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L-R: Tom Gitta, publisher, Mshale Newspaper; David Glass, president, American Indian Economic Development Fund; St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman; Nghi Huynh, publisher, Asian American Press and president of MN Multicultural Media Consortium; Al McFarlane, editor–in–chief, Insight News and host of Conversations with Al McFarlane; Aldolpho Cardona, publisher, Latino Midwest.
Story by Al McFarlane • Photos by Suluki Fardan
Partnerships create resiliency, growth
St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman last week affirmed the city’s commitment to do right by communities of color, small businesses, women-owned businesses and other disadvantaged businesses through restructuring city government to create new ways to do business with the City of St. Paul.
he special broadcast originated at the Centennial Showboat at Harriet Island and featured live music by Wain McFarlane & Jahz, and networking before the show. Riverfront Economic Development Association (REDA), the powerful business support and promotion organization that serves St. Paul’s West Side community, and the Minority Business Development and Retention division of St. Paul’s new Human Rights and Equal Economic Opportunity (HREEO) Department, and Twin Cities Local Initiative Support Corporation (LISC) co-sponsored the forum broadcast.
The first of its kind broadcast program also reflected the emergence of a unique multi ethnic and multi-media platform for examining and promoting business and economic development in communities of color. Minnesota Multicultural Media Consortium (MMMC) editors and American Indian business development executives joined broadcast host Al McFarlane in meet-the-press style interviews of city department heads, community development strategists and banking industry leaders.
McFarlane• Ford Reader
October 26, 2009
L-R David Glass, president, American Indian Economic Development Fund; Nghi Huynh, publisher, Asian American Press and president of MN Multicultural Media Consortium; Aldolpho Cardona, publisher, Latino Midwest; and St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman.
Coleman welcomed the nearly 100member audience and gave particular thanks to Christopher Romano, executive director of REDA. “It’s always good to have neighborhood economic development partners at the table because they really know what is going on in the community,” he said. While it is appropriate to discuss how businesses navigate challenging economic times, Coleman said the emphasis should be on the “season of opportunity” now at hand in St. Paul. “Everyone knows about the $1 billion of investment that will occur along the University transit corridor. But there are other opportunities occurring across the city on the West side, on the Eastside, on the North End and on Payne Avenue and Arcade Street,” he said. Coleman said the City of St. Paul must ensure that minority- and womenowned and disadvantaged business are part of the opportunity. “I think we’re doing our part,” he said. “Four years ago when I took office we
realized we were not properly organized or focused to make sure that we were providing opportunities for all of our citizens and business owners. City Attorney John Choi, acting on recommendations of a formal audit of St. Paul efforts to ensure inclusiveness, asked people what they needed. He made recommendations for changes we needed to go forward. We made a very dramatic change in opening up the Department of Human Rights and Equal Economic Opportunity. We created a new way of doing business. We are making sure that people can succeed and that as minority-owned businesses and women-owned and disadvantaged firms, you have the resources you need to be successful. “We’re figuring out where we can partner with people. We have new loan programs. A lot of people are traveling light right now. They’re fearful about the recession,” Coleman said. “We are asking what we need to do to assure those businesses that are struggling. So we can drive business in that direction. These are things we can do and will continue to do. We need to hear from
all of you. What are the things that you want us to do that were not doing. How can we continue to restructure and organize to create opportunity? “This is not just a morally right thing to do, but it’s economically the right thing to do as well. When we invest in businesses, those dollars turn over again and again and again in our own community. When we support our small businesses, we stabilize our neighborhoods,” Mayor Coleman said. Chris Romano is executive director of Riverview Economic Development Association (REDA) the only community development corporation (CDC) doing development work on Saint Paul’s Westside. Romano hosted business and civic leaders at the October 13th taping of the Conversations with Al McFarlane public policy broadcast. The broadcast airs 11am Tuesday, October 27, on KFAI FM 90.2 in Minneapolis and 106.3 in St. Paul. The program originated at the historic Centennial Showboat at Harriet Island and featured network-
“This is a difficult time, but also the time of great opportunity. District Del Sol has more vacancies than ever before, more than at any time in the last eight years that I’ve been here.” Chris Romano
ing and live music by Wain McFarlane & Jahz. The program promoted engagement, opportunity, awareness and support for minority, women and small business development. Romano said REDA serves two functions for the Westside community. REDA is a business association, a mini chamber of commerce with over 100 members. “We hold training and networking sessions. We provide loans. Secondly we have a community development corporation function. Our responsibility is to ensure Westside revitalizes in the best way possible, from a business and community perspective, he said. “This is a difficult time, but also the time of great opportunity. District Del Sol has more vacancies than ever before, more than at any time in the last eight years that I’ve been here,” he said. “But on the other hand, it is a time of opportunity. For small business owners that want to expand or get into business, today is a very good time to do that.” “REDA and the City of St. Paul are bringing many tools to those businesses to help them succeed. Our tools included loan and grant programs. You typically hear in the media that there are no loans available right now. You hear that businesses are suffering because they don’t have the capital to expand or to cover their cash flow needs. But that couldn’t be further from the truth in our community.”
