People of color have been left behind amid the Twin Cities’ prosperity, and Mayor Jacob Frey was in north Minneapolis on Friday to “hear from the community” and commit to doing something about it.
He took a walk around the site of the new headquarters of Thor Construction, which will be an office and retail building at the corner of Plymouth and Penn avenues, and sat down for a panel discussion about “economic inclusion” with new Council Member Jeremiah Ellison and several others.
“There is a market in north Minneapolis. Broadway and Plymouth can be extraordinary,” Frey said. “When we talk about economic progress, it’s not about people coming in from the outside and investing, we’re talking about people from the community doing the work, making the progress and then seeing and reaping the benefits themselves so that we’re building the generational wealth that we always talk about.”
Frey has kept a hectic schedule in his first week in office, riding a garbage truck around on Tuesday after he was sworn in, holding a news conference with police Chief Medaria Arradondo to present a united front on public safety and highlighting the need for economic progress in north Minneapolis. All the while he has emphasized that affordable housing is his top priority.
Unemployment among blacks in Minnesota in late 2017 was 8 percent, compared with 5 percent for Hispanics and 2.9 percent for whites. Minnesota is among the 10 worst states when it comes to disparities in income and homeownership between whites and other groups, according to census data.
The problems are not new and Frey is not the first mayor to promise to address them. Promoting racial equity was the signature issue of Mayor Betsy Hodges’ four years in office.
Frey admitted that his ideas for how to encourage economic progress for people of color in Minneapolis are not yet specific, and the panel discussion Friday was not about concrete policy proposals.
“This is the area where we’re going to be generating input in collaboration with the community, this is an area where we’re going to think outside of the box, and this is an area where I think we can see quite a bit of success,” Frey said.
Ellison, who was elected in November to represent the Fifth Ward, said the solutions need to be as tangible as the damage that was done in the past.
“The historic harm was specific, when you think about redlining and those types of things,” Ellison said. “And often our solutions are not specific. So we’ve got to figure out a way to make our solutions as specific as the historic harm that came before.”
Ellison also said it’s important for community leaders to listen to the people they’re promising to help.
“I think about the kids who work in various groups around north Minneapolis, and I think about what’s their lexicon, what kind of vernacular do they use, and terms like ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’ aren’t necessarily in their wheelhouse,” Ellison said. “They’re not necessarily using these bureaucratic terms that we’re using. How do we make sure that we’re listening and leaning into the language that they understand?”
Thor Construction CEO Ravi Norman said it shouldn’t be complicated for the city to help lift up north Minneapolis and other less prosperous parts of the city. Leaders need to set and pursue goals, he said.
“There’s been a lot of talk for a long time, and we need to be about doing and we need to be about grading,” Norman said. “The stuff that you measure is the stuff that you really care about, it’s the stuff that you’re going to act on. It’s about action and doing and grading.”
The panelists walked around Thor’s new building, which will include a five-story parking ramp, 76,000 square feet of office space and 10,000 square feet of retail along Plymouth. The building should be open and operating by early summer.
Frey announced this week that he has hired Shauen Pearce from Greater MSP to be his administration’s economic development and inclusion policy director. She moderated the panel discussion Friday and will set strategy for economic development, work with Frey and the City Council to advance policy priorities, and “manage key relationships in the Twin Cities business community.”