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Minneapolis rethinks economic approaches, expands economic options.

Reprinted with permission from "For the urban poor, it all comes down to jobs," by Leonard Inskip, published in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune July 18, 1993.

To address problems of poverty, unemployment and the city's economy, Minneapolis needs (pick three of the following):

* Upgraded skills among low-wage workers;

* Stronger financing for new or existing small business;

* Factories in inner-city neighborhoods;

* Increased suburban awareness, understanding and support;

* Added cooperation with St. Paul;

* Forceful leadership by public officials, including the governor;

* Cleanup of polluted industrial sites;

* Expanded minority capitalism and job opportunities;

* A growing regional economy;

* Improved transportation to suburban jobs;

* More nonprofit entrepreneurs;

* More concerned executives;

* Better connections between school and work;

* Better planning for economic development.

If you settled for only three responses, your thinking is too narrow. In varying degrees, Minneapolis -- along with St. Paul, and, increasingly, the close-in suburbs -- needs all of the above, and more.

The widening jobs and income gap between the central cities and most suburbs is obvious, and worrisome. Less noticed is constructive, fresh thinking about how to address central-city problems. It is occurring in government, foundations, chambers of commerce, nonprofit groups. It is encouraging. But much more is needed -- especially increased support for new approaches, and emerging projects.

Economic strategies

The new thinking points toward better planning and more effective approaches for economic development. These are overdue.

The Greater Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce is midway in a challenging effort to create a regional vision -- not just about how to make the local economy more competitive, but also about how to improve job opportunities with living wages for people outside the economic mainstream. As chamber efforts go, that's pioneering.

Separately, Minneapolis city agencies are working on more comprehensive strategies for economic revitalization. The Minneapolis Community Development Agency (MCDA), St. Paul agencies and other groups are studying whether something like the successful Minneapolis-St. Paul Family Housing Fund should or can be replicated for economic development and jobs.

The Metropolitan Council is studying the needs of built-up are (mainly the central cities and nearby suburbs). And as urged by the central-city mayors, the council also is studying international trade's impact on the region. In St. Paul, committees have looked at downtown and East Metro needs.

Although such activities are occurring independently, participants stay in touch. For example, the Minneapolis policy guide calls for cooperation with Chamber of Commerce and Met Council efforts. The result should be better understanding of economic development needs and more fruitful application of community energy and resources.

Small Business

The American Indian Business Development Corp. opened a business incubator on Franklin Ave. in 1989. Today the building, in the heart of the Indian community, has 17 small businesses and other offices employing 200 people. A few blocks away, Project for Pride in Living (PPL) has brightened the Chicago-Franklin intersection with a small shopping center. PPL also has launched an artificial tree business that it hopes will eventually employ 100 inner-city workers. The grass-roots Phoenix Group, another nonprofit venture in the Phillips neighborhood, buys run-down houses cheap, creates jobs and housing for the people who restore them and launches small businesses.

The city also needs more entrepreneurial thinking at the neighborhood level. The MCDA is proposing a promising pilot program to encourage revitalization of small commercial and industrial areas. The goal is to strengthen local business and jobs through partnerships between neighborhood and business groups. Some observers say residents involved in the Neighborhood Revitalization Program overlook business needs. If that's true, they shouldn't.

Business Capital

Although the MCDA sponsors several lending programs, small businesses in the city need greater access to capital. One fresh source may be state government, which is setting up a $6 million challenge-grant program to be matched by other funders.

Development Bank

St. Paul Mayor Jim Scheibel and some Minneapolis officials advocate creating a community development bank to steer savings by neighborhood depositors into neighborhood business and housing. A successful model is the South Shore bank, which has helped combat deterioration in south Chicago.

Reverse Commuting

One way to get inner-city people to distant suburban jobs is to encourage reverse commuting transportation -- buses that run against the normal commuting flow. Such service by a regional bus company has spurred efforts to link inner-city residents to Eden Prairie jobs.

Job training

A gap is growing between workers' job skills and employer needs. That makes it harder for city jobs officials to connect the unemployed and unskilled with anything better than low-wage jobs.

More time, attention and resources must be used to get the unemployed ready to work. That's the thinking behind a proposal for a major investment to train 1,000 low-wage workers and graduate at least 500 into $20,000-a-year jobs. While the price is high, it may take that kind of spending to turn young lives around.

There's much more out there: efforts to link city schools, nearby colleges, employers and social service agencies more closely; to get suburbs to share low-income housing; to connect jobs more closely to city assistance to businesses; to tap new sources of philanthropy; to develop more self-help projects; to reduce unnecessary regulation.

A lot is going on. But it'll take a lot to overcome deepening inner-city poverty. That's why any three solutions are only a place to start.
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Title Annotation:reprinted from the Minneapolis Star-Tribune; Special Report: Cities and Towns Tackle Heavy Issues of Poverty
Author:Inskip, Leonard
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Sep 13, 1993
Previous Article:NLC survey studies local officials' perception of poverty: results reflect the severity and seriousness of the issue.
Next Article:Local officials talk about making poverty reduction a top priority at home.

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