Describe how you see the small business climate.
Tim Bildsoe: Ward 3 has provided a good environment for small business formation for decades but is under strain now as development occurs and the city reduces parking options. The city must use whatever tools it has to encourage and retain small businesses in the Ward 3 (and in the city). The vast majority of small business owners tell me that the lack of parking, and ever increasing taxes and regulation have been their biggest challenges -- and continue to be.
Steve Fletcher: Small businesses in Ward 3 are a big part of what makes our Ward special! We have incredible restaurants and retail that attract people from across the metro, tech startups that are driving new wealth creation and solving big technical problems, and a thriving arts community that is creating beauty and jobs and making our city a better place to live. We're also a Ward that pays a higher sales tax than everyone else, and we're in a moment of tension and adjustment as a city with a rapidly growing population driving up rents and demand for parking, and as a city that is asking more of its employers, like minimum wage and sick time, as we strive to overcome systemic inequities that have been holding us back as a city. That makes it a very important time for the city to be intentional about identifying ways to support small businesses, and make it easier to start, maintain, and grow small businesses that drive our local economy.
Ginger Jentzen: Often, the interests of small business are far more aligned with the interests of workers than the large corporations that lobby from the local to the federal government to protect their profits. Renters and small businesses across Ward 3 are struggling with increasing rents while luxury condos are being built from downtown to northeast. While the Affordable Care Act extended coverage to millions who previously went without insurance, now threatened by Trumpcare and a federal tax plan that gives enormous tax breaks to the wealthiest and big corporations, the fundamental problem was leaving healthcare in the for-profit private sector rather than waging a fight for a “Medicare for All” plan. This has put enormous financial pressure on both workers and small businesses, including many who still don’t have access to adequate healthcare. As Executive Director for 15 Now Minnesota, I played a leading role in bringing together a coalition of working people, labor, community, faith groups and small businesses to win a $15 minimum wage in Minneapolis. While the Twin Cities are home to 17 Fortune 500 companies, our state has the dubious distinction of some of the worst racial and economic inequities in the country. Our small businesses are not immune to the difficult climate created by corporations and for-profit developers having vast resources to lobby and influence City Hall. While the Downtown Council and Chamber of Commerce fought $15/hour and sued Minneapolis over last year’s sick time policy, small businesses across the city supported both proposals. Nationally, minimum wage increases open the threat of wage theft from the workers’ perspective. However, many well-meaning businesses in our ward and city-wide remain frustrated with a lack of information from the city on both policies, which could lead to violations of the new laws in some cases. Minneapolis can and must do more for working people and small business. To be fully accountable to working and middle class homeowners, tenants and small businesses concerned about being priced out of our city, I have publicly pledged not to accept any money from big developers or corporate executives. This is how regular people and small businesses in the ward can know I will remain accountable in a fight to tax big developers to fund affordable housing and social services, to win rent control, in an effort to alleviate the burden we all carry when big business doesn’t pay their share. We must make Minneapolis affordable for all.
Samantha "Sam" Pree-Stinson: In my Ward it is a melting pot between artists, women, latino, African, and family owned business. We also have a large brew pub and food truck culture. I see continued growth as we have the last 4 years. This is consistent with state data that service industry jobs will increase by at least 5% in the next 10 years. Small business to include artists and the yearly Art A Whirl event brings more revenue than The Vikings. There are also many micro business owners that with proper supports could expand into a small business model with a few staff. I think these supports are wildly important as we start to see the transition from traditional downtown retail into automation, skilled trades,specialty food/drink, artistry and green collar jobs. The economic driver of Ward 3 is not just Downtown, it is also the neighborhoods on the other side of the river.
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?
Tim Bildsoe: Minority and immigrant owned businesses are one of the things that make Minneapolis such a fantastic place to live. They play an important role in the economic vitality of Minneapolis and the region. I'm not going to pretend to have all of the solutions to the challenges that face minority and immigrant business owners, but I do pledge to work with minority and immigrant business owners to eliminate barriers created and controlled by Minneapolis.
Steve Fletcher: Right now, the costs and uncertainty involved in opening retail or restaurant space or building new buildings makes things very challenging for anyone with limited resources. First-generation business owners miss out on opportunities to start businesses not because they can't manage the business, but because they can't fund a year of paying rent or a mortgage without making a profit while they jump through our hoops. If we want to change the face of business to overcome our city's legacy of structural racial inequality, we have to invest in reducing the barriers to entry. One key path to reducing barriers to entry is zoning to include retail spaces with smaller, more accessible footprints in their development plans, so that entry-level small businesses can add to the uniqueness and safety of our most highly foot-trafficked city streets. We also need to encourage private and non-profit investment in mentorship of entrepreneurs of color, and tap into the incredible talent of our Ward to help realize our equity vision. Putting money in the hands of consumers of color is one important impact of the $15 minimum wage, and hopefully one that results in more consumer power directed to local POC-owned businesses. As we continue to strive toward equity and build a stronger black, indigenous, and POC middle class, one outcome will be a more vibrant economy for POC-led businesses. Finally, structural inequity isn't overcome without structural investments. As a city, we should make funds available to provide affordable grants and loans to black, indigenous, and POC-owned businesses to help them get off the ground and establish themselves as part of our economy.
