Mayor Jacob Frey, along with City Council Vice President Andrea Jenkins, a panel of Minneapolis business and political leaders, and a throng of small business owners and supporters crowded Mama Sheila’s Soul Food Kitchen in South Minneapolis to kick off Black Business Week.
Black Business Week, a 9-day slate of events from July 19-27, was a new initiative from the City of Minneapolis aimed at enabling access to the technical and financial resources needed for Black-owned businesses to succeed.
Mayor Frey and City Councilwoman Jenkins, at the kickoff event July 19, we’re both quick to deflect credit for the inception of the initiative to Shauen Pearce, the City of Minneapolis’ economic development and inclusion policy director.
The discussion began with a startling statistic: of $4 billion the state doles out for business development, less than one half of one percent goes to Black-owned businesses. The reactions in the room ranged from shocked expressions to unsurprised, knowing nods. It was a sharp gut punch, but the energy in the room quickly turned towards solutions.
Frey explained the strategy. Ensuring easy access to funds and licensing for Black-owned businesses is important and achievable. Frey called the overall approach of economic inclusion “a specific strategy that unmakes the legacy of exclusion of Black, Indigenous, and people of color.” He took a moment to repeat it for emphasis.
The panel of Minneapolis business people gave clear responses to questions, adding concrete steps the City could take to help specific businesses.
For example, one request was easier access to capital, which Black businesses often struggle with, lacking access to traditional funding sources. Banks that understand and want to support Black businesses would go a long way.
Another persistent problem is that state funding programs characteristically have steeper requirements and higher repayment costs. These are the programs Black-owned businesses are most likely to have access to, adding to the disadvantage.
The second half of the event focused on local business owners in the audience, who were invited to discuss their own businesses. They came from many sectors — construction, information technology, the arts, legal, real estate, nonprofit, to name a few.
One, in particular, showed how Black-owned business can so often be a family affair. Willie Roller, a master electrician, went into business working with his son after he graduated college. They started a new firm together, WJRJ Electrical, and have been in business for four months.
Roller and son are currently recruiting and supporting new employees in learning the trade. Roller also noted that working in the trades provided access to solid middle-class incomes without the burden of college debt.
After the local business introductions, the panel concluded the discussion. Panel member and Minneapolis businessperson Anthony Taylor summed up the spirit of the day quickly when he said, “Entrepreneurship is fueled by optimism.”
To find out more about Minneapolis Black Business Week or to register a business, visit minneapolisblackbusinessweek.com.