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Small business development may hold key to poverty relief

Jorge Gonzalez is the executive director of the Grand Rapids Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. He says that job creation in Grand Rapids for minority groups won't be coming from big businesses anytime soon. 

"Long gone are the days where you had GM (General Motors) or Ford bringing in 400-500 jobs to our local economy," Gonzalez said. 

Rather, he says, it will come from locally owned startups. 

"It's the small mom and pop shops that we are assisting; that are creating, you know, one or two or 10 jobs," Gonzalez said. "And that's what actually is bringing people out of poverty." 

Underserved minority groups like African-Americans, Hispanics and Women that Gonzalez says just need an assist from local community business partners providing access to resources. And Gonzalez points out it's not always financial support making the difference, its access to information. 

"We were seeing a lot of small mom and pop shops opening up their doors and then a year later close them down because of a lack of business administration," Gonzalez said. 

Keeping these businesses sustainable is crucial to creating jobs for local low-income populations. 

The information necessary for economic empowerment and wealth creation through entrepreneurship is being shared through a number of workshops offered by Western Michigan University Cooley Law School in Grand Rapids. Nelson Miller, the Western Michigan University-Cooley Law School's Grand Rapid's associate dean says it's not a handout those in poverty need.

"I think everybody knows the idea that we shouldn't hand out fish to the poor but teach the poor to fish," Miller said.

Miller says the University staff and participating students will provide legal support for pro-bono services.

"Law can be both an aid but law can also at times be an obstacle and we want to study those things. How locally, in Grand Rapids, is law supporting economic development, community development, just the prospering of individuals and families," Miller said. "And then how law might also be an obstacle whether that's through licensing provisions that duplicate other statewide or national provisions in place or other issues like that. We really want to hear, not only from lawyers but  especially from philanthropic leaders, nonprofit leaders, and especially from community members," he said.

A series of workshops offered through WMU-Cooley Law Grand Rapids for minority business owners will offer insight and resources from a number of community business partners. Those workshops will be held January 11th., January 20th., and February 7th., from 6-9 PM.

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