Ginger Jentzen: Too often, small businesses are a talking point during elections, yet when the rubber hits the road on enacting policies, they’re left out of the conversation. Our city budget is a concrete expression of our local priorities. In a city where “stop and frisk” policing is routine and amounts to racial profiling of immigrants and communities of color, our budget for policing is twice that of the Community Planning and Economic Development (CPED) office, which deals with housing and small business loans, among many other issues. An organizing seat in city hall will be vital to winning what working people really need. Our movements, and increased resources for neighborhood organizing, are the foundation to fight for taxing the rich to fund social services, a world-class mass transit system, and to halt rent increases that price ordinary people out of our city. We can do this with a corporate “head tax,” an increased tax on commercial parking lot owners, and “excise taxes” on banks, big box retailers, and franchise businesses. While programs to help business owners of color navigate city infrastructure should be expanded, we must at the same time address the deeply rooted racism in our city, which includes a fight for affordability. A recent study found that for a median-income black family, there’s not a single Minneapolis neighborhood where housing is affordable. Undoubtedly, the fight for affordable, safe housing, and taxing big developers to fund social services, is a necessary step to combat racial inequity in our small business world. The city has enormous space to genuinely improve outreach to communities of color, both to workers and to small business owners.
Samantha "Sam" Pree-Stinson: We have to start by owning it. This has been brought up several times on the campaign trail and candidates choose to gloss over it or dismiss it. The way to close the economic gap is to put fully funded programs into place that not only provide for homeownership but small business pathways. Minorities as a whole do not have generational wealth to pass on. We must focus on equity in this city to close the gap and put an end to generational poverty. Social programming such as cost control measures do not address the cost burden economy we are in. They are nearly a bandaid to address the symptoms but not the root cause. Every priority and policy that forms behind it must have an equity plan that includes enforcement and accountability metrics. Information is also key. These measures are not some empty affirmative action plan as some may think. Minority businesses directly support the communities they serve and add to the economic vitality plan of the area. They are tied to robust community impact outcomes to decrease unemployment and provide skilled trades training. Minority owned small businesses in this country generate over 50 billion dollars in tax revenue and the Black Community spends over 1.3 Trillion a year on goods. The more we can help minorities start and sustain business, the more money that stays in that community and that will lead to positive steady growth in every Ward.
Cities can do many things to support locally owned businesses. What ideas do you have to support locally owned businesses in Minneapolis?
Tim Bildsoe: Focusing on the primary role of local government, such as public safety and the continued investment in infrastructure, will go a long way in providing an environment for small businesses to succeed. In addition to the basics (which Minneapolis has been challenged to do), Minneapolis should have a dialog with small business owners to ask them what they need to be successful. That might mean the elimination or modification of specific regulations, or as simple as a change in the parking meter enforcement times on a particular street. It all boils down to making the success of our entire small business community a priority -- which I will do.
Steve Fletcher: In addition to the ideas described above, I think it's critical that we use the city as a platform to promote small businesses in the Ward, and use our own procurement to pump dollars into the local small business economy. In some cases, that means breaking city RFPs into smaller pieces so that small businesses can handle the business. In some cases, it just means being more intentional about with whom the city spends our tax dollars. We should continue to invest in workforce development, including areas of particular demand, like culinary arts, toward a vision of Minneapolis workers as the best-trained, most talented workers anywhere, giving local businesses an advantage over the competition.
Ginger Jentzen: I support the work of the Mainstreet Alliance in establishing a City of Minneapolis small business office. However, after passing an earned safe and sick time policy and a $15 minimum wage (phased in over the next several years), the city has only allocated an additional $60,000 to the Civil Rights department’s Labor Enforcement Division, an inadequate amount to make possible the level of outreach necessary for business owners to be familiar with the policies. This also makes it difficult for workers to know their rights. With Seattle’s Labor Standards Office as a model, we should fight for the resources to ensure the city can partner with community organizations with roots in working class communities to explain workplace rights, and the resources necessary to communicate with small businesses how to carry out these policies. On the front-end, this could save the city substantially on litigation against violations, and root out employers that continuously thwart the law. Even when litigation is successful, non-union workers tend to suffer the most (potentially never seeing unpaid wages or sick time hours). Abrupt rent increases as a result of unfettered development also put small businesses at a tremendous disadvantage to large corporations that have pushed poverty wages yet pay-out exorbitant CEO salaries. The city sold municipal bonds to build US Bank stadium; why can’t we sell bonds to build affordable housing? Or make available low-interest loans for small businesses? That’s why I will continue organizing with workers, communities, and expand conversation with small businesses to tax big developers and fight for rent control.
