Describe how you see the small business climate.

Raymond Dehn: In Minneapolis we have strong culture of small business institutions—restaurants, bars, coffee shops. We also have amazing people of color and indigenous (POCI), and immigrant-owned businesses. However, our policies still work to attract huge corporations to underinvested areas. We need to be prioritizing community wealth development, finding the intersection of creating small business and jobs, and the democratization of our economy.

Tom Hoch: I believe the small business climate in Minneapolis is unfocused and at times unwelcoming. I have made it a central point of my campaign to champion a long-term prosperity plan for the city. We must do a better job of aligning education, labor, small and large businesses, and government to reduce barriers to entry and expansion. We as a city must do more to simplify the city licensing systems. Entrepreneurs shouldn’t need a navigator to help them decipher the city’s code. We should aspire to a system where every business has one and only one contact at city hall. We also must work for consistent inspections to prevent arbitrary enforcement of city code. 

Jacob Frey: I am running for mayor, and I think that the climate for business in our city is good but that we can do better. In my ward specifically, I am proud of our especially successful small business environment. I want to bring the successes we've seen in the 3rd ward in neighborhoods like North Loop and Dinkytown citywide.

Betsy Hodges: City-wide, the small business community is as strong as it’s ever been, and I’m proud to have been a part of that.  I have been a consistent champion of business because I know your investments help make Minneapolis strong. I worked with business advocates like the Main St Alliance and Metro IBA to create and fund the Small Business Office, I’ve targeted funding for technical assistance for entrepreneurs, and I made sure, by insisting streets be included in the 20 Year Parks and Streets agreement, that we addressed the infrastructure gaps that threatened the ability for customers, goods, and services to reach our businesses. I started the Business Made Simple initiative to focus on customer service for local businesses and eliminate needless regulation. It helps strip away needless regulation, and funds special navigators who help small-business owners, many of them entrepreneurs of color, who are driving our growth, get to yes. I know we still have to work to do. The Small Business Office is hiring navigators and ramping up outreach. Without any real promotion, they have 14 cases that are either resolved or that they are actively working towards resolutions. We are launching customer service training for all staff and ensuring staff are all providing consistent information. We’ve heard loud and clear how frustrating it is for businesses to hear conflicting information from staff. Next term, I plan to continue to build off the great work we started together.

There are great disparities between minority owned and white businesses in Minneapolis. Entrepreneurs and businesses of color face disparate challenges in everything from access to credit to navigating city licenses and regulations. What policies do you think are needed to increase minority and immigrant owned business ownership and success? 

Raymond Dehn: The underlying problem between white and POCI communities is the wealth disparity. Without wealth, it is difficult to become a homeowner, build positive credit, and start a business. If we are going to be serious in meeting our procurement goals for POCI- and immigrant-owned businesses, we need to remove the barriers to business ownership. I support expanding funding within the Small Business Navigator office to conduct intentional outreach to POCI- and immigrant-owned businesses. We can overcome the barriers in access to credit by collaborating with community development financial institutions (CDFIs), community banks, and credit unions to conduct low-interest loans to POCI- and immigrant-owned businesses.

Tom Hoch: There are two ways that we can directly support businesses owned and operated by residents of color. First, the city should support and expand micro-grant and micro-loan programs (working capital) that help businesses get off the ground. Banks continue to lend to white businesses at a disproportionate rate. The city must step in to equalize this imbalance. Second, we must expand culturally sensitive technical assistance in business management. Help with writing a business plan, sustainable budgeting, and workforce development are needed in communities of color where they lack the same access to personal resources. Indirectly, we must do more to guarantee the safety and stability of every neighborhood in Minneapolis. It is already difficult to attract investment and patrons from outside of certain communities. Until we get a handle on our issues of escalating violence and lack of affordable housing, businesses will continue to face challenges getting off the ground and sustaining themselves.

