You can certainly taste the diversity in Canton.
Its restaurants offer cuisine from around the world. That’s one sign of the diversity in this community where 57 languages are spoke in its schools.
But the township’s Economic Development Manager Kristen Thomas says this is not the Canton of twenty years ago — with nothing South of Ford Road except cornfields and cow pastures.
Thomas says the township was always known for its good schools and safe community. It is conveniently located halfway between Detroit and Ann Arbor with access to I-275 and I-94. But It just didn’t have much going on.
Then, the town worked with developers to build a golf course and homes around it.
“When [the homes] went up for sale,” says Thomas, “People were in sleeping bags waiting to sign up to live in these communities.”
She says that was the start of the ”virtuous cycle.” More homes were built. More taxes were collected. Services improved.
There were around 90,000 residents counted in the 2010 census. Thomas says today that number is around 100-thousand.
People and businesses have come from around the world to the township. And that diversity can be seen in more than its food offerings.
“When [the homes] went up for sale, people were in sleeping bags waiting to sign up to live in these communities.” — Kristen Thomas, Canton Economic Development Manager
Canton is home to Middle Eastern Markets. It has beauty salons that specialize in henna tattooing and Indian weddings.
It is also home to the Michigan Islamic Slaughterhouse. Mustafa al Hachami’s family bought the slaughterhouse a year ago. They slaughter animals for in accordance with Islamic law.
Hachimi says now people in the area don’t have to travel more than a hour for the service.
“It’s just an in and out thing,” Hachimi says. “It makes them feel like they’re back home when they do this. You get the best of both worlds.”
Larger businesses also see the value in meeting the needs of a diverse Canton. Michigan-based movie theater chain Emagine Theaters keeps Bollywood films in rotation at its Canton location. It even had a Bollywood festival there in February.
“A lot of our alternative content does come from some suggestion the community,” says Trevor Baker, Emagine’s director of programming.
Baker says the community requests have resulted in films in Bollywood offerings at some locations and autism-friendly showings in others. He says offering audiences what they want and can’t get elsewhere is good business.
“We would see the same families over and over again,” he says. “And not only that — they would bring friends or they would bring awareness.”
Canton is still growing. Economic Development Manager Kristen Thomas is working to develop the kind of business presence on Michigan Avenue the state’s only Ikea has brought to Ford Road.
And, she says there are still more small and minority-owned business to come.
Why did we choose Canton? Canton was selected as a featured area for Crossing the Lines due to its dramatic economic and developmental growth, as well as its rapidly increasing diversity.