Here in Ward Three, we face a predicament. We know that small businesses draw community activity, from Dinkytown to the North Loop, from the Mill District to the Northeast Arts District. We are proud of our Downtown and the University of Minnesota, twin engines for our region’s economy and competitiveness. We also know that many families struggle to earn a living wage and pay the rent, health and child care bills, and put food on the table. And our arts vitality, fueled by small businesses, relies on an aging population - over 50, on average - that includes few people of color.
Crafting economic policies and programs that encourage investment and meet diverse needs across all our neighborhoods is extremely difficult. The needs Downtown are different than those in Bottineau or Marcy-Holmes. We must purposefully engage each community, understand their needs and foster creative solutions.
I support a $15 wage for all workers as a path to close the opportunity gap for people of color, and help build a city where all can thrive.
I am firmly committed to shaping this policy to address key issues. Will it help the people it is intended to help? What can we do to prevent - or mitigate - negative results? What other strategies can we implement at the same time to help people pay their rent, take care of their families, and be healthy? Reduce their costs by increasing access to affordable housing, transportation, child care and health care?
I have heard many fears voiced at community forums, such as hurting small businesses led by people of color, deterring businesses from investing or expanding here, losing eligibility for housing or child care programs with income thresholds, and decreasing employment. I want us to make this decision intelligently, and be willing to amend it as we study how it is working. We need to incentivize people to choose to visit Main Street Southeast or Eat Street rather than dining in a neighboring city.
I want to revitalize our neighborhoods without displacing the small businesses that make our neighborhoods unique. I want to find ways to increase wages organically throughout the city by providing incentives for our small and mid-sized businesses, including people of color. We can evaluate the effectiveness of and increase programs that offer loans to help businesses get off the ground, remodel, and solicit advice to improve set-up success. The city’s new Target Market program invites small, local businesses to apply for city contracts, expanding opportunities for historically underutilized small businesses and stimulating the local economy. We can target small business training and mentor programs to people of color in the creative arts and industries.
How we develop is critical for a creative, thriving economy. In development decisions, we should encourage storefronts with more separate spaces that small businesses can afford to rent, not just large retail spaces. We should encourage growth that preserves the historic fabric of places like Dinkytown, allowing larger footprint buildings elsewhere. We should work with current businesses to improve, not only invite new businesses to invest here. We can learn from the current Great Streets program and other city strategies targeted to increase business and community vitality in priority commercial districts.
When we strengthen our local businesses, we strengthen our communities and give power back to the small business owner. When we address income gaps and affordability, we help create a city where all can thrive.