House Economic Development Finance and Policy (March 29): Public Testimony Notes 

Notes by Cirien Saadeh

Public Testimony 

Mayor Jacob Frey, City of Minneapolis

  • Testifying in favor of House File 3028
  • “During the global pandemic and during the stay-at-home orders we lost about 1700 businesses. 144,000 people went on to unemployment and we come back right now, it is critical that we do so in partnership. The City is ready to receive and we are ready to allocate funds, in fact we have a system that is already set up and in place for this Empowering Enterprise Program. We’re able to do compliance, we’re able to receive these funds and get them out in a timely manner to make sure that it is going to the people and businesses that need it most.”
  • “And as we’ve seen the businesses that were most substantially impacted by COVID-19 are many of the same exact businesses that were impacted by the unrest following the murder of George Floyd. We’re not just asking for funds alone, we as a City have been and are ready to step up and do our part. $12.7 million have already been allocated to around 25 different projects, triggering around $72 million in investment. That is on top of the business and technical assistance that we’ve been providing, on top of the case management support, on top of the $4.5 million that went to rubble clearance and additional assistance that has helped around 1500 businesses. That includes fee waivers for those 1500 businesses. This State funding at this critical time will energize our recovery, will help stabilize our tax base, and I would attest that this is a good thing not just for the residents of the City of Minneapolis but for our entire state.”
  • “For every $3 that the City of Minneapolis produces we get back $1. We are proud to be the economic generator, the engine, for the State of Minnesota. We are proud to provide tax dollars to other areas of our state that need it and we need to make sure that that pump is primed, we need to make sure that engine continues to run. This is a huge part of that. These partnerships are built to align and leverage additional funding.”
  • “These dollars will leverage additional investments, they’ll leverage tax revenue which then can go back to your district, and these state investments will be able to increase the economic impact that we are able to have.”

Calvin Littlejohn, TRI Construction and Tri Development

  • “As we talk about investment, as we talk about being able to take some economic dollars and put them into, for me, it’s North Minneapolis. It’s to put them back into development, it’s to put them back into communities that for a long time have been disinvested in. It’s a pleasure and it puts a smile on my face to come here and to talk about investing in North Minneapolis and investing into our minority communities.”
  • TRI was the recipient of funds for the 927 building in North Minneapolis that sat vacant for decades, redeveloped and 100% occupied. Says that for a long time organizations like TRI were pushed out of the Northside, now conversations are about being included in the changes taking place in the Northside – Tri now has 15 employees, up from 7. 
  • “As we were doing the construction of that project, 51% of those workforce hours went towards BIPOC families, so that’s almost $2 million worth of paychecks every single week that went back into BIPOC families.” 
  • “As we talk about investing in our communities, invest in our businesses. Our businesses will directly invest back into our communities. And so I’m proud to be a North Minneapolis resident that lives in North Minneapolis. I have a business in North Minneapolis and I hire from North Minneapolis. We’ve grown. We continue to grow.”
  • “When you take those dollars, allow us to stay within our community, grow our business, redevelop properties within our communities, we are the transformation that makes these things possible in our communities when you empower us to do so.”
  • “I underestimated the pride that my neighbors would have in me being their neighbor knowing that a couple blocks away we are redeveloping inside our own neighborhood.” 

Abe Demmaj, Lake Street Business Owner and Lake Street Alignment Initiative 

  • “Lake Street is a home to me and, I call them, the new American partners.”
  • “We have contributed to the State of Minnesota through our wealth and through our work. That diversity is gone. It’s no longer there anymore. If you drive by Lake Street, it’s vacant land.”
  • Says that POC families and workers left Lake Street after murder of George Floyd and subsequent uprising
  • “South Minneapolis has been destroyed. If you cannot save it right now, there’s no other chance.” 
  • Says that folks have to keep testifying requesting support post-uprising is “unacceptable”
  • Says that Minneapolis residents and business owners are being treated as a second-class citizen in the rebuilding process
  • “It’s not fair. If you come to Lake Street, you’ll see vacant land. Our building burnt down at 1:15am in the morning. Did we cause it? No we didn’t.”
  • “It’s been three years, if I was living in a richer neighborhood, three days it would have been rebuilt. Three years.”

