Last year, Michael Emem launched Emem Group, a Milwaukee-based firm that designs and builds single-family homes and performs work on commercial projects primarily as owner’s representative. In the past year, Emem Group designed and built more than $4 million in new market-rate homes and managed over $25 million in commercial developments as owner’s rep. Emem Group, which is co-developer of the planned MLK Library redevelopment, now plans to expand the commercial development side of the business after hiring Deshea Agee, former executive director of the Historic King Drive Business Improvement District. BizTimes reporter Brandon Anderegg recently caught up with Emem about those plans.
What’s the inspiration behind creating Emem Group?
“In middle school, I knew I wanted to be a real estate developer because of the community (Washington Park) that I grew up in. It was a poor community that lacked investment in the real estate and housing stock and in the commercial corridors around me. Every day I looked around and I knew that those communities that I grew up in had a lot of untapped potential. They just needed the resources, needed someone with the passion, will and grit to create new spaces and renovate existing spaces. I felt like as a child and I still feel today that I’ve been called to do this work.”
How will Agee’s experience boost Emem Group’s commercial development side of the business?
“Deshea is a well-known, well-respected business professional in the Milwaukee community that brings tremendous wealth of knowledge, personal connections and relationships that I strongly believe will be an asset to Emem Group. I know his drive on a personal level. I believe his internal motivation complements mine and the two of us together is really like adding 10 other people to the organization because of all that he brings across the board.”
How might the homes you’re designing and building in the Josey Heights and Walnut Circle subdivisions create momentum for new-home construction in the surrounding neighborhoods?
“I believe Josey Heights and Walnut Circle will have long-term impacts in the surrounding communities by property appreciation and diversifying the community, not just in terms of racial diversity, but diversity of class as well. Both of those subdivisions challenge old stereotypes that once said it’s not desirable to live in those communities or that certain people who can afford to live elsewhere would never choose to live in those communities. We’ve proven that stereotype is a myth and I’m hopeful that once these two subdivisions are fully built, our efforts will evolve to rehabbing existing housing stock around those subdivisions.”
Is there a particular community that has a lot of potential but is overlooked?
“I have to say unequivocally the north side of Milwaukee and areas where African Americans reside. Those areas have been overlooked for generations, and I don’t think one developer can rebuild all that needs to be rebuilt in the Black community, but I believe it is necessary that we attempt to do so.”