Forget the fresh baked goodies and yummy organic delicacies.

Tuesday, Seward Co-op  had tongues wagging over other huge feats, namely quickly employing dozens of diverse job candidates at its new store in the Bryant-Central neighborhood in South Minneapolis.

For its efforts, the 44 year-old Seward Co-op was named Employer of the Year Tuesday by HIRED, the non-profit job placement agency that works to connect thousands of job seekers to employers in the Twin Cities.

Including the original store on Franklin Avenue, 36 percent of all Seward Co-op staffers are people of color. The new Seward Community  Co-op Friendship Store, however, boasts 93 workers, of which 63 percent are people of color, including Latinos, blacks and Somali-Americans.

HIRED officials noted that the 63 percent diversity rate far "exceeds the initial goal of employing 32 percent of people of color by the end of 2018." That makes the co-cop one of the most diversely staffed co-ops in the country.  The diversity ramp up is a coup. Before the new store opened, only about 14 percent of Seward workers were people of color. 

But Seward staffers started an intense project last year to not only bring healthy foods to the neighborhood, but also to address food pricing,  community hiring and making sure that its staff and ownership reflected the composition of its new neighborhood. Today the store has 1,700 new "owners," who buy membership shares in the co-op.

Seward Co-op Marketing Manager Tom Vogel said the store couldn't have done it without HIRED's dedicated help.  “We worked closely with HIRED during the opening of the Friendship store.  HIRED was instrumental in helping us reach and surpass our hiring goals of a more diverse staff.”

Each year Minneapolis-based HIRED retrains thousands of displaced workers and places them in colleges, training programs and in manufacturing and food plants that need skilled talent. HIRED announced its pick for Employer of the Year earlier this month during an annual luncheon fundraising luncheon in Minneapolis.

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