Lawmakers Meet With Black Business Owners
Sheletta Brundidge (second from right) meets with State Senator Judy Seeberger at the Black Entrepreneurs Day at the Capitol on Feb. 3 Winter Keefer

Lawmakers Meet With Black Business Owners

Around 200 business owners registered to meet at the state Capitol Friday and discuss the future use of the state's $17.6 billion surplus.

For the first time in state history, hundreds of Black business owners converged at the Capitol building Friday to speak to lawmakers directly about their needs.

Presented by media personality Sheletta Brundidge’s production company and sponsored by Comcast, the inaugural Black Entrepreneurs Day at the Capitol drew Black business owners, allies, and community leaders together to discuss the future use of the state’s $17.6 billion surplus.

Speakers included Gov. Tim Walz, Lt Gov. Peggy Flanagan, and House and Senate legislators. Brundidge said it meant a lot to hear legislators say “we see and hear you, we believe you, we want to see you succeed.” Schedules were handed out to each participant to ensure business owners could speak to a range of public leaders including lawmakers, county commissioners, and lawyers.

“It’s amazing to have so many African American entrepreneurs to leave their stores and businesses to come here to make their voices heard, to stand, to let the legislators know we need their help. We’re not asking for a handout, we’re asking for a hand up,” Brundidge said.

U.S. Black-owned small businesses were hit hardest by the pandemic, according to a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research. Gov. Tim Walz acknowledged this as he spoke to the group gathered in the Capitol’s mezzanine.

“We can’t continue to stand in front of people and talk about opportunity gaps in learning, opportunity gaps in homeownership, opportunity gaps in businesses, opportunity gaps in access to childcare,” he said. “We patted ourselves on the back for a lot of years for acknowledging that it was a problem. No one here wants to hear that it’s a problem, they want to see a set of concrete steps to alleviate the problems, to allow the folks to thrive, create the generational wealth we know we need to create.”

The governor’s proposed budget includes support to small business owners, including support for Black-owned businesses, said Flanagan. This includes a proposal for an additional $2.5 million toward Launch Minnesota, which provides grants to Minnesota entrepreneurs. She noted there are additional dollars proposed to go toward the lapsed Minnesota Angel Tax Credit to support state startups.

“Our budget also [makes] sure that paid family and medical leave will become a reality here in this state,” Flanagan said. “No one should have to choose between a paycheck and taking care of a sick loved one or a new child.”

The Minnesota Chamber has opposed the family and medical leave as it’s currently written, though. On Thursday, chamber leaders also converged on the Capitol to voice their opposition. “Adding a mandate that will worsen our labor shortage while giving businesses a hefty tax will poison us,” said Winona Area Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Christie Ransom in a statement.

Meanwhile, at Friday’s event, Anissa Keyes also spoke about her journey to build her business. Keyes is working to rehab a building in North Minneapolis so small businesses can have a brick-and-mortar office at a low cost. She’s also the founder of Arubah Emotional Health Services, which has four locations and 30 staff. She listed many achievements she’s had over the last few years, including reaching $1 million in revenue as a Black woman business owner.

“Despite those achievements for my agency, my journey as a black small business owner has been exhausting,” she said. “It has meant tirelessly working.” Murmurs could be heard across the room from other Black business owners in attendance.

White business owners and Black business owners face different challenges, she said. For example, it took Keys nine years to get a line of credit for her business. Unique challenges face Black business owners that don’t impact their white counterparts. There are discrepancies in access to benefits, capital, and credit, she said.

“It is not beneficial for anyone when Black business owners have continuously battled against the racial and the systemic barriers that are regularly haunting our lives,” Keyes said. “Then we have to turn around and overcome those same barriers in business. That’s just completely unreasonable. Black businesses diversify the economy.”