Residents of Muskegon Heights, Michigan take great pride in their community but also face a number of challenges resulting from decades of disinvestment in the predominantly Black city. In 2019, residents worked to identify the root causes of health disparities in the community; and an Economic Opportunity Initiative (EOI) formed to tackle the primary needs voiced by residents—living wage jobs in the city, job training, and support for entrepreneurs. The EOI Team is committed to creating a community-owned hub that will provide residents with wraparound supports and resource navigation to improve physical, mental, and financial well-being and a space to come together, build capacity, and ensure their voices drive this and other important initiatives.


BUILD and its communities apply bold, upstream, integrated, local, and data-driven (BUILD) approaches to improve health in communities that are adversely affected by upstream factors.


This project confronts decades of disinvestment due to redlining and discrimination, which denied residents the opportunity to build generational wealth. Most residents work outside of the city, and most of the living-wage manufacturing jobs within it are held by workers commuting from other areas. Residents want opportunities for financial prosperity through employment and entrepreneurship. This project provides and aligns income pathways, resources, and supports right in the city.


In 2019, residents prioritized the lack of opportunities to generate sufficient income as the key upstream barrier to improve health equity. This project brings employment and entrepreneurial supports into the city to reverse the trend of disinvestment and help create a thriving community that will benefit all residents. Creating pathways for economic opportunity will support a positive narrative for the city, and increased income will allow residents to address other barriers to health.


This project aligns numerous partners to move residents into economic stability by incorporating services like childcare, transportation, health coverage, job training, job creation, and entrepreneurial support. Core partners each have a goal of improving health equity and know that residents of Muskegon Heights collectively share the heaviest burden of health disparities in the county. All have worked to build capacity at the neighborhood level and shift the balance of power towards residents.


This project reflects resident-prioritized needs identified within a resident-led root cause analysis, informed by community-engaged activities. This was part of the work of the Resilience Zone, designed to promote community capacity for health equity. Muskegon Heights has a growing number of neighborhood and grassroots organizations working to build on community strengths and overcome barriers. A Community Investment Group is forming to create a forum for resident leadership for this project.


The project has been supported through Muskegon’s Livability Lab, driven by qualitative and quantitative data presented to the community for grassroots problem-solving. The Lab empowers cross-sector efforts to address identified needs. This project joins the Muskegon County Health Equity Council in working to transition data collection and ownership to grassroots and community organizations. Data is power, and true equity requires a shift in control over data.