Jamil Ford, an architect and small-business owner, and Devean George, a real estate developer, are collaborating on a second multifamily housing-commercial complex of $18 million on Penn Avenue in north Minneapolis that should break ground within a few months.
The two grew up together on the North Side.
George, 41, an Augsburg University graduate and former NBA player, leads the George Group North real estate company.
Ford, 42, a University of Minnesota-trained architect, just added another professional to his Mobilize Design and Architecture shop. It's been a yearslong struggle for Mobilize, which focuses on the North Side, an area that lags behind the city in household income, jobs and investment.
Ford, who also lives on the North Side, can remember pulling waste wood from dumpsters as a kid to design and build clubhouses for his friends and help families with household repairs. He wants better for the old neighborhood that only in recent years is reflecting the Twin Cities economic recovery that arrived elsewhere years ago.
"I lucked out," said George, who became a millionaire during his playing days. "I'm the black guy with some finances."
He also is smart, measured and picks his partners and advisers carefully. That has enabled George to invest in both upscale housing and workforce housing, and partner with schools and nonprofits that help close the gap with disproportionately minority North Side youth.
"You don't need to be a CEO to move the needle," observed Ford.
And now is the time.
The needle hasn't moved much for minorities, particularly black and American Indian residents in the Twin Cities, since the business-led Itasca Group first started documenting racial disparities nearly a decade ago.
"A prosperous, competitive [Twin Cities] regional economy that includes people of color in every sector, at scale, is possible," said Tawanna Black, a veteran business and nonprofit executive who is CEO of the year-old Center for Economic Inclusion.
The center, supported by business, government and nonprofit stakeholders, conducted its inaugural annual meeting last week, presenting a 14-category examination of the race-based gaps, from employment to education, income, bank lending and more.
The center, aided by partners Greater MSP, Brookings Institution, JPMorgan Chase Foundation and others, has produced an integrated look at the data that can now be updated and examined annually at centerforeconomicinclusion.org.
Black residents have seen an almost 10% rise in employment since 2013. However, wages for black and Latino workers badly lag behind those of white workers. Approximately half of Latino workers, and a third of black and American Indian workers, earn a household income of at least $33,000. Only one in five white households earn that little.
Those groups also lag in workforce development, two- and four-year college degrees and small-business starts.
The illustrative digital "dashboard" was developed by Prime Digital Academy, one of the alternative training programs that develops IT workers and places a large number of minority workers in $50,000-plus jobs.
"We had to be sure we had the relevant data to understand why and how this happened," Black said.
And it's going to take years to turn it around.
This is not only the moral thing to do. It is an economic imperative.
Virtually all of the population growth in the Twin Cities of the future will be from minorities and immigrants. If we are to expand our regional economy, those folks must upgrade their skills and earnings.
And the Twin Cities lags behind most other metropolitan areas.
"Economic growth and economic inclusion are goals that have to be pursued together," said Alan Berube, deputy director of the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings. "Cities and metro areas that offer greater opportunity to all residents experience faster per capita income growth."
In short, wealthier minorities don't come at the expense of white residents. In fact, over the last 40 years, as women and minority participation in the workforce and once off-limit jobs expanded, the economic pie grew. We all do better when we all do better.
It's time to step it up.
"Data doesn't necessarily lead to action; those same systemic issues live in our business," said David Mortenson, chairman of Mortenson, the national construction company who participated in the inclusion conference. "We need to combine it with stories."
He recounted a young college graduate, a minority woman named Celestina whose mother wrote a letter to the Star Tribune several years ago complaining that her daughter received no response after applying to 100 companies, yet she had a strong math-and-science background.
Mortenson met with his human resources people and asked them if they would have responded if her name was Christine.
"That story changed what we do," said Mortenson, a leader in hiring women and minorities in the trades.
Said Steve Grove, a former Google executive who is the Minnesota commissioner of economic development: "Our economic future is at stake. We have to do this. And we have a moral obligation."