There’s a new Black-owned commercial real estate firm in town. Here’s why that’s important.

At Greenwood, “we’re all former corporate services guys that have worked with the big firms, and we’re bringing that sort of structure and ethos to the way we’re going to approach clients,” said James Pitts, head of the Atlanta office of Greenwood, which has 17 affiliates around the country. “Everyone will still do what they do in their local market, with sort of a Greenwood boost.”

That “boost” includes national and international business connections derived from the office heads’ decades of experience with large corporations, Pitts said.

Talley’s office is in the New Center area in the Boulevard West Building. It’s just him running the show locally right now, but he envisions building out a stable of brokers under the Greenwood flag over the next year or two.

In part, that’s where we get into an important broader context.

The commercial real estate industry is pretty homogeneous, populated largely by white men in the executive ranks, even in a city like Detroit, where the population is more than 80 percent Black. (Yes, I know some newsrooms, including my own, are also painfully homogeneous and we need to do far better at attracting, hiring, nurturing and retaining diverse talent across the board.)

Virtually any survey you find on diversity in commercial real estate comes back with a similar result.

For example, Commercial Property Executive reported last year that 2017 research from the Bella Research Group and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation shows that white men occupy more than three of every four senior commercial real estate posts in the U.S. Black men held just 1.3 percent; white women had 14.1 percent and nonwhite women had less than 1 percent.

I wrote in 2016 about 2013 data from the Commercial Real Estate Development Association, which found at the time that white men held 13,773 senior commercial real estate positions, or 77.6 percent, compared to 178 jobs, or 1.3 percent, held by Black men. White women also held 14.1 percent of the senior CRE jobs in that survey (1,948 jobs); Hispanic men, 2.9 percent, or 397 jobs; Asian men, 1.6 percent, or 216 jobs; and non-white women, less than 1 percent in the CREDA survey as well.

Last year, BisNow described the brokerage climate nationally this summer following the protests after George Floyd’s murder by police in Minneapolis as follows:

“U.S. brokerage firms — the grease in the wheels of commercial real estate, employing hundreds of thousands of people and generating tens of billions in annual revenue — issued public statements of support for Black Lives Matter, committing to do more and better and increasing donations to diversity groups within the industry,” the publication wrote. “Many said little and committed to nothing. Despite these firms’ reach, considerable capital and massive employee rosters, the vast majority of their most powerful decision-makers are White men.”

The issue persists in virtually all facets of commercial real estate, ranging from brokerage to development, from architecture to finance for a variety of reasons ranging from ineffective recruitment strategies to systemic racial issues.

Pitts believes that Greenwood CRE will help Black people break into commercial real estate.

“We’ll be able to bring people into the industry,” Pitts said. “To be frank, it’s been hard to get business from big corporations because you have to work with the global firms. So now, there seems to be a window of opportunity with companies being very intentional with who they work with, and that provides an opportunity for people who’ve been waiting for a long time to have a turn at that. We want to make sure that other people behind us have a turn at that, too.”

Talley also thinks ahead at the generational implications.

“I think that’s really key,” Talley said. “What really struck me when I started having conversations with James, it’s a responsibility now. I’m looking at it as a responsibility. These younger people are really looking up to us, No. 1 because we have been in the industry over 20 years and had success. We are raising our families, sending our kids to great schools and things of that nature. It’s a great career. It’s not easy, but if we can pave that road for some others, that’s what really attracted me.”