Minnesota’s Commissioner of Administration Matt Massman and Commission of Employment and Economic Development Shawntera Hardy took part in a town hall meeting Wednesday night geared toward entrepreneurs and small business owners on Minneapolis’ North Side.

Although the topic was economic development and small business assistance on the North Side, attention quickly turned to minority unemployment and how minority- and women-owned businesses can compete for state contracts.

The town hall was the last of three summer meetings organized by state Reps. Raymond Dehn and Fue Lee, both DFLers who represent residents on either side of West Broadway Avenue, and state Sen. Bobby Joe Champion.

Lee talked briefly about what he called “successes” for the North Side at the 2017 legislative session: $2 million for the North Market on Humboldt Avenue, $1.5 million for Summit Academy and its GED and jobs programs, $50,000 for the Fighting Chance boxing tournament and others.

He said minority unemployment rates in Minnesota had improved “significantly” since the Great Recession. Nationwide, minority employment has grown 10.8 percent; in Minnesota it has grown 41 percent, he said, mostly in health care, manufacturing, professional and technical jobs.

Massman gave an overview of the Department of Administration’s responsibility — procurement being a major one — and said supplier diversity is a priority for himself and for Gov. Mark Dayton and Lt. Gov. Tina Smith.

“Statistics haven’t been great but we are making some really good progress,” Massman said. “We’ve moved from 3.4 percent of total state spending to about 4.9 percent spending with minority-owned businesses.”

He said the state has set a goal of 8 percent of its direct spending to be from minority- and women-owned businesses.

He encouraged small business owners in the audience of about 20 people to become certified and registered so they can bid on state contracts.

Chris Webley, who runs New Rules, a workspace company with in-house design, questioned whether his small business would even be eligible to be chosen for state work. Only contracts over $25,000 requires the state to collect bids and most of New Rules’ jobs fall under that threshold.

“We can always do more with that,” Massman told him. But, he added, for the $25,000 bidding threshold to be lower would require a change in state law.

Webley also questioned Hardy about whether the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) can add his business to its network of training providers. DEED operates 47 workforce centers in Minnesota.

“We’ve found great success with untraditional methods in terms of engaging the youth,” Webley told Hardy. “Would this agency be considered a partner?”

Hardy responded that, “We have youth competitive grants you could go after and we have our adult programs.”

She told another small business owner that it’s the city of Minneapolis and the Met Council that handle issues of relocation and tax abatement.

Joanne Hager, a tradeswoman who said she has been active in trying to increase employment goals for women in construction, said she was happy to see state commissioners take the time to talk to residents.

“I would really like to see underrepresented tradespeople on some of these commissions,” she told the commissioners. “If you’re really trying to address the needs of underrepresented people, the voices of tradespeople need to be heard.”