New proposal would match Asian employers with Black workforce
By Charles Hallman
Is foreign investment the key to economic development in North Minneapolis? The jointly created Twin Cities Regional Center (TCRC) by Asian Media Access and Project Sweetie Pie hopes to attract private foreign capital to the city’s North Side that would create a global cultural and technology district to create jobs.
The TCRC proposal was introduced October 29 to a mostly Asian audience last week at the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Community Summit at the University of Minnesota Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center (UROC). It includes the federal employment-based (EB-5) investment program by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which allows foreigners to come to the U.S. and invest at least $500,000 to a Targeted Employment Area (TEA).
North Minneapolis has been designated as a TEA, declared Asian Media Access Founder-Executive Director Ange (pronounced An-gee) Hwang, who pointed out last week that 35 foreign investors would be needed to raise $16.8 million dollars
in TCRC’s first phase.
The MSR later asked Hwang for a simple explanation of the plan. “The investors would bring in $500,000 to local small businesses, to be able to create 10 jobs up to two years. It’s an immigration process for the investor [to seek permanent “green card” residency status]. Also a possible exit strategy so their money would be back after five to six years, and the local businesses don’t need to guarantee collateral nor guarantee any interest.”
Michael Chaney of Project Sweetie Pie, a TCRC advisory team member, says, “The reason why I became involved [was] because I know what we have been doing hasn’t worked for African Americans for 25-30 years.” He decries the fact that current financial lenders and other funding sources have not helped improve Black economic development.
“We need to forge new alliances and find some new leadership. Raising capital historically has been a problem for the African American entrepreneur and business [person]. I’m optimistic that with the regional center, we can look to outside sources for capital — sources we haven’t had access to,” says Chaney.
Attracting foreign money “would give the African American community the dollars that are needed to start some of the businesses and enterprises that would give people jobs,” believes TCRC Executive Director Peg Thomas. “There are 46-50 percent of African American men in North Minneapolis not working. [The challenge is] how to get them jobs where they can walk to their jobs in the morning, then walk home to a comfortable house at night.
“The reward is for Asian investors to have the opportunity to settle,” continues Thomas, who notes that this can serve to bring the two communities of color together “as a cohesive community…and create a community that is dynamic and
Thomas, who owns a consulting business, helped Project Sweetie Pie and Asian Media Access “merge their visions for a robust new urban agriculture and creative industries economy in North Minneapolis. Michael had this vision of a food corridor coming down Penn Avenue. Ange has been working on [a] Pan-Asian district for a very long time,” she recalls.
“We first came together about two years ago to really look into this possibility of…bring[ing] economic development to North Minneapolis,” adds Hwang.
According to ReferenceUSA, a business and consumer research database, there are 5,440 Asian businesses in the Twin Cities area, a nearly 90 percent increase over a seven-year period. Also there are 123 Asian-owned businesses in two Northside ZIP Codes (55411 and 55412). Eighty-nine Northside-based Asian-owned businesses with at least three employees have reported annual sales ranging from nearly a half million to $10 million.
“I was surprised that we do have thriving businesses within the Asian community in North Minneapolis,” admits Northside Fresh Coalition Coordinator J. DeVon Nolen, who was among the handful of Blacks who attended last week’s Asian business summit.
Asked if the TCRC can help the Black community, Nolen responded, “I think this is an exciting, new innovative approach to making that happen. We are not going to make the [Northside] community better unless we all work together. I believe there are talents, resources and intellect on both sides that can bring this particular venture [to success].”
“It’s a possibility, but it will have to be really intentional,” says community organizer LaShella Sims. “I would like to see it develop and grow.”
However, Jewelean Jackson told the MSR, “I think that there is something to be said for getting our act [as Blacks] together first and foremost before we then go into the coalition business.”
There are other EB-5 centers around the country. Hwang advises that in establishing the first center in Minnesota and on the Northside, the goal must “not focus on the investment [but] focus on the capacity-building for our neighborhood businesses.
“When the foreign investors come, we will be ready,” predicts Hwang.
“Instead of that ‘pipeline to prison,’ we could focus on a pipeline to jobs and job growth,” says Candy Bacon of Minneapolis, who also likes the TCRC idea.
“I would like to see more involvement from the Black community…to make sure that their voices would be heard,” says Nolen, adding that foreign investment in North Minneapolis ultimately will help create stability.
“When you start talking about millions and billions of dollars [and] bringing that type of resource to North Minneapolis, having something sustainable that’s going to bring jobs…you’re talking addressing every disparity that we are experiencing here in North Minneapolis,” Nolen continues.
“To know that is coming from a foreign investor speaks volumes about how our country values us. Why aren’t they [U.S investors] making those types of investments in our community? Why do we have to go to foreign investors for that?”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to [email protected]