No responses: Alondra Cano, Mohamed Farah, Ronald W. Peterson
Describe how you see the small business climate.
Gary Schiff: The Ninth Ward features one-third of the Lake Street corridor, home to hundreds of small, immigrant and minority-owned family businesses. In the last four years, the climate for small businesses has suffered in the Ninth Ward for three reasons: An unaddressed heroin epidemic in Phillips, sharply rising homelessness, and a resurgence of human trafficking. The city can address rising homelessness by expanding shelters and affordable housing options, but has chosen not to. The city can address the heroin epidemic by deploying the same public health approaches that other cities are utilizing but has chosen not to. The city can help survivors of human trafficking, but has chosen not to. Small business owners need a Council Member who will ensure local government is focused on helping people in need. There is nothing more important for small business owners today in the Ninth Ward than for the city to address the needles on their sidewalks, the people sleeping in their parking lots and the pimps pacing back and forth in front of their windows. If elected, I will be focused on the problems that hurt our business environment and make sure local government provides help to people in need.
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?
Gary Schiff: The city needs more multi-lingual employees to work with our diverse business community.
The city also needs to prioritize and give bonus points to businesses located in the city when awarding contracts for services and goods. I support the development of commercial land trusts so small businesses aren’t priced out of the economies that they helped develop. Create a real office of Small Business and reform the byzantine regulatory environment beyond adding a few “navigators.” We need to dismantle the maze.
Cities can do many things to support locally owned businesses. What ideas do you have to support locally owned businesses in Minneapolis?
Gary Schiff: The most critical things we can do as a city to support locally owned businesses is to make investments in the communities they are in. For example, when the city builds new affordable housing, people spend less on rent and have more money for family goods. In my time on the City Council, the Ninth Ward added 549 new units of quality affordable housing. In the past four years, the incumbent has blocked new affordable housing and stopped city financing of affordable housing in the Ninth Ward.
The “Business Made Simple” initiative of City Hall in the last four years has been window dressing, and without the substantive reform needed. Our licensing code is outdated, and city employees are constrained in silos, forcing business investors to jump through hoop after hoop.
We need reform beyond adding a few “navigators.” We need to dismantle the maze.
The city needs to prioritize working with the business community to reform the Public Utilities Commission so bulk purchasing of solar and other energy improvements can be financed through utility bills. This will allow easier financing for green business investments.
What work have you done in your career to date to support locally owned businesses?
Gary Schiff: In 2003 I authored the Sanctuary City legislation to stop Minneapolis employees from doing the work of federal immigration officers. Prior to this law, city staff in the business licensing division were requiring immigration documentation and denying business licenses to immigrants who were undocumented, severely harming the economic growth of the local Mexican American community. One of my proudest achievements as the Ninth Ward City Council Member was the revitalization of the old Sears building into the Midtown Exchange, the largest building to ever be redeveloped for new uses in the USA. I worked with neighborhood leaders, developers, and small business owners to finance a mixed use, multi-story facility with market rate and affordable housing units, a market for immigrant-owned businesses, and a government service center. I have cut unnecessary red tape and sponsored legislation to simplify the process of opening and operating a business in the City of Minneapolis, including The Brew Beer Here ordinance, which repealed the ban on microbreweries within city limits An ordinance to allow live music in coffee shops An ordinance to allow more taxi companies An ordinance to allow more sidewalk cafes An ordinance to legalize pedicabs An ordinance to allow outdoor sales of used goods, allowing existing small businesses to partner with flea markets and special events An ordinance to increase the number of days a business may have a permit for an outdoor event, festival or outdoor music
Would you support strong proactive outreach to businesses to inform them about earned sick and safe time, minimum wage, and other labor regulations?
Gary Schiff: Yes, absolutely. I believe that if the City of Minneapolis is going to institute any new policy or make a policy change, all the stakeholders involved need to be at the table. I think that the new earned sick and safe time and minimum wage ordinances were absolutely necessary to improve the economic situations of workers, but many business owners felt left in the dark about the details. I believe that we can implement progressive policies to improve people’s lives while also fostering a business environment that can sustain growth.