Hennepin County funds 18 minority-focused business incubator and commercial space projects

Hennepin County funds 18 minority-focused business incubator and commercial space projects

For years, a small indigenous staff has provided culture-based medical, social, wellness and economic services in an outdated community center in southern Minneapolis where patients sometimes have to stand outside because the waiting room is too small.

Many youth and theater programs must be housed in a nearby church. Even with logistical constraints, the group has set up a company that manufactures baby food using heirloom Native American crops and foods grown and crops using sustainable practices. Plants are grown by people learning agricultural skills on a few acres south of the Twin Cities.

The staff’s small workplace will soon be replaced by the Mikwanedun Audisookon Center for Art and Wellness. This effort consolidates and expands its existing services, adding a theater, a commercial kitchen, a café for people to sell their food and spaces to start other new businesses.

To help build its new facility, the task force received nearly $1 million in a $10 million grant funding effort recently approved by Hennepin County for 18 minority-focused and nonprofit organizations. The goal is to promote affordable commercial space and provide a place for entrepreneurs to develop restaurants, event centers, training, offices and other assets for communities often facing barriers to economic growth.

Overall, the county-supported projects will create more than 400,000 square feet of commercial and non-profit space, support more than 550 local business owners and employ more than 1,000 people. The total cost of the projects is more than $270 million, including city and state funding outside of county grants.

“The county has focused on ways to help businesses recover during the pandemic and this is just an extension of that goal,” said District Council Chair Marion Green. “This is a very targeted way of spending epidemic relief money, which has a huge impact on communities.”

The one-off program, called the Community Investment Initiative, sought applicants focused on economic recovery strategies for minority entrepreneurs, developers of affordable commercial space, and nonprofit organizations. Proposals were requested in March and 46 requests were sent.

Many of the hundreds of millions of dollars in federal pandemic funding received by Hennepin County were used in COVID-19 cases and short-term financial relief for business and housing. Patricia Fitzgerald, Director of Community and Economic Development, said the commissioners wanted this initiative to create long-term transformation in specific cities and communities, and reduce disparities.

When county employees did research and spoke to stakeholders, they were told that the biggest need was to provide affordable commercial space and support nonprofits that were on the front lines during the pandemic but are now struggling financially and have space issues, she said.

“This is a completely new area nationally for defining what is an affordable commercial space,” said Ryan Kelly, CII Program Manager.

Other ongoing projects

During the application process, the county learned that cities such as Bloomington, St. Louis Park, Brooklyn Center and Brooklyn Park were already considering projects for minority businesses, commercial spaces and nonprofit organizations.

Brooklyn Park has purchased vacant commercial space with the intention of rehabilitating the site into a business incubator. The $8.5 million project will provide 27,000 square feet of commercial space for up to 60 commercial and non-food businesses. City officials said there will be access to business resources and technical assistance as well as areas to hold meetings, host events and attend training.

Other projects include the development of 40,000 square feet of commercial and community space with an art library at Juxtaposition Arts in Minneapolis and the renovation of the historic Coliseum building into a Lake Street retail center for 25 small businesses and entrepreneurs of color, Kelly said. A gas station is also being converted into a space for four companies.

room to grow

The Indigenous Peoples Task Force, which received $750,000 from the county, moved into place on 23e Street in 2008. Its services are divided between HIV and hepatitis C cases, testing, prevention of opioid use, youth activities, and employment opportunities focused on theatrical programme. They also operate a 14-unit residential facility for people with HIV and other issues. The three-story place where staff meet has a basement, main floor, and an upper floor, which staff say doesn’t leave much room for privacy.

Mike Newman, the new facility’s coordinator, said the task force planned the new space just a few years after it moved to its current location. He said the city sold a vacant plot nearby to the business team for one dollar. They will begin work on a $10 million project in the Phillips neighborhood of Minneapolis next spring and expect to have it completed within a year.

Besides the theater, the new facility will include a commercial kitchen serving traditional food, foster growth of the Indigi-Baby Food brand, provide space for new business owners and add a large clinic and consulting area, he said.

Kelly said the new spaces will give entrepreneurs an opportunity to build a fortune that they can pass on to the next generation.

“Even if companies come and go, the spaces will always be there,” he said.

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