Viewpoint: Thriving small business entrepreneurship is mortar that bolsters community vitality

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Perhaps the Lansing Economic Area Partnership (LEAP) is best known for its stellar work doing something our region has historically been poor at – attracting new investments, jobs and businesses to our area, including foreign direct investment. Glanbia from Ireland in St. John’s; McKesson in Delhi; East Lansing from German Attestio; We hope, soon, Norm fasteners from Turkey in Bath Township; Ultium in Lansing/Delta City; Shyft Group in Charlotte.

Large plants. Big jobs. Huge impact on small main street businesses, schools, healthcare systems, municipal services revenue and the philanthropic community. Add our deep past work on many new tall buildings in the city and on Michigan Avenue and you have the brick.

But for the brick to hold, we need to add mortar.

We need to build and activate more placemaking, continue business ecosystem work, increase child care and housing of all kinds, intentionally increase economic access for all, and support the necessary expansion of public transportation systems.

Two examples: Along with many partners, LEAP led the region’s first Capital Area Child Care Coalition to increase access to high-quality child care in our region. LEAP is one of the few economic agencies with an equitable Department of Economic Planning (DEEP), empowering the growth of many BIPOC entrepreneurs and fostering prosperity in our economy.

But what you might know less about LEAP’s mortar work, and yet what’s at the heart of LEAP, is the strong, nationally recognized development that fosters small business startup ecosystems in all three counties, rural and urban.

LEAP has received a three-year grant of $3.5 million from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) to work with several regional partners, such as the Regional Smart Zone, to help small businesses affected by Covid. We do this by increasing the inclusivity of Michigan’s technology and small business ecosystem, expanding services to reach high street businesses, raising awareness, increasing support for underserved areas, all while raising Michigan’s small business profile nationally.

You’ve surely heard of Sweet Matches, Mr. Leslie’s Cheesecake, Goodfellas Bagel Deli, high caliber karting and entertainment. These now-famous businesses are examples of the success of the LEAP Entrepreneurship Program.

As we enter our fourth year, the LEAP One & All program is committed to breaking down barriers and expanding opportunities for low-income individuals. Designed to support a more equitable economy, this program provides entrepreneurs with the knowledge and connections they need to succeed. Data shows that each successful graduate saw an average increase of $10,000 in their family income.

With significant funding from the PNC Foundation, our LEAP Elevate program helps Black businesses grow bigger and better in our regional economy and beyond. We are excited to announce that next year we will be adding a Hispanic and Latino Accelerator program.

Grants, loans, mentoring, incubators, alumni connections and more – LEAP’s entrepreneurial work is the silent mortar brick to the strength of our overall economy for people in all three regions. It is important to know about it as much as the community knows about big projects.

It all adds up – the Lansing region has the highest ceiling for growth, prosperity and happiness of any region in the country. Much more to come!

Bob Trezise is president and CEO of the Lansing Economic Area Partnership.

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