Tawanna Black, a veteran of industry and foundations, has spent a couple of years preparing to launch a 2016 initiative designed to help close the much-discussed opportunity-and-wage gap by connecting 2,000 north Minneapolis black men with better jobs and lives.

Black is executive director of the Northside Funders Group, a collaborative of 20 local corporate and public foundations who invest millions of dollars annually into North Side nonprofit training-and-employment and other agencies.

“We have delved into what works and what’s not, and how to take what works up to scale,” Black said. “Everything from addressing the supply side, working with families, pastors and working with agencies to develop the tools [for success] that are most meaningful, and how to stay engaged and work with people on preparing for meaningful work and life goals, including becoming better fathers.”

More than half of the men on the North Side are not working and the Twin Cities has the highest black-white employment disparities in the nation.

“Despite generous and well-intentioned investment in workforce development, the employment gap between white and black Minneapolis residents hasn’t budged for 15 years,” Black said. “Our community’s growing commitment to closing the gap must be paired with a commitment to innovate and confront systems that are not designed to effectively employ African-American men.”

A pilot program next year will seek to prepare and place 20 North Side men in living-wage jobs that have a career pathway.

It makes economic, as well as right-thing-to-do sense for minorities to be fully represented in the workforce. A number of companies are on board.

“We know firsthand the benefits of having a workforce that is reflective of our diverse customer base,” said Xcel Energy CEO Ben Fowke.

More information:www.northsidefunders.org.

Mouli Engineering grows SolarPod business

Mouli Vaidyanathan, the veteran engineer who lost a job in corporate America during the Great Recession, and became an energy consultant and bootstrap entrepreneur behind www.mysolarpod.com, has surpassed 200 installations around the country this year, up from 150 in 2014.

He is assembling all three of his systems at a contract manufacturer in Burnsville and has gotten increasing attention in the solar trade.

“I’m passionate because I’m making new products that work and people like,” said Vaidyanathan.

The SolarPod Crown has been selected as one of 10 international products in the “Photovoltaics” category by Intersolar Award 2015. The SolarPod Crown design enables solar panels to be placed on roofs with less damage and cost because there is no drilling into the roof.

“Just a year ago, I was working multiple jobs to satisfy [expenses],” said Vaidyanathan, who added that he’s now able to pay himself a comparable salary to his corporate job. “Being one of 10 companies [selected] for this international product recognition encourages our journey.”

Vaidyanathan, who has a Crown system atop his home and office in Eagan, is a net seller of electricity to Dakota Electric. He adds that his energy-frugal family uses less than the average amount of electricity.

The SolarPod Crown, which sells for as low as $10,500 after federal tax credits, is most popular in the sunny states of California, Georgia and North Carolina, and is designed to pay back the cost in up to nine years through energy-cost savings.

TCF hires new commercial banking boss from Chicago

TCF Bancorp last week named R. Patricia “Trish” Kelly executive vice president and managing director of commercial banking, reporting to Vice Chairman Tom Jasper.

Kelly, who spent 25 years with ABN-AMRO and its Chicago-based LaSalle Bank, is a veteran corporate and real estate lender. She joins TCF from the Chicago Corp., where she was co-head of the financial institutions group and head of real estate investment banking.

“TCF Commercial Banking is an important contributor to our long-term growth, and we have been pleased with the recent momentum of the business,” said TCF President Craig Dahl, who will succeed longtime CEO Bill Cooper as the boss next year. “Trish brings to TCF a tremendously valuable perspective on commercial and real estate lending and her track record of prudently and substantially growing businesses will be important as we look to accelerate growth across our commercial portfolio.”

Kelly succeeds a commercial bank manager who retired earlier this year.

Meanwhile, TCF, in a shareholder-friendly move, last week boosted the quarterly dividend 50 percent to 7.5 cents per share. It’s the first increase since 2008. TCF’s stock trades below pre-recession levels because it gets less from lower consumer fees that once made up a big helping of its revenue and which were reduced by industry regulators a few years ago.

Minnesota litigator heads to GM

Ann Cathcart Chaplin, head of the litigation practice group at Fish and Richardson, is leaving the Minneapolis office to join General Motors as deputy general counsel for litigation.

General Motors, until the recent fraud blowup at Volkswagen, had captured the bulk of headlines for defective products, recalls and related management issues. And there are a lot of lawsuits.

Chaplin, 42, the subject of a 2011 Star Tribune profile, will report to GM General Counsel Craig Glidden.

“Ann … is an experienced trial lawyer … and her work in litigation project management has been innovative,” said Glidden. “Having her expertise at GM will be an incredible asset as we manage complex legal issues, and deploy advanced technology to transform our vehicles and the way we manage the ­business.”

Cathcart Chaplin, a Minnesota native who graduated from Harvard Law School, is moving the family to the Detroit area.