The Cedar Riverside Opportunity Center was the brainchild of Minneapolis Council Member Abdi Warsame and Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin, a job placement and training center focused on lowering unemployment among East Africans in the Minneapolis neighborhood.
After its first 12 months, the center found jobs for 321 people — more than twice its goal.
"In this neighborhood, there is no lack of determination to get a job, to start a business, but there was a gap in skills and understanding of the environment, and that's why we came up with this concept," Warsame said at an event marking the one-year anniversary of the center. "We are not going to fail in Cedar Riverside, in Ward 6, in the city of Minneapolis, in addressing inequality."
The center offers career coaching and help getting connected to jobs and education in a bright, open space on the ground floor of a new apartment building across the street from Currie Park. It's a collaboration between the county, the city, a nonprofit called Emerge, Minneapolis Community and Technical College and the Hennepin County Library system.
"We thought 150 was an aggressive goal, and we beat it," McLaughlin said. "You can see the excitement in the community. This was a community that had 16 or 17 percent unemployment and wasn't really connected. So this was a very intentional effort to connect people to this new model for job training and placement."
Most of the job placements thus far have been with government agencies such as the county, McLaughlin said, but the center is placing more people in the private sector. The center is collaborating with the Building Owners and Management Association to place people in building management positions and with Fairview Health to get more people into health care jobs.
At the gathering Monday, Mayor Jacob Frey said the center is a "beautiful mechanism," and he said it's important for local government to help move talent into jobs to meet the region's labor shortage.
Ifrah Hashi said the center helped her get a job with the Minneapolis Health Department when she moved here from Boston last summer after a two-week vacation in Minneapolis.
"I fell in love with the city, its lakes, its beautiful people and vibrant community," Hashi said.
When she moved here, she took a job as a behavioral therapist at an autism center. Then the program manager at the opportunity center, Saeed Bihi, alerted Hashi about an opening for public health specialist for the city, and he helped her through the process of applying for it. She now works to promote physical activity, healthy eating and smoking cessation in the neighborhood.
Emerge is in a dispute with the state over grant funding, but it's unclear how that might affect the Opportunity Center, Warsame said.