St. Paul Nonprofit Nets $400K to Grow Minority-Owned Businesses
Tawanna Black, founder and CEO of the Center for Economic Inclusion. PHOTO BY CAROLINE YANG

St. Paul Nonprofit Nets $400K to Grow Minority-Owned Businesses

The Center for Economic Inclusion aims to encourage large companies in the area to contract with minority-owned firms.

The Center for Economic Inclusion has received a $400,000 grant from JPMorgan Chase to help grow minority-owned businesses in the Twin Cities.

The St. Paul-based nonprofit will use the funds to encourage large companies in the region to contract with more than a dozen minority-owned firms.

The center will target large companies that have already committed to spending money on supplier diversity, says Tawanna Black, the organization’s founder and CEO. But the goal is to get those companies to think locally.

“Very often, unfortunately, those dollars are not spent with local minority-owned businesses,” she says. “Our effort will be to help those companies become more aware of local minority businesses who could be supplying them. … Sometimes, that’s simply about relationship building.”

Black says the center has been in ongoing talks with Target and Medtronic about working with local minority-owned firms. The organization doesn’t yet have any formal commitments, though.

Black also hopes to change policies and practices that may be hindering participation from minority-owned firms. That could involve rethinking companies’ approach to issuing requests for proposals, for instance.

“We’ll help explore and examine those to be sure there aren’t artificial barriers that are keeping them from considering local vendors,” Black says.

The center has been working with JPMorgan for about eight months now. Back in April, the nonprofit invited JPMorgan Chase Foundation president Janis Bowdler to speak at its annual “powering inclusion” summit.

Black says JPMorgan has expressed interest in partnering with the center since it first launched in May last year.

“They wanted to invest in an area that was of need in the Twin Cities,” she says. The center formed to help address racial and economic gaps in the region.

In a news release issued Wednesday, the center notes that the state of Minnesota spent less than 1 percent of its purchasing with minority-owned businesses in 2016.

Black says that statistic “isn’t all too surprising, if you were to talk to any organizations that serve minority-owned businesses, or the businesses themselves.”

“While similar reports are not available for private sector spending, the limited growth of these enterprises in our region illustrates a similar trend,” the center said.

Black says she aims to work with state agencies, too.

“The center is very committed to supporting public agencies in making a bigger commitment” in diversity, she says.