Response from Rep. Hassan: “We don’t think you are a fool. What happened in Lake Street and University Ave and West Broadway was unfortunate and we stand with the community and that’s why we’re having this conversation today.”

Kari Johnson, Metropolitan Consortium of Community Developers

  • MCCD is located at 31st and Chicago, in between Lake St. and George Floyd Square 
  • Says they are grateful to see the inclusion of the Small Business Partnership Program and to see funding increases. “This program has been stagnant for a decade and with this increase, and especially the ongoing funding, we can continue to serve BIPOC small businesses throughout the state for years to come.”
  • Says that, according to a study done, the SBPP serves on average 81% of BIPOC small businesses
  • Says they’re also excited about the Community Wealth Building Program. “We’re really excited to see this innovative, new funding model to help support shared ownership with businesses and commercial land trusts. We’re just looking forward to seeing how this helps to shape the landscape and preserve affordability for small businesses through the land trust model or create wealth-building opportunities for workers. 

Lauren Bennett McGinty, Executive Director of Explore Minnesota Tourism

  • Says the funding will help the organization move closer to their goals and allow them to create “a more welcoming visitor experience for all,” but concerned about an absence of funding for “Explore Minnesota for Business”
  • “The Governor and Lt. Governor put forward a $12 million recommendation to fund this new division.”
  • Says that more work needs to be done to attract workers, promote Minnesota’s livability and economic opportunity out of state  
  • “We as Minnesotans continue to remain overly humble about what we have here that is great and we cannot keep these things secret any longer no matter how Minnesota Nice we want to be about it. The time is now to make bold moves to address the fact we have a shrinking workforce and we need to put in the work to bring new people here.”

Baba Letang, Neighborhood Development Center

  • Says NDC works in partnership
  • “Last year we reached about 800 entrepreneurs…and we look forward to continuing to do that.” 
  • “We look forward to helping Greater Minnesota partners, providing high-quality one-on-one technical assistance for entrepreneurs in their communities.”
  • Says the appropriation will help NDC continue its work and expand its work  
  • Says NDC is glad to see the inclusion of the Emerging Developer Fund – they recommend that a pool of funds be set aside for nonprofit administrators of the EDF “to provide technical assistance”
  • “If not you, then who.” 

Melanie Tomczak, BioMADE

  • Speaking on the job opportunities within the bio-manufacturing field in Minnesota
  • Introduces BioMADE and organizational mission
  • Discusses the specific parts of the legislation pertinent to BioMADE

Dr. Surya Iyer, President of Polar Semiconductor 

  • Discusses the Federal CHIPS Act and how Minnesota can leverage the CHIPS Act
  • Discusses what a semiconductor is 
  • Says its untenable that semiconductors are largely made in Asia

Tawanna Black, Founder and CEO of the Center for Economic Inclusion

  • Introduces the Center for Economic Inclusion and discusses goals and organizational work 
  • Says that appropriations from the Legislature have allowed the organization to invest millions into Black-led organizations in the Northside 

Adam Duininck, North Central Regional Council of Carpenters 

  • “We have a unique opportunity to both match federal resources, connect private and public resources, in a way that is going to transform industry in this state and across the country and we’re in a strict competition with other states.” 
  • Says they’re supporting the bill, supporting jobs

Miluska Novota, Lawyer

  • Speaking in support of the Empowering Enterprise Program 
  • Has an office on Bryant and Lake, serves immigrant entrepreneurs 
  • On the board of Lake Street Council 
  • “I would like to thank you the 120 businesses that supported the letter that we presented, written testimony, along with Gandhi Mahal, Elite Cleaners, and the barbering school.”
  • “As you know Lake Street Council was the first organization that helped my clients and our businesses recover after the pandemic and after the civil unrest caused by the murder of George Floyd. The key to that help was the knowledge that Lake Street Council has built over so many years of each business in the street, the commitment of Lake Street Council to our well-being, and the sense of community that we have on Lake Street.”
  • “One of my clients said that the best thing that happened after the pandemic, and after the civil unrest, was seeing the many, many, many Minnesotans help us clean the street. The other thing that was key to the recovery was the support that the state of Minnesota, Hennepin County, the City of Minneapolis, private funders, gave to help our businesses survive.” 
  • “This project allows us to come from survival mode into thriving mode. As one of our neighbors, a business owner, told me yesterday the key to a small business thriving is owning its own shop, its own salon, its own restaurant and your support would allow us to do that in two ways. We have the strength, as business owners, to be able to buy our shops but we need two components: the technical assistance that many of us do not have because we’re so new to the US, new to the dream of owning our own and that gap in financing, the catalyst funds.” 
  • “I hope you can help us continue employing our neighbors, continue building a thriving street, and most of all continue increasing the tax base so that we can reinvest it in our street through being able to pay taxes as owners just as much as we do.”

