Former Microsoft CEO gives NAZ $10M boost

Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and his wife, Connie, have committed a five-year, $10 million grant to continue the work of Northside Achievement Zone (NAZ) to help 1,000 impoverished families upgrade skills, increase household income and get their kids through high school and college.

NAZ was seeded originally by a $5 million annual grant from the federal government, which has expired. NAZ CEO Sondra Samuels has turned to business, foundations and individuals to raise $35 million to help balance a $10.7 million annual budget over the next several years.

The Ballmer philanthropy vehicle, Ballmer Group, focuses on identifying and supporting innovative solutions to ending intergenerational poverty nationally. And its mission dovetails with NAZ’s focus on education and workforce development.

Samuels said in a statement Wednesday: “Ballmer Group’s grant, the leadership role of our corporate and philanthropic community, and the contributions of individual Minnesotans should give all Minnesotans great confidence that NAZ’s work is being held to rigorous standards, that our resources are being used efficiently and that every dollar invested will be leveraged many times over.”

Said General Mills CEO Ken Powell, who chairs NAZ’s investment campaign with Target CEO Brian Cornell: “Ballmer Group’s grant should inspire and challenge all Twin Cities business and civic leaders to lean in and work together in support of NAZ.” He continued, “Our community and our future workforce depend upon it. NAZ is working to reshape outcomes with game-changing results.”

NAZ will use a portion of the investment to launch a three-year early-learning scholarship fund of $1 million a year for low-income NAZ families. It also will help fund parenting education classes, in addition to family support in housing, health and careers.

Although NAZ has not achieved highest expectations yet, it is showing progress.

A Wilder Foundation study last year showed that, so far, there is a $6 return to the families and public for every $1 invested in NAZ from increased household income, family stability, higher student performance and lower public costs.

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Public affairs

Thor Cos., Swain receive Humphrey honors

Thor Cos., Minnesota’s largest black-owned enterprise and which is building a new headquarters on the near north side of Minneapolis, was honored last week for its innovative approach to economic development and bringing opportunity to the inner city. The recognition came Wednesday at the 15th annual Public Leadership Awards of the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota.

The 250-employee Thor is building its headquarters at the intersection of Penn and Plymouth avenues N.

It will include retail tenants and a new home for MEDA, which provides small business counseling and credit to minority entrepreneurs. Target also is an investor in the $30 million-plus development.

The Humphrey School also honored:

• Tom Swain, 95, the retired business executive, former university vice president, mayor of Lilydale and state Republican official who worked to find common ground with Democrats on important issues.

•Monica Meyer, a university graduate who is executive director at OutFront Minnesota, for her leadership in grass-roots organizing and in political strategy and advocacy, building coalitions among community activists around Minnesota.

•Linda Thomas-Greenfield, former U.S. Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of African Affairs and former director general of the Foreign Service, for her more than three decades of work promoting the values of humanitarianism and responsible global engagement.


Businesses honored for cutting pollutants

The city of Minneapolis, feting another group of small businesses for investing in reducing pollution, said 74 businesses over the last five years have invested $6 for every $1 in matching city funds to reduce air pollution that affects human health and contributes to regional smog.

This year’s winners are Elite Cleaners, Dinsmore Cleaners, Prospect Foundry, Longfellow Market, Allied Parking, Taqueria La Hacienda and Mercado Central.

The Minneapolis “green building program” offers financial incentives to businesses such as dry cleaners that move to “perc-free” options, low-pollution paint booths for manufacturers and heating-cooling system upgrades. The program, funded by pollution-control fees, is part of the Clean Air Minnesota public-private initiative that is administered bythe nonprofit Environmental Initiative at

The 74 Minneapolis businesses participants have cut 116,253 pounds of health-affecting pollutants and 16.4 million pounds of carbon dioxide since 2012, which scientists say is the leading source of climate change.

Advocates say cutting pollution saves energy, dollars and improves public health by removing pollutants that directly affect health and contribute to regional air pollution.

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