Chaldean Chamber head also leads efforts to help refugees from Iraq

By Steve Spalding
Martin Manna of the Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce also runs the Chaldean Community Foundation
Martin Manna is the only president the Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce has had in its decade of life.

And for much of that time his job has been to promote the many small businesses Chaldeans operate in southeast Michigan.

But the job has changed dramatically for the 41-year-old former financial adviser, who also runs the Chaldean Community Foundation. The foundation is meant to aid some of the large influx of Chaldeans, who are Iraqi Christians, displaced by the war and moving to southeast Michigan.

“The war in Iraq really changed our course,” he said.

The foundation began in 2006 with enough funds to help 400 displaced Chaldeans. Now more than 10,000 will be helped this year
The Chaldean population in southeast Michigan — the largest in the world outside of the Middle East — has grown to about 130,000 members.

The foundation takes an almost business-like approach to helping refugees with a flow chart taking them through intake, English lessons, job placement, low-interest loans for cars, low or free health care provided through donations and Chaldean physicians, and housing.

The fiercely proud and tight-knit Chaldean community would prefer doing that with minimal government help, Manna said. “We want to make sure they don’t rely on government subsidies.”

That reluctance to use government help also applies to Chaldean business practices. Manna and the Chaldean chamber have been critics of subsidies given to developers of the Detroit retailers such as Whole Foods and Meijer while Chaldean store owners go it alone.

“Having Whole Foods is great, just don’t subsidize them,” he said.

A Chaldean Detroit grocer is seeking help from the city to fix up a badly stripped building for a grocery store on Jefferson Avenue. It’s a test of sorts to see whether government agencies will assist locally based businesses in the same way they do national firms, Manna said

The stereotype of Chaldeans as only party and grocery store owners will eventually fade, he said. They have become major owners of pizza franchises and hotels and more are becoming doctors and lawyers.

“Probably in 20 years most of the store owners won’t be Chaldean,” he said.