Hyundai program grants $15,000 to each of three Washtenaw County Black-owned businesses

Three Black-owned Washtenaw County companies are celebrating donations of $15,000 from Hyundai Motor America. The total $45,000 gift was part of the Progress Project by Hyundai, which provides financial support to small, Black-owned businesses. For the project's third year, award recipients were chosen from Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti – near the Hyundai America Technical Center, Inc. and Hyundai's new Safety Test and Investigation Laboratory in Superior Township.

This year's recipients are 3N1 Fitness Revolution, an Ann Arbor gym that honors holistic well-being; A-Square Fight Club, an affordable, competitive Ann Arbor boxing gym that trains people of all experience levels; and Issa’s Pizza, a new Ypsilanti restaurant gaining popularity for its charming staff and halal-friendly fare.

Representatives from Hyundai Motor America honored the business owners on Jan. 26 at an event held at the Hyundai America Technical Center. 

"When I heard that this year's Progress Project is going to be here in Michigan, I was indeed personally excited," said Tia Battle, director and general manager of the central region at Hyundai Motor America. 

Although Battle lives in Chicago, she grew up in Michigan and has a deep affection for the area. 

"I know the impact that Hyundai has made on the communities where we do business and the places that we call home," she said in her opening remarks. 

Issa's Pizza owner Omar Sowe described how the financial assistance has already had a ripple effect in the community. He spoke to the crowd, which included members of the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Regional Chamber, Ypsilanti Mayor Nicole Brown, and state Rep. Jimmie Wilson Jr.

"We always say that small businesses are the bloodline of the economy," Sowe said. "We're thankful for the contribution. It's definitely making a difference."

Sowe opened Issa's Pizza in December 2022, although he'd had his hands in the pizza industry for many years prior. Hyundai's financial support allowed him to purchase equipment that he said "revolutionized" Issa's lunch service. As he's been able to serve more people, both his company and community have been nourished.

"More people want to stop in now," he said. "It's been good for making a stronger community and the local economy."

Brandon Ramirez, director of corporate social responsibility and external relations for Hyundai Motor America, also spoke at the event and visited the award-winning businesses beforehand. 

"To see the transformation of these companies is so impactful," he said. "Our global vision at Hyundai is progress for humanity. That means giving back to the community."

Wilson spoke at the event, expressing his gratitude for the impact that Hyundai's donation will have – not only on the three small businesses, but for all local businesses, big and small.

"These three companies will now have sustainability to really make it in Washtenaw County and be a valuable part of the community for a really long time," he said. "I hope that we, and our children, and even their children, can enjoy these places."

Wilson adds that he's looking forward to visiting the winners' establishments and celebrating their progress in the days to come. Confessing to a love for pizza, he's planning to pop in to visit Sowe first. 

"Omar talking about the effect that he is already seeing in the community hit me a bit hard," Wilson said. "I believe in uniting community and I am glad that small business owners that think like him are being supported."

Since the financial leg up from Hyundai, Sowe is envisioning serving residents beyond Ypsilanti. Extending his footprint to include a second location in Ann Arbor could be a reality now.

"It's exciting to see the potential of companies grow in real time," said Ramirez, who reports succumbing to Sowe's pizza and cheese bread on sight. "I feel proud that we're already making a difference."

Jaishree Drepaul is a freelance writer and editor based in Ann Arbor. She can be reached at
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