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Start Garden adds Ethnic Diversity, but offers same old Capitalist opportunities for the few

February 2, 2017

Last Thursday, the DeVos-owned project known as Start Garden, headed by Betsy DeVos’ son Rick DeVos, announced they would be hiring two new people in order to promote more minority business opportunities in Grand Rapids.screen-shot-2017-02-02-at-5-29-32-am

Start Garden hired Darel Ross, former co-executive director of Linc and Jorge Gonzalez  who has been executive director of the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce since March 2015.

The Start Garden Press Release, in part stated: 

The vitality and future of our entrepreneurial ecosystem, however, requires local leaders in economic development with deep knowledge of the disparities and challenges faced in diverse entrepreneur communities. This helps ensure that the economic benefits of entrepreneurship can be realized by people of all backgrounds and experience.

On Monday, MLive reported on this new announcement from Start Garden, wherein Ross and Gonzalez said, “they are looking forward to having the additional resources to remove barriers to entrepreneurship across the board.”

The MLive article also mentions the 2015 Forbes ranking that put Grand Rapids the worst city in the US in terms of Blacks economic well being. The above comments from Ross and Gonzalez suggest their addition to the Start Garden staff will somehow be able improve minority businesses opportunities in Grand Rapids.

We don’t doubt that Start Garden will be able to increase the number of minority owned businesses in Grand Rapids, but the Forbes article from 2015 wasn’t just talking about minority owned businesses, it was talking about the average income of Black households. The Forbes article stated that Black median household income was only 59% of what White median household income is.9781608465118

Hiring two economic development leaders from minority communities was certainly a smart move by Start Garden. It adds lots of PR value to the organization. However, Black Capitalism, like White Capitalism, will only benefit a small percentage of people in the black community and will NOT do much of anything to alleviate the deep poverty that thousands of black families find themselves experiencing in Grand Rapids. An important historical analysis of how capitalism will not benefit the mass of black working class families can be found in Manning Marable’s book, How Capitalism Underdeveloped Black America.

Hiring Gonzalez makes sense considering his leadership in the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, but Ross’s hiring may not seem quite as clear. However, when one considers that the largest funders to Linc have been members of the DeVos family.

According to the most recent 990s from the Doug and Pamela DeVos Foundation, between 2012 and 2014, that foundation provided roughly $3.2 million dollars to Linc. This is because the organization’s primary function is economic development.

Public money for Private gain

The MLive article also states:

The new focus by Start Garden comes as the organization is completing a year-long restructuring to take over managing Grand Rapids SmartZone. Overseeing SmartZone gives Start Garden an opportunity to take advantage of state and federal economic develop dollars to work with more businesses.

As we reported in September, Start Garden (by March of 2017) will receive $725,000 of taxpayer funds from the City of Grand Rapids to run the SmartZones program.


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