Tom Gitaa, publisher, Mshale Newspaper
Romano said, “One of my goals is to make sure that that message gets across. There are community bankers here today and there are folks at City Hall here. And we have resources.” “If you own a small business on the Westside and if you need money to expand your business to buy additional machinery and to be successful we can provide those funds. We do that In connection with community banks and the city of St. Paul,” he said. Romano said REDA also provides small business grants. “One of the nice things about a grant is that you don’t have to pay it back.” He said the grants are for façade improvements, like signage, windows, and entryways, things that improve the look of the business.
The grants require a 1 to 1 match with a limit of $5,000 from the grant. So a project could cost up to $10,000 with the business providing half of the project cost. Romano said this is a particularly exciting time because of the federal stimulus programs. “We are still trying to figure out how old gold funds work together and how we can get the money down to our neighborhood businesses. But I think we will be able to figure out how to do that in conjunction with city and state government.” Romano praised St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman’s leadership in support of the neighborhood business associations. “To have the mayor of our city come here and spend time with us shows the
“If it’s money they needed, we can try to provide funds so loan amounts needed are smaller and involve less risk”
Tom Sanchez commitment he has to our community and to ensuring that continued success of Westside businesses,” Romano said. Tomas Sanchez, executive director of Invest St. Paul, said he has worked in Saint Paul’s Planning and Economic Development (PED) for over 35 years. He said invest St. Paul coordinates planning, zoning, and traffic transit environments to support small business development. “We look at what regulatory things we need to create an environment for economic development that will attract large businesses and small businesses to St. Paul. We encourage the development of business corridors. We also encourage employment. We used to do a lot in that area but not as much today. But we do provide financing that creates jobs,” Sanchez said. Sanchez said his department is responsible for historic preservation, and leverages city resources to support housing development. Adolfo Cardona, publisher of Latino Midwest, joined fellow publishers, Nghi Huynh, of Asian American Press, and Tom Gitaa, of Mshale, and David Glass, executive director of the American Indian Economic Development Fund, in raising Meetthe-Press style questions of forum presenters. Cardona, whose newspaper is a member of REDA, asked, “How do REDA and the City help entrepreneurs not only ‘seize if the opportunity at hand’ but also help in finding, identifying the right opportunity?” Romano said sometimes the best advice business counselors can give to the micro entrepreneur who says he wants to start a business is “Don’t do it!” He said, “We joke about that from time to time, but in truth, it is better to convince someone that their idea is not a good investment in today’s economy. So we may advise them against sinking the $20,000 that they have scrimped and saved over the past 10 years into a business that won’t work.” On the other hand he said, “We have a support division that helps folks put together cash flow analyses. We help folks look at financial statements and create business plans. That is an important part of our work. It is the reason we have such strong relationships with the local banks. They know if REDA is involved, there is somebody on the ground floor doing a lot of outreach and connecting with the business.” Romano said there are a number of organizations and agencies across the city that provide counseling and training services to small businesses. “You participate in the training programs you are often eligible for reduced rates on other business services including accounting legal and marketing services,” he said. David Glass said typically minority and American Indian communities are “communities of poverty.” “We come forward and try to obtain business loans, but we’re already saddled with bad credit. People from communities of poverty come to the table with bad credit. We find it somewhat challenging to work with lenders, even community lenders and banks, in obtaining loans. It is even difficult working with the SBA (Small Business Administration).” Glass asked, “How does your organization help us if that navigate through these problems?” “In the Latino community we have the same issues. We struggle with that all that time,” Romano said. “We can’t sit here and say we have the answer to the folks in our community to get them the credit we would like to see them get.” “We also deal with immigration issues. That ends up being a huge roadblock