Jacob Frey: I wrote an op-ed in the Star Tribune regarding the importance of developing and supporting small square footage retail spaces as opposed to large corporate boilerplates. Smaller spaces mean smaller rents that give communities of color the opportunity to build up wealth. I also think that we need to dramatically expand support for programs like the Small Business Navigators' program pioneered by CM Andrew Johnson to help small businesses, particularly minority owned businesses, navigate the city's often complex process.

Betsy Hodges: Increasing equity in every area of the city is at the heart of everything I’ve done as mayor. Throughout my term I’ve supported and supported the expansion of the Business Technical Assistance Program (B-TAP), which funds technical assistance providers such as Latino Economic Development Center, African Development Center, Northside Economic Opportunity Network, and many others. In 2016, 77% of participants in B-TAP were minority-owned businesses and 40% were women. I championed the Office of Small Business which provides navigators to increase access to city resources for all entrepreneurs seeking to start or expand businesses in Minneapolis. I insisted, over the objections of some council members, including Council Member Frey, on full funding for the Disparities Study that allows us to properly enforce our small and underutilized business programs and qualifies the city for federal and state funds to increase our equity work. The city is engaged in an ongoing series of Somali small business forums where city staff work with small business owners on city regulations, listen to their concerns, and encourage them to utilize available city resources. We are doing more than ever before to support small businesses and entrepreneurs, especially those owned by people of color using city financial tools for business development in racially concentrated areas of poverty and continuing to build on the City of Minneapolis’ power as a purchaser of goods and services to buy locally from businesses owned by women, immigrants, people of color, LGBT people.  I used the Mayors Innovation Team grant that we received to ensure that small businesses owned by people of color had access to the city services they needed.

Cities can do many things to support locally owned businesses.  What ideas do you have to support locally owned businesses in Minneapolis?

Raymond Dehn: We must uplift the voices and needs of low-wealth and communities of color and Indigenous communities. The goal must be to generate community wealth— local- and broad based-ownership of a community’s economy.

Tom Hoch: There are two ways that we can directly support businesses owned and operated by residents of color. First, the city should support and expand micro-grant and micro-loan programs (working capital) that help businesses get off the ground. Banks continue to lend to white businesses at a disproportionate rate. The city must step in to equalize this imbalance. Second, we must expand culturally sensitive technical assistance in business management. Help with writing a business plan, sustainable budgeting, and workforce development are needed in communities of color where they lack the same access to personal resources. Indirectly, we must do more to guarantee the safety and stability of every neighborhood in Minneapolis. It is already difficult to attract investment and patrons from outside of certain communities. Until we get a handle on our issues of escalating violence and lack of affordable housing, businesses will continue to face challenges getting off the ground and sustaining themselves.

Jacob Frey:  In addition to smaller square footage spaces and small business navigators that I mentioned above, I think that examining whether some restrictive business licensing requirements should be liberalized is a good place to start. Whether it's liquor licenses, mobile vendors, or operating in outdoor spaces, I think the city can do a better job of making sure that our laws are narrowly tailored to catch the problems without penalizing the vast majority of small businesses that do the right thing. Additionally, I think our city leaders should do more to use their bully pulpit to highlight the fantastic local businesses in their city and in their wards. One of the most enjoyable parts of my job has always been highlighting the work that local business owners near where I live. Pizza Nea, Mill City Running, Kramarczuk's, and Bardo are just a few of the restaurants on my street that I have enjoyed highlighting, and I think it would be helpful to make this a regular practice coming from the mayor's office.

