Gary Cunningham, who has dramatically grown capital and the small business-loan portfolio of the Metropolitan Economic Development Association (Meda) since becoming chief executive in 2014, is leaving to run Washington, D.C.-based Prosperity Now.
Cunningham, 61, a veteran Twin Cities nonprofit and government executive, said he couldn’t resist the opportunity to run an influential national organization. Cunningham has been a board member of Prosperity Now, a research and advocacy organization that was behind the Earned Income Tax Credit decades ago.
“Prosperity Now works across the country to lift up low-income people of all races and help them build wealth and assets,” Cunningham said. “They helped create the earned income tax credit that’s lifted more working-poor people out of poverty than just about any other instrument.”
Prosperity Now’s annual “scorecard” found that about 40% of American households, regardless of race, live in “financial uncertainty,” paycheck to paycheck at best, and lack sufficient savings to weather an emergency or temporary job loss. The research also shows that blacks disproportionately struggle economically compared to whites.
“I’m excited about addressing the racial wealth gap,” Cunningham said. “We can’t help [minorities] build assets unless entrepreneurship is part of it. That’s what we’ve done at Meda in helping build small, minority-owned business. We’ll keep working on that at PN through partnerships.”
Cunningham and his wife, Betsy Hodges, former Minneapolis mayor and a consultant, will move to Washington. Hodges will continue to operate her consulting business from there. Hodges served one term as mayor from 2014 through 2017, losing her re-election bid to Jacob Frey.
Under Cunningham, Meda, backed by local businesses and foundations nationally, grew its lending capital by 535% to $21.4 million and helped minority business clients create and retain 7,000 jobs that pay an average $20-plus an hour. Meda since 2014 grew its loan portfolio by 220% to $25 million, serving hundreds of commercial clients with a default rate that rivals those of good community banks. Meda also was recognized for three years through 2018 as the top-performing minority business development center in the country by the U.S. Department of Commerce.
Cunningham, who made nearly $270,000 in 2017, last year launched the “Meda Million Dollar Challenge,” the nation’s largest minority entrepreneurial competition. It raised $1.45 million for nine winners, five of whom have raised additional growth capital.
“I’m enormously proud of everything we’ve achieved for businesses and the community,” Cunningham said. “I have absolute faith in the deep bench of talented and committed professionals here that will continue our mission.”