for many of our financial partners. I have nothing against the large banks that we work with, but I have found that some of the community banks are going more willing to look outside the box when it comes to some of these issues whether its credit score or business financials or what have you,” Romano said. “Often times we say we will help with the loan servicing, the training, and with one and one meetings with the entrepreneur every month. That takes a huge burden off the lender. But it helps ensure that their loans are going to get paid back.” Romano said the grants available, from the STAR (Sales Tax Area Revitalization) Program. St. Paul takes an extra ½% sales tax to fund and the STAR Program. “It allows us to make grants of up to us $5,000 specifically for business facade projects,” he said. Asked how the city CDC’s work together, Sanchez said, “We recognize
“We provide working capital, loans, and grants. A primary function is to get funds to the community,”
Readus Fletcher that we don’t always have to lead. So we look two the community development corporations to provide input and to tell us what is they need. What are the things we can do to support their mission? Sometimes it is a matter of getting the city of the way and letting them do what they do.” “If it’s money they needed, we can try to provide funds so loan amounts needed are smaller and involve less risk,” Sanchez said. In a second panel, Readus Fletcher, deputy director, Human Rights and Equal Economic Opportunity (HREEO,) who heads St. Paul’s Minority Business Development and Retention initiative, said “the city of St. Paul generates business opportunities to the tune of several hundred million dollars a year. The department seeks to ensure business and employment opportunities are equally available to all communities.” “We do human rights complaint investigations. That’s important because most investigations are employmentrelated and that means the individual’s economic opportunity. But the bigger initiative is procurement. We do all the contract bidding and contract compliance. We manage contracts that go out for purchasing for housing and other business services purchased by the City of St. Paul. We set expectations for minority and women employment and for business participation. We do capacity building to enable small and minority businesses to participate. We work with community development corporations like REDA and Selby CDC. We provide working capital, loans, and grants. A primary function is to get funds to the community,” Fletcher said.
Larry Zang, project facilitator, Department of Safety and Inspection (DSI) Susan Feuerherm, acting purchasing manager, Human Rights and Equal Economic Opportunity (HREEO)
Bob Kessler is director, department of safety inspections (DSI). He said his department and the newly created HREEO each represent the biggest reorganization of city government since the seventies. “We believe we can provide good information and efficient services. That is what we want to do.” Larry Zang, the DSI project facilitator, said the Department of Safety and Inspections is a regulatory department “but that is not the whole story or the biggest part.” “We are proactive in supporting business. We outline for owners what requirements they must meet and how they can shape their business plan to help them succeed. We tried to work with businesses to make them more successful and guide them through business processes,” he said. Nghi Huynh, president of Minnesota Multicultural Media Consortium and publisher of Asian American Press asked about strategies ensure economic and business participation equity for communities of color. He asked for assurances for minority participation in light rail business opportunity and
asked why the city was not more aggressive in seeking stimulus funding. “The city of St. Paul did not respond to Minnesota Multicultural Media Consortium efforts to respond to the federal broadband stimulus spending proposal requests,” he said. Consequently, he said, the Consortium partnered with the University of Minnesota and Minneapolis city agencies. Susan Feuerherm, acting purchasing manager, (HREEO), said St. Paul is to looking to be involved in broadband stimulus spending initiatives. “And we have received and others stimulus funds this week,” she said. “In addition we put out a request for proposals for a $146 million project with 15% goals for women, minority and disadvantaged businesses participation and employment. The project is being run by the Regional Rail Authority, but being put out to bid by our office,” she said. Fletcher said the $1 billion light rail project is actually being built by the Metropolitan Council and the Federal Transit Authority. “They let the con-
“People from communities of poverty come to the table with bad credit. We find it somewhat challenging to work with lenders, even community lenders and banks, in obtaining loans.”
