Detroit’s Revival: Individual Initiatives Can Do without Government Interference – Part 2

by Carine Martinez-Gouhier:

In part 1 of this post, we saw that the revival of Detroit happens to kick off at a time when government tends to be less intrusive. This is no coincidence: when entrepreneurs of all kinds feel free to take risks, everyone can benefit. High tech startups are but one example of entrepreneurs hard at work to rebuild the city. Rebel Nell is another, though quite different example.

Detroit SkylineThe ladies that run and operate Rebel Nell are another example of innovation turned into private initiative, turned into opportunities for Detroiters.

Amy Peterson and Diana Russell once stumbled upon a piece of graffiti paint that had fallen off a wall on which several graffiti had been painted over time, one above the others. The piece beautifully revealed the layers of colors of all the graffiti that had covered the wall. They had an idea: repurposing the piece of paint into a piece of jewelry.

The founders had something additional in mind though: they wanted to help homeless women. Through this social enterprise, they would train them in the trade of making jewelry, educate them in areas such as finances, and help them become independent women, empowering them with self-esteem through work.

The name of the company is representative of these strong-willed women. They wanted a name that would represent strong women well. As an example, they thought of Eleanor Roosevelt, whose father had given her the nickname “Little Nell.” They thought that she deserved a stronger nickname though, and Rebel Nell was born.

The company was formed as a L3C: Low-profit Limited Liability company. It was not very difficult to start the company according to Amy Peterson and she likes that this form of company focuses not on financial gains but on social gains. “But we want to be sustainable; we are not asking for handouts,” she adds. Peterson is not originally from Detroit, but she says Detroit gave her a shot at her dream job, so she wants to “return the favor.”

Rebel Nell currently employs and pays five women. The founders do not give themselves a salary though. Karen, one of the women who work there, tells me that it takes on average 36 hours from start to finish to make one pendant. “It’s a great place to work!” she tells me spontaneously.

There are plenty of entrepreneurs with innovative ideas, who are making a difference in Detroit. Detroiters are eager to seize the opportunities when they present themselves. Independence and a better way of life are the best incentives. Ridesharing drivers are another good example, as I mentioned in my first post, or as this video, make by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, shows. But government has get out of the way:

“I don’t want to be on welfare, I didn’t want to be on welfare and this [ride-sharing] was an option… I don’t need the government to take care of me for a short period of time when I am able-bodied and there is something that I can do, so if there’s a job out there that I can do, let me do it…”

If there are so many entrepreneurs in Detroit starting innovative projects and finding financing, why is it that Detroit still has a long way to go?

In a panel organized by State Budget Solutions and the Manhattan Institute and titled “Detroit Rising: How the Motor City is Rebuilding and Returning to Greatness,” Steve Ogden, Director of Corporate Affairs & Government Relations at Rock Ventures LLC (whose founder and chairman is Dan Gilbert), underlined that in a city almost literally in ruins, 29 different zoning specifications were indeed barriers to redevelopment. James Tate, Council member for District 1, added that “issues with licensing are even more of a challenge.”

Innovative Detroiters can make a real difference to save the city, and are already trying to, but government has to get out of the way. They know that in order to have a sustainable, profitable business, they have to come up with a product or service that will be in demand. They do not need the paternalistic hand of government to tell them what they should do. The only thing they need from government is to play the only role it should play: protect individual rights and the rule of law. I will deal with this problem in my next post.

Carine is a French national who immigrated to the United States to pursue her own happiness. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in business administration and a Master’s degree in American Studies (specialized in corporate social responsibility). She is currently a research associate at the Texas Public Policy Foundation.


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