Chris Ferguson, Stadium Village Business Owner, BRC Chair
January 25, 2012
As we head into the New Year, the Business Resources Collaborative (BRC) is pleased to report that we have made significant progress on many of the goals we set for 2011. Granted, not all of our goals have been met in full; but with a year of construction under our belts, we are better educated about the supports and resources Central Corridor businesses will need to survive – and thrive – during the 2012 construction season. And we are ready to look ahead to a “post-construction world” by exploring economic development strategies that will help ensure locally-owned businesses flourish and good jobs grow along the corridor.
- With ongoing input from the BRC, the Met Council has continually developed and improved upon communication protocols for notifying affected properties about construction starts, temporary access plans, and disruptions to utilities, sidewalks and driveways. Unforeseen changes in the construction schedule that are not communicated to the Council continue to surprise business owners with impacts or outages that can make a day’s work untenable. The BRC is working very closely with Met Council staff and contractors to lessen these occurrences in the 2012 construction seasons.
- The City of Saint Paul has created a $1.5 million fund to help businesses retool their parking. To date, $1,325,000 in funding for 24 parking improvements projects has been approved. Customer awareness of and access to parking continues to be a challenge. The BRC will continue to seek additional parking solutions.
- The BRC continues to work with the CCPO and the cities to improve signage to better direct customers to open businesses and available parking. In the year ahead, we will work to increase directional signage, use of social media and websites to inform the public of both.
- The BRC’s Ready for Rail website, readyforrail.net, is in the process of a small evolution. The site provides timely information about construction schedules and resources available to support businesses along the corridor in Minneapolis and St. Paul, and the intention is to make the site more user-friendly and action-oriented. The companion Ready for Rail packet, available in Spanish, English, Hmong, Vietnamese and Somali, has been widely distributed. It will be updated and redistributed in early 2012.
- A $4 Million Ready for Rail Forgivable Loan Program was funded by the Metropolitan Council, City of St. Paul and Central Corridor Funders Collaborative. Loans of up to $20,000 are available to locally-owned small businesses along the Central Corridor with a loss in sales due to the construction. To date, $1,170,736 in loans has been disbursed to 71 businesses. Many businesses have used the loan for basic expenses, including payroll, inventory, rent/mortgage, utilities, taxes, marketing, and insurance. Early in 2012, funders and loan administrators will review data from the first year of the loan program to determine what, if any, improvements should be made to the program going forward.
- “Discover Central Corridor,” a corridor-wide marketing initiative led by the St. Paul Area and Midway Chambers of Commerce has successfully encouraged supporting businesses along the Central Corridor. The grassroots marketing campaign, led by Nemer Feiger, is designed to drive customer traffic during construction. Programs have included a progressive dinner sponsored by Target, a coupon book, sponsorship of the first Gopher football game and street teams at several events in St. Paul and Minneapolis. For more information, visit DisoverCentralCorridor.com.
- In February, 2012, the Met Council will hire a firm to lead marketing duties along the Corridor. The BRC will continue to play an advisory role to the new marketing team.
- BRC members have and will continue to provide invaluable business planning and preparation, financial, legal, and marketing services to businesses along the corridor. To date U7 has helped more than 218 businesses. For more information visit universityseven.squarespace.com.
Looking ahead, the BRC will dedicated more energy to its economic development objectives – namely, ensuring locally-owned business retention and growth along the Corridor, and helping residents up and down the Corridor prepare for and access living-wage jobs that are created. The BRC will convene meetings specifically around economic development topics to help us identify and promote strategies for ensuring sustainable growth along the Corridor. There are already some tools in place:
- In 2011, the Twin Cities was awarded a Living Cities “Corridor of Opportunities” grant to advance the implementation and construction of sustainable development along the Central Corridor and other transitways in the metro. As part of the award, a $700,000 small businesses loan fund for expansion and real estate acquisition, managed by the Neighborhood Development Center, is available. To date, $58,000 has been distributed.
- Jobs Central is an employment and workforce pilot project also sponsored by the Corridors of Opportunity. The pilot’s goal is to support local industry job growth—and increase access to existing and emerging jobs for Corridor residents who are immigrant, low-income and/or persons of color. The BRC will work closely with Jobs Central to accomplish these goals.
We see a bright future along the Central Corridor – one that benefits existing and future business owners along the Corridor and throughout the surrounding neighborhoods. We are grateful for very close working relationships with, and support from, Met Council, contractors, and the Central Corridor Funders Collaborative to be able to bring forward our vision for a thriving commercial corridor.
For more information, visit www.FundersCollaborative.org.