Samantha "Sam" Pree-Stinson: I would like to expand our small business support that more small loans are available that do not have to be paid back as long as they employ a certain number of people for at least 12 months. I would also like to see support for cooperative business models at the city level similar to NEIC. We need strong community development programs that gives residents priority. Our residents need to be able to easily locate available lots that can be purchased and revitalized as well as be incentivized to do it. In the dawn of automation, the death of big box retail, and a push for clean and green energy, small business will continue to be an integral part of our economic driver. We should also improve our marketing and communication surrounding small business Saturdays and National Small Business Week.
What work have you done in your career to date to support locally owned businesses?
Tim Bildsoe: As a former small business owner, I understand the challenges that owners face in navigating regulations, hiring employees and building sales. I served as a Council Member in Plymouth for 16 years and worked very hard to build a successful business climate in that city. As President of the North Loop Neighborhood Association, we engage with our small business owners to help promote their businesses recognizing the tremendous value they bring to our neighborhood.
Steve Fletcher: I started my career by starting my own small business - a video production company that shot commercials and promotional videos for other local businesses (St. Sabrina's Parlour in Purgatory and Temple Israel were among my first local clients). I've worked for startup companies, as a worker and as a consultant, and an owner, to help several small businesses get off the ground, including one of the first public benefit corporations registered in Minnesota. While in grad school, I produced a talk show on Air America Radio about socially responsible investing, which emphasized spending with and investing in small businesses. While at MN 2020, I published the "Buy Local" holiday gift guide, which offered consumers an abundant list of good choices for spending their money locally. And in my current technology consulting practice, I've participated in tech startup weeks and hackathons, and been thrilled to play a small role in our thriving startup community. I also play a strong support and cheerleader role in my wife's small business and artistic practice. Supporting and growing small businesses has been an important part of my life.
Ginger Jentzen: I worked in the service industry for around a decade. I’ve worked for both big and small businesses, often holding down more than one job. My work experiences played a significant role in shaping why I got involved in organizing. While organizing to win a $15 minimum wage in Minneapolis, I met with many small business owners to engage in discussion aimed at drawing out all the struggles small business owners face outside of labor costs. I worked closely with my former employer, Two Bettys Green Cleaning, to build the campaign for $15/hour and an in-depth understanding of the struggles facing small business. As a member on the city’s Workplace Advisory Committee, I regularly meet with business and labor to discuss the resources needed for outreach and implementation of Minneapolis’ sick time and the $15 minimum wage. I see my coalition building experience as a basis to continue organizing efforts in Minneapolis for the needs of working people and small businesses.
Samantha "Sam" Pree-Stinson: For one, I support local. Co-ops, micro and small businesses. In addition, as a coach and mentor of over 1000 students between 2007 and 2010, many of them are now successful business owners. As their Sr. Instructor, I not only gave them the skills and tools to be successful in their medical careers but at any life pursuit. At Medtronic, we only used local vendors for our events for the Women's and African Descent Network. As the current President of the Board at MTN, I am currently developing an entrepreneurship program so that we can help local artists build their portfolio so they can expand their business.
Would you support strong proactive outreach to businesses to inform them about earned sick and safe time, minimum wage, and other labor regulations?
Tim Bildsoe: Yes!
Steve Fletcher: Absolutely. It's critical that everyone be on a fair playing field, which means making sure everyone's following the same set of rules, and nobody's at a disadvantage in Minneapolis for playing by the rules. Our goal is fairness and clarity for employers and workers, and that'll take intentional investment from the city.
Ginger Jentzen: Yes, this is critical for both workers and small businesses. By building a robust system for outreach on municipal labor regulations, we can set a standard for how the city engages with small business going forward. We need to build a resource system of support beyond just labor regulations. Initiatives taken by small businesses have highlighted threats to MNCare and Trumpcare looming at the state and federal level, access to affordable or free childcare for all. This is in a climate where workers’ needs are often used by big business to provoke fear in small businesses. And yet, resources for outreach are de-prioritized, while many small businesses play a distinct role in building local communities. Outreach means organizing with small business to understand their needs in a city where big business has the resources to lobby for massive tax breaks, and a climate where working and middle class communities are facing multiple attacks from the federal government. With the increased threat of deportation and Trump’s administration working to rescind the DACA program, our best conceived local policies, including our Sanctuary City status, can be undermined by anti-worker, bigoted, racist attacks from the state and federal government. Minneapolis must be a city of resistance, fighting for voting rights and drivers’ licenses to at least the county level. By taxing big developers through “linkage fees”, we can generate millions toward affordable housing and social programs. By fighting for Rent Control, we can make Minneapolis affordable for all, including small businesses. Like with $15/hour, to win an affordable city, my council office will work both inside and outside City Hall to organize the strength of working, middle class communities and small business in Minneapolis.
Samantha "Sam" Pree-Stinson: Yes. Any measure we put forth needs to be implemented so that communication, education, and help desk like resources are available. Many small businesses do not use computerized scheduling tools. Systems like Verint can track high volume times a d automatically schedule accordingly. It is irresponsible to enforce policy that is not well supported. It is a disservice to workers and business owners alike.