plans to construct the organization’s first-ever headquarters on the city’s Southeast Side, according Jamiel Robinson, founder and chief executive officer.

The economic development social enterprise, launched in July 2013, works to expand opportunities for Black businesses in the Metro Grand Rapids area. The proposed headquarters, District 2012, will be located at 2012 Eastern Ave. SE in Seymour Square, a business district in one of Grand Rapids Opportunity Zones known as Southtown.

Robinson said the District 2012 headquarters there will serve as a hub for entrepreneurship, innovation and culture.

“GRABB having its HQ located in this business district attracts new resources, investments that benefit existing residents and brings new Black businesses to the area,” Robinson said.

“We also believe being there will ignite action from residents, small businesses, community organizations and other local economy stakeholders around economic equity and a vision for business corridors in Southtown.”

The Southtown district was created about four years ago to rally the business corridor and create a culture of investment that’s long been lacking in the area. The district is in the city’s Third Ward, which is its most diverse.

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Robinson said GRABB shifted its focus from District 2012 to assisting Black businesses, particularly those who did not receive federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds. He said the organization is now back on track with planning the project, expecting to break ground in spring or summer of 2021.

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Several business owners, including Kiara Baskin, founder of Bump to Birth Doula Services, have been positively impacted since GRABB first launched and are looking forward to more accessible support from the social enterprise.

“It’s an amazing opportunity for Black business owners to have a central hub to seek services and receive service but also get advice from other business owners and really create a network of opportunity for Black business owners,” Baskin said.

GRABB, which currently has operating space at Start Garden, is in the initial planning phase for the headquarters project, which is anticipated to cost $750,000.

Robinson said the group is working with Pure Architects, Tiffany Eden Design and Honor Construction to finalize the concepts for the space and begin designing.

“Jamiel has really blessed us with the opportunity to have an impact,” said Zach Verhulst of Pure Architect.

The majority of District 2012′s 4,500-square-foot headquarters will dedicated to business incubation, coworking and meeting space in addition to resources to support the “economic mobility, growth and scale” of Black-owned businesses and firms in Grand Rapids, Robinson said.

“(The space will include) a robust offering of educational, mentoring, networking, and capital resources – all dedicated to inspiring ideas, creating jobs, scaling companies, and increasing wealth in our community,” he said.

Robinson said GRABB is working to bring in a wide range of businesses that serve the neighborhood as well as attract customers from outside of the area to bring dollars into the business district.

He stressed the importance of “bringing new vibrancy, vitality and intentionality” to a predominantly Black neighborhood that has suffered from disinvestment. He said that investment is vital to improving the quality of life for families in urban neighborhoods in and beyond Grand Rapids.

“Grand Rapids cannot become the city it truly aspires to be by excluding a significant portion of its population from sharing in its wealth and prosperity,” Robinson said, referencing a 2015 Forbes article listing Grand Rapids as the second worst city for African Americans economically.

“In order for the Grand Rapids region to be competitive when it comes to attracting new companies, new residents and new employees it has to embrace economic and racial equity or it will lose the race to be a hub for attraction.”

Visit the GRABB Facebook page for future updates on District 2012.

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