Report date
December 2022

What has been most instrumental to your progress?

Work with microbusiness owners to gather preliminary data on predatory practices, and ongoing needs/opportunities. ACER wants to use this research process to unleash broader protections of micro-businesses and to 1. Share the findings with larger CDCs and public agencies we are in community and partnership with. 2. Change the narrative on micro businesses so these public agencies and CDCs can recognize them, support them better, and include them in funding streams. ACER wants to see more institutions comfortably supporting micro businesses, as they exist in higher numbers.
In looking to do this work we did business surveys in two phases. The first phase had 158 responses, of which 50 businesses received micro-grants to support their business during the pandemic. This survey was able to guide us on what real-time needs the businesses had, what relief products were accessible, and what barriers were impacting them in accessing support.
We build the survey results and administer a second phase survey. Leveraging the information allowed the advocacy of $18 million to go intentionally to minority micro-businesses from the state budget. Cities like Brooklyn Center, and Brooklyn Park, worked with ACER to provide relief support dollars of over $200,000. Hennepin County pivoted to cultivate Bottineau grant dollars, and instead of $7,500 loans, they did 10,000-dollar grants to businesses.
Saving the businesses from displacement due to predatory landlord practices, was the most important, as resources were limited, or just not coming timely, and responses received overwhelmed in both phases of the survey, the “Car Action” rally was a valuable strategy utilized. This got the attention of the Governor's office, and local offices, to recognize this problem and the issue of affordable commercial space. Cultural malls were allocated direct relief dollars that supported the business and helped the community stay in place.

Key lessons learned

It is always best to be at the necessary capacity it takes to handle crises better. Unfortunately, you don’t know when these times will arise, but being proactive about infrastructure, resources and tools is something that is always best to have to be prepared for the unknown.
Having the best technology: software, equipment, and others, to help do the work properly. The volume of businesses accessing the organization tripled. Not being equipped caused some missed opportunities in the work.

Reflections on inclusive, collaborative or resourceful problem-solving

ACER has always operated with a collaborative concept, and believe it is an important element for building sustainable relationships in the community, across organizations and entities to have the impactful change that is needed to move communities forward equitably. We’ve always participated at collective and collaborative tables and recently helped to form the BRC during the pandemic. Having a shared agenda in the work, brings together the necessary resources, best practices, and models. The BRC Investment framework encompasses this work in the solutions and is being pushed collectively at the state level.

Other key elements of Community Innovation

ACER’s long-standing relationships in the community have been, and continue to be the key, to doing the work successfully, and having the impact that we’ve seen. The community leadership development has only happened because we have prioritized building relationships, we don’t want to do to people but do with people. Passing the “Just Cause” eviction policy in the City of Brooklyn Center, exemplifies the level of trust the community has in the organization, the investment made in their leadership development, that resulted in them exercising their power to demonstrate, petition, and show up to get the ordinance pass. This same process resulted in saving over 20 businesses from eviction.

Understanding the problem

In setting out to gain further understanding, supported by data of what the issues BIPOC micro-businesses face with commercial leases and landlords, accessing relief capital, policies, and eligibility requirements for accessing general business capital, and others. We had some hypotheses on what the findings would be but went beyond what we anticipated for the urgency. In 2022 just one building, being sold, with a new landlord has disrupted over 25 businesses in a major BIPOC Business corridor. Understanding that businesses had been struggling with accessing ideal commercial spaces and had been able to enter the market in non-conventional but affordable spaces, like old office buildings, now post-pandemic, and upcoming light rail development, these spaces have become hot areas, and they are facing being vacated. Shared ownership models are one of the solutions that need to be funded to address displacement and gentrification, to then help close the wealth gap for BIPOC communities. ACER looks to build on this work and move into implementation as we partner with the community to purchase a space to pilot this model in the northwest suburbs, and have an economic hub to support BIPOC

If you could do it all over again...

I always feel when you want to go somewhere, the hardest thing is to start. Looking back on what we have accomplished and learned, I only wish we had started the work sooner, and perhaps would have been even more positioned to address many of the barriers that businesses experienced at the onset of the pandemic. I feel this would have allowed funds to be allocated faster and have had a greater impact in addressing the loss that occurred.

One last thought

Through this funding, ACER was able to grow the capacity of the Economic and Community Development Programs.
Personnel time was spent during outreach and engagement throughout the state to micro-businesses around applying for COVID-19 Relief funds grants.
Over 289 applications were received for the Bush Business grant funds, and 155 applicants participated in the first phase business research survey. The results of this survey have informed the community development work and leveraged for other opportunities.
Of the 289 applications were only able to fund 54 businesses.
Across the organization, ACER has increased capacity, growing from a staff of 5 to 16. This has required an increase in training and team building. These funds were timely to allow staff to do these activities.