David Glass tracts and they set their goals. We work with them to set high goals for employment, apprenticeships, and training,” he said. “However, the city has put up money for a specific station and does control that project. The $12,000,000 of city money behind that station shows our belief that this is a huge benefit to the community,” Fletcher said. Angela Burkhalter, Public Information Officer - project manager, Minority Business Development and Retention (MBDR) - (HREEO), introduced the final panel that included second ward city Councilman Dave Thune and bank executive John Kimball. She said “Thune has a vision for small businesses and for neighborhoods. It not top down, but is about CDC’s and associations letting the city know how we can be better partners as we go forward.” “My solution is to leave everything up to the neighborhoods,” Thune said. “That is where the opportunity is. That is where the jobs are. Neighborhoods are local. Small banks and branch banks are local. CDC’s and neighborhood associations are local.” That notwithstanding, he said, “This is a bad time to start a new business. It is extremely risky. But that is why partners like REDA and the CDC’s are so important. But this is also a region where entrepreneurism is strong.”
Angela Burkhalter, Public Information Officer (PIO) and Minority Business Development and Retention (MBDR) project manager
City Council member Dave Thune, Ward 2
“Don’t let politicians get away with that,” he said. Thune said St. Paul is right to be welcoming and non punitive to immigrant populations. He said the city doesn’t require proof of citizenship when providing services or employment. He said immigrant workers add to the vitality of the city and mean growth for businesses. Thune encouraged small businesses to embrace and partner with the union movement. “Unions are partners. Unions are not scary,” he said. John Kimball, senior vice president and manager, SBA Lending at Park Midway Bank said his bank’s mission is to be a leader in improving the community, particularly, low and moderate income communities.” Part of the Sunrise Financial Services System, the bank specializes in socially responsible
Thune said St. Paul has the largest health care market in the upper Midwest and he said environment oriented business markets are growing. He said education represents a growth market for new businesses. St. Paul is second only to Boston in the number of schools per capita, he said. While government cannot be the “be all and end all” for small business, he said, “we need to demand responsible partnerships. And when partnerships and projects that we set up don’t go exactly the way we want, we shouldn’t throw everything out and just walk away, despite the good work that has been done.” Thune even faulted his own DFL colleagues for throwing ACORN “under the bus” when scamming problems surfaced in one of ACORN’s operations.
deposits and lending. Customers can specify that they want all their deposits to be used exclusively for lending in their own community, he said. “Your money has the double bottom line of aiding the community,” Kimball said. Park Midway Bank was one of leading SBA lenders in the state, Kimball said. “We used the New Market Tax Credit Program and we have used federal stimulus funds to increase the amount of guarantee assistance for loans without increasing fees to the user. Our lending has increased over the past year, which is significant considering the difficult environment where banks have become more restrictive in their lending. Partnerships do work and will continue to be important in the future,” he said. Tom Gitaa, publisher of Mshale, asked Thune and Kimball what the city and industry could do to make sure more residents of immigrant and communities of color were aware of the resources and opportunities that exist in the community and in doing business with the city.
Robert Kessler, director, Department of Safety and Inspection (DSI)
John Kimball, sr. vice president/manager SBA Lending, Park Midway Bank
“A lot of people look to the government as a regulator. But we are learning tonight that government also represents a great business opportunity. Many of us are not aware of that. How can we create more awareness and get better at getting this information out so people can engage? “Gitaa asked, “How can we build and increase the public-private partnerships?” Kimball said the banks can help customers connect with information because “information is absolutely critical element of success. But we are a bank for profit. Our mission is banking, not information.”
Thune credited Mayor Chris Coleman with turning the corner for St. Paul neighborhoods and small businesses. “The city had failed to communicate in the past, but Chris is changing that and working harder and harder to connect with the least amount of bureaucracy. Yes, there are fewer dollars. But we can be good matchmakers connecting businesses to opportunity.
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