his family business and Detroit is paying off. The oldest African American car dealership in the country is consistently turning a profit and serves as a training center for young would-be dealership owners.
With his network of eight dealerships throughout metro Detroit grossing more than $500 million annually, BE 100s CEO Mei Farr, of the Mel Farr Automotive Group, knows the unique challenges for African Americans looking to do business in Detroit. He believes that with certain elements in place, it can be a great place to see business ideas take off. “To succeed on any level will take the realization and education that a good living can be made through entrepreneurship,” says Farr. But he cautions that having a reasonable business idea is often not enough. “Following desire and expertise is locating funding.”
BREAKING THROUGH BARRIERS
Breaking into the white male-dominated auto industry was a challenge and triumph for persistent African American men like Conyers and Farr. But how much more so for an African American woman like Geralda Dodd, CEO of the Thomas Madison Co. This BE 100s firm has steel service centers and stamping plants in Detroit and Mansfield, Ohio, and is a successful–and profitable-supplier to auto manufacturers. Dodd acquired the stamping company in 1990 when it was floundering and on the brink of failure. In just seven short years, its assets have tripled and Dodd modestly claims sales of $100 million for 1997.
Dodd loves the industry, which she has been in for some 20 years. And, she loves doing business in Detroit. “The econo
mics of the city may be dominated by whites, but the politics of the city are black, and that can offer a unique sense of support,” she says. “I feel there’s room for improvement. People tend to lose focus on the need to share economic wealth, but there are great opportunities here and I couldn’t imagine being any place else.”
Small business development is critical to Detroit’s economic growth. The Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Detroit Economic Growth Corp. (DEGC) offer assistance to start-up firms. The chamber is responsible for attracting business to the region. “As we uncover individuals and prospects that either have an interest in the city or in matching up well with property that may be available, we bring them into the Detroit Economic Growth Corp. and work to make that dream a reality,” says Dick Blouse Jr., president and CEO of the chamber.
Ginwil Inc., a wholesale distributor of medical and surgical supplies, is one such example of a company benefiting from DEGC’s assistance. In 1996, DEGC extended a $25,000 loan to the growing supply company for equipment, furniture and working capital. Originally scheduled to be paid off in six years, the loan was paid in full within a year thanks to the improving economic climate in the area. “None of that would have been possible without the fiscal trust and financial investment the DEGC and its affiliates had made in the company’s business vision,” says Ginwil President and COO William