Race, Entrepreneurship, and Urban Revitalization in Detroit

Author: ORCID icon orcid.org/0000-0002-9310-7944
Miller, Candace, Sociology - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Pendergrass, Sabrina, AS-Inst-Afri-Am & African Stud, University of Virginia

Recent revitalization in Detroit, Michigan has been characterized by a proliferation in entrepreneurship and gentrification-driven redevelopment. Given the rapid expansion of gentrification in many U.S. cities, scholars have focused on the costs and benefits, especially for poor and minority residents. Drawing on U.S. Census, Survey of Business Owners data, 89 in-depth interviews, and 22 months of ethnography, my dissertation examines how experiences of business-ownership differ between Black and white entrepreneurs in gentrifying neighborhoods and Black entrepreneurs in non-gentrifying neighborhoods.
In the first chapter, I analyze recent trends in business development among Black and white business owners in Detroit. I find that, despite growth in Black entrepreneurship in Detroit from 1997 to 2012, significant racial disparities in overall business development persist. Black-owned businesses in Detroit are far more likely to be non-employee businesses, have lower sales, hire fewer employees, and have smaller payrolls than their white counterparts.
In the remainder of the dissertation I examine differences in business-owners’ experiences. First, I find that Black and white business-owners are motivated to start and operate businesses by different factors, and race is particularly salient for Black business-owners. Next, I find that racial disparities exist in business-owners’ perceptions of access to social and financial capital. While Black business-owners in gentrifying and non-gentrifying neighborhoods both perceive barriers to accessing social and financial capital, the nature of barriers is distinct. In sharp contrast, white business-owners described a strong sense of access to local business organizations and networks, with a number of them taking active leadership roles. In addition, disparities in experiences of hiring and employment exist between Black and white business-owners. However, I find that Black business-owners navigate constraints stemming from financial limitations in distinct ways. Whereas, Black business-owners in non-gentrifying neighborhoods tend to rely on informal employment arrangements—hiring locals for single tasks and paying them under-the-table, Black business-owners in gentrifying neighborhoods accessed youth workers through local summer employment programs. On the other hand, white business-owners engaged in formal employment arrangements.
I also explore how business-owners navigate changing neighborhood conditions. Black business-owners in gentrifying neighborhoods are often forced to navigate rising rents, unstable consumer base, and higher and more frequent user fees associated with licenses, permits, and inspections that exacerbate financial constraints. Black business-owners in non-gentrifying neighborhoods have lower rents, but they must contend with deteriorating infrastructure and less desirable building conditions. They also were more likely to be assessed blight tickets—issued for an array of violations related to property maintenance. White business-owners located in gentrifying neighborhoods generally expressed fewer financial concerns. Finally, I explore business-owners’ perceptions about the future of their neighborhoods and the city, more broadly. I find that, while Black and white business-owners agree that revitalization is necessary, they often differ in how they believe redevelopment should proceed.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Sponsoring Agency:
Ford Foundation, National Science Foundation, Washington Center for Equitable Growth
All rights reserved (no additional license for public reuse)
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