Betsy Hodges: Through the Small Business Office, now the Small Business Team, the Business Made Simple initiative, and through a variety of programs and financial resources offered by the City, we’re working diligently to make it easier than ever before to live, play, and own a business right in your own neighborhood or community.  We insisted that streets be included in the 20 Year Parks and Streets agreement so that we addressed the infrastructure gaps that threatened the ability for customers, goods, and services to reach our local businesses, so that Minneapolis residents that own small businesses can do as much of their business as possible within the city of Minneapolis.  We’re working to bring the Get To Yes mentality to the next horizon to facilitate local investment.  We’re working to get the Navigator program up and running and to make sure that we’re seeing measurable results. We know the cost of commercial space is a huge barrier for small businesses which is why my proposed budget includes funding to support exploring a commercial land trust pilot. I also know that businesses need a strong workforce which is why I’m a strong supporter of workforce programs that partner with businesses to understand their hiring needs. I think it’s also important to think holistically about small businesses and support transit so people can get to work and to continue the work we are doing to address public safety.

What work have you done in your career to date to support locally owned businesses?

Raymond Dehn: Well before I was a legislator, I was a small business owner.  Two of my proudest achievements in supporting small businesses are:  1. Craft beer brings a significant economic value to our city’s economy, which is why I wrote the growler bill, allowing small beer breweries to increase their production from 5,000 barrels to 25,000 barrels without losing the ability to operate their taprooms. 2. I also believe in the importance of supporting locally owned businesses as an individual. I’m a proud member of Wirth Co-op, the first cooperative grocery store on the Northside.

Tom Hoch: Throughout my career I have been a champion for local business across the city. I am the founder and immediate past CEO of Hennepin Theatre Trust, managing the State, Orpheum, and Pantages theatres. I oversaw the acquisition and restoration of all three and worked to bring a Broadway touring market back to the city. Because of these efforts, nearly 500,000 people now visit these theatres each year. This economic impact supports businesses of all sizes. I was also the chair of the Downtown Council and a founder of the Downtown Improvement District. Both of these organizations seek to improve the climate for businesses of all sizes at the core of our city. I also created a program called MadeHere that gave local artists the opportunity to display their work and actually be paid for it.

Jacob Frey: Besides working with and supporting Andrew Johnson's small business navigators initiative, I have also used my city council office to change city policy to make it easier for new businesses to open and succeed. Whether's it's changing a policy to make certain inns and restaurants like Alma possible, or making sure that my official office is extremely responsive to businesses that need help navigating the approval process for their licenses, I have always prided myself on taking a proactive and engaged role to helping local businesses that I represent succeed. I intend to bring that same leadership to the mayor's office.

Betsy Hodges: I started the Business Made Simple initiative to eliminate needless regulation and find opportunities to streamline processes. This is an ongoing effort with more to be done.  We made staffing changes, created a small business portal on the web, and made sure that all our managers were committed to a Get To Yes mentality. The Navigator program we started created a one-stop shop for local business to work with the city and get to yes on any issues they needed resolved.  

 

Would you support strong proactive outreach to businesses to inform them about earned sick and safe time, minimum wage, and other labor regulations?

Raymond Dehn: Absolutely. I would fully fund the Small Business Navigator office to conduct outreach and education of new regulations. I’d also work to create strong relationships with groups like the Main Street Alliance and the Lake Street Business Council, governing using the recommendations of local business owners and workers on the ground.

Tom Hoch: Absolutely. I worry that the increasing number of municipal workplace regulations will have dramatic, unintended consequences for small businesses. Current city officials seem to believe that their job stops once an ordinance has been enacted. I will work diligently to ensure city ordinances are fairly enforced with robust community engagement and communication.

Jacob Frey: Yes. I believe that labor regulations are important, but we also have to do our part of making them clear and accessible to businesses.

Betsy Hodges: Yes. I funded the enforcement of these regulations in my budget, and even had to defend the funding against a 7 member council majority that wanted to make cuts.  My 2018 budget includes funding for enforcement, as well as funding for education and outreach around the policies.  I worked hard to involve small business owners in the decision-making and the process of passing these initiatives and the city has been working hard ever since to reach out to businesses to talk about these ordinances and regulations, as well as any number of other local policy issues that might affect their businesses through the Business Made Simple initiative and other programs.  I look forward to a continuing dialogue with the business community to explore strategies for education and enforcement strategies.

 

 

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