Sarah Psick, Minnesota Tourism Growth Coalition

  • Introduces Minnesota Tourism Growth Coalition
  • Says that tourism was hit hard in pandemic and that tourism spending reinvests in the State and state services

Peter McLaughlin, Twin Cities LISC

  • CDFI that works to provide access to capital for “people, places, and projects that lack adequate access to capital through traditional channels”
  • Have been involved in Twin Cities recovery work 
  • Calls the level of investment in recovery “unprecedented’
  • “The communities that know what’s needed are ready to do the work, to create local economies that work for everyone. This bill will provide essential tools for those efforts.”
  • Calls out investment into Emerging Developers
  • “There’s a huge pent-up energy among emerging developers to lead development projects in their communities, the long standing barriers to their success – redlining, lending practices, lack of liquidity or timely access to critical technical assistance – these barriers need to be dismantled and the Emerging Developers provisions will help do just that.”
  • “LISC is supportive of the investment in this bill in many channels: community organizations, CDFIs, business associations, CDCs, and local governments.”

D’Angelos Svenkeson, NEOO Partners

  • Says that the organization has worked with 75 small businesses in the last two years and principally working alongside Lake St and University Ave
  • “Our work has been there when the insurance companies weren’t able to cover or the insurance policies were written in a way that don’t fully bring back the value of the buildings that were left.”
  • Supports the bill, wants committee to reconsider some financial limits in the bill
  • “Economic development happens in many different ways and many different places throughout town.”

Chad Kulas, Midway Chamber of Commerce 

  • “The [Midway] Corridor depends on the hard work of entrepreneurs. On May 22, 2020 I became the first person to try Bole Express, a fast casual concept of Bole Ethiopian Cuisine as the owner prepared to open his new concept May 30th. But on May 29th he watched the building that housed both of his locations burn to the ground. That space along with many others along University Ave still remains without a new building. Within days of the civil unrest the Midway Chamber joined forces with the St. Paul Area Chamber and the St. Paul Downtown Alliance to create one of a handful of funds aimed at helping those who had property damage.”
    • Says the fund was used to help 80 small businesses “with over $1.3 million in relief,” with funds donated by both the business community and by current and former Midway residents
  • “This proposed legislation would help businesses by creating community wealth. Community wealth helps to develop assets so the wealth stays local and helps build more vibrant neighborhoods, it increases asset ownership and creates anchor jobs by broadening ownership over capital and ensures economic stability. These are all essential in rebuilding our community in a way that can work for more residents.”
  • “Our businesses and our residents stepped up and we ask the State to do the same.”

Nasibu Sareva, African Development Center

  • “Most of those businesses that we’ve lost, they were BIPOC-led companies. And when we look into the BIPOC-owned companies, especially with everything that has happened with the pandemic and the civil unrest, most of them were immigrant-owned small businesses that until today, that we still don’t know what we should do to fix and to make sure those businesses thrive.” 

Anthony Taylor, Cultural Wellness Center 

  • On the Lake St. corridor
  • “Thank you for your commitment to making transformative investments in particularly historically disenfranchised and marginalized communities.”
  • Says CWC is excited for the investments being made
  • “We have the unique pleasure, honor, of working on 38th St., working on Lake St., and working on West Broadway Ave., and what we see is something that is very important and very similar. That these communities are poised for growth and for economic vitality.” 
  • “These are not investments in streets or buildings, these are investments in people’s future. It is an investment in our commitment to building communities of opportunity.” 

Nelima Sitate Munene, ACER

  • “We’re here to ask for continued support to continue the work that we’re doing.” 
  • Says ACER won’t dessert communities like businesses (like Walmart) have recently done 
  • “Our communities are not failing, we are being failed. And we want to continue supporting our communities, our micro-businesses.They are the micro-engines of our communities. They are the ones that are going to grow into small businesses and future large businesses and corporations.” 

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