I run an organization called Brand Camp University, which was the inaugural winner of the Knight Foundation's Cities Challenge.  As a member of the Forward Cities council in Detroit, I had the opportunity to attend the fourth and final convening in Cleveland during the NBA Finals (June 14-17). The Cleveland Forward Cities convening was an action-packed four days of immersive experiences, sharing and learning opportunities, discussions around best practices, and a celebration of the great work that is happening throughout Cleveland's neighborhoods. 

One of the most valuable parts of the convening was seeing how funders and organizations in Cleveland were addressing the challenges of economic development for minority entrepreneurs and small neighborhood business owners. Minority entrepreneurs and small business  owners in Cleveland face the same type of challenges as those in Detroit namely: access to capital resources and lack of connectivity. In Cleveland, we were able to see how support organizations and funders are helping place based entrepreneurs and local neighborhood businesses overcome these types of challenges. And we were able to see great examples of innovative solutions in all of the neighborhoods that we got to visit such as West 25th Street Corridor, (the densest Latino area in Ohio), the Health Tech/University Circle Corridor, Opportunity Corridor, the St. Clair Superior  neighborhood, and finally the Hough neighborhood which has the nation's only urban, high yielding vineyard called Chateau Hough.

Finally, an unexpected outcome of attending the Cleveland Forward Cities Convening is that I had the opportunity to spend several days with other Detroit leaders. Even though I knew them and was familiar with their work, I didn’t know firsthand the social and economic issues they were tackling. Now that we reconnected and strengthened our relationships while in Cleveland, we are committed to collaborating on Detroit projects together.  For example, Rebrand Detroit:Innovating Detroit Neighborhoods, a project we are working on with the Grandmont Rosedale neighborhood in Detroit to develop and execute a brand strategy that drives economic development through placemaking, business development, brand accelerator for urban retail businesses and brand identity for the business district.
Being from Detroit made this Cleveland Forward Cities convening special to me; both cities are from the ‘Rustbelt’ and have a long storied history of manufacturing when both local economies were thriving. Detroit’s future requires connecting the worlds of design, technology and innovation to neighborhoods. Seeing how a city like Cleveland is addressing this intersection was very important for me.
For more information on Hajj Flemings and his Detroit work please visit his website:  http://rebranddetroit.co Twitter: @HajjFlemings