There’s a new collaboration in the effort to increase the skills and employment rate among black men in north Minneapolis.

A 25-man group will be the first to take part in a pilot program that North@Work launched this month. The plan is for 400 men to be participating by the end of 2017, working toward a goal of 2,000 men in living-wage jobs by the end of 2020.

“This is a collaborative effort with [nonprofit and business] partners that hasn’t previously been done,” said Kevin Murray, a business veteran who heads workforce development for the Northside Funders Group, an umbrella group for funding and training partners to form the consolidated North@Work initiative. “We’re going to disrupt the current model … with North@Work. Our partners are excited. We know their experience and expertise, and they will help North@Work gain traction … one man, one relationship at a time.

The Northside Funders are about 20 foundations, government and businesses that invest collectively up to $17 million annually into dozens of North Side nonprofits. They are not satisfied with the current overall job-training, placement and retention results. It’s estimated that 50 percent of black men in north Minneapolis, also the lowest-income neighborhoods in the Twin Cities, are out of work.

The funders hired Tawanna Black, a veteran of industry and foundations, in 2014 to assess the reasons for the much-discussed opportunity-and-employment gaps among black men and determine what works. That included discussions with the unemployed who had been through previous job training, counselors, employers and others. Black and North@Work identified “six essential workforce innovations” that will wrap around trainees and be delivered by venerable community nonprofits that have the good track records of success.

Black said the concentrated initiative will move beyond traditional job training to personal empowerment, soft skills, coaching and more. Many of these men were poor students, and have not recovered from previous job losses. Some have criminal backgrounds.

“It’s not just about learning how to use a computer,” Black said. “Many of them in interviews took us back to when they were 10 and a parent died, or went to prison, or there was no job … and they weren’t doing well in school and adults in their lives weren’t thriving and that does something to a child.”

North@Work will slowly scale up the number of trainees with select nonprofit partners.

For example, the Minneapolis Urban League will help recruit trainees as well as engage mentors, faith leaders and others to support participants who haven’t succeeded in earlier programs. Emerge, which provides employment training, job certification, financial education and supportive transitional housing to about 2,500 annually, specializes in understanding trainee strengths, coaching and job-training placement. Dunwoody College of Technology will be one of the key technical-skills trainers. It will place graduates in health care, automotive technology and construction.

Common Sense Consulting at Work will work with hiring companies and job recruits from North@Work to ensure long-term fits.

Twin Cities Rise, which is known for producing self-empowered trainees who accept consequences for decisions, will work with all the men individually and through peer groups and with graduates on life-management, workplace behavior and personal growth.

“We’re talking about a [job-hungry] Twin Cities economy and we need all hands on deck,” said CEO Mike Wynne of Emerge. “What’s encouraging is the set of focused resources coming together on the same page for worker training. That’s crucial … drawing on what we know works best and how to support individual men with comprehensive support.”

Business broker remains optimistic about economy

Andy Kocemba, president of small-business brokerage Calhoun Kocemba, isn’t sweating predictions in some corners of an economic slowdown or recession in coming months.

Kocemba closed 60 deals last year of small businesses that ranged from a few hundred thousand dollars to more than $1 million and the outlook continues to be good.

Kocemba, also citing recent surveys, said Twin Cities small business owners remain positive.

“There are sections of the economy experiencing downtrends,” he said. “But confidence remains and the economy is pretty healthy.

“We look at financial statements of small businesses every day and we’re seeing heathy companies in everything from personal services to home restoration companies. I don’t see any small-business storm clouds yet.”

They’re singing a different tune in the mining and energy patches. For now the diversified Twin Cities economy appears short of workers, not sales.

USB commits to UNCF scholarships and Catholic Charities

U.S. Bancorp CEO Richard Davis announced a new college scholarship program at a luncheon Friday attended by the president of the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) that is expected to grow to 90 students eventually.

The bank, which said the new program is on top of its regular philanthropy, is seeking other corporations to join with it in funding the “Ujima Scholars Program.” Ujima” is a Swahili word for “collective responsibility.

USB’s $700,000 commitment will include a mentor paired with a student from the third year of high school through college.

The UNCF-Minnesota corporate scholarship program will start with 15 black students, and include academic, financial and employment support.

Meanwhile, U.S. Bank said this month it has committed $13 million so far through a grant and low-income housing tax credits and a $6.3 million construction loan to the $100 million Higher Ground St. Paul project of Catholic Charities in St. Paul. The project will include a 232-bed emergency shelter, 193 affordable housing units and self-sufficiency services.

USB takes heat from environmental, payday lending marchers

About 100 clergy, environmental activists and others last week rolled out a campaign to urge depositors to pull their money out of U.S. Bank.

The protesters seek to pressure U.S. Bank, the nation’s fifth largest, to end its alleged “hazardous practices” of providing wholesale loans to payday lenders who can trap low-income borrowers in endless debt payments; funding Canadian tar sands oil pipelines that they say threaten water, climate and indigenous communities; and “engaging in unsound foreclosure practices that disproportionately affect families of color, disrupting children’s education and broadening an already significant racial achievement gap.”

USB declined to comment.

“We are calling on U.S. Bank to divest from these toxic practices,” said the Rev. Paul Slack, pastor of New Creation Church and President of ISAIAH, an association of Minnesota congregations.

According to ISAIAH, U.S. Bank lends millions to the payday loan industry, including financing to Payday America and ACE Cash Express, two large payday lenders based in Minnesota. ISAIAH is calling on US Bank to stop financing “predatory payday lenders” and offer its own affordable, small loan products.