Black business owners make their voices heard at Capitol

Group of people gathering
The first Black Entrepreneurs Day was held at the Minnesota State Capitol Friday.
Nina Moini | MPR News

Black business owners filled the Capitol rotunda Friday morning to lobby lawmakers for more resources.

New to the Capitol this year, production company owner Sheletta Brundidge organized the first Black Entrepreneurs Day event to help around 250 Black business owners connect directly with their representatives.

"I didn't realize that there were no active lobbyists or advocates for Black business owners at the Capitol,” Brundidge said. “We need to know what the budget surplus is and when they are going to make decisions, if we don't know about stuff until it is already in the paper then it is too late.”

A person speaks on the stage
Black Entrepreneurs Day event organizer Sheletta Brundidge addresses a crowd of 250 Black business owners at the Capitol on Friday.
Nina Moini | MPR News

Brundidge said Black-owned businesses struggled during the height of the pandemic, and now the state can help with some of its $17 billion budget surplus.

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“We know what our needs are,” Brundidge said. “It is so important that we continue to do events like this.”

Gov. Tim Walz spoke at the event and addressed the state’s long history of deep racial economic disparities.

“Whether it is inability to get capital funding, whether it is the systemic issues, we saw it during COVID, the Black community was hit hardest,” Walz said. “They were hit harder health-wise and economically.”

Walz is proposing $2.5 million toward Launch Minnesota, which focuses on helping startups and implementing more tax credits that incentivize investment in companies led by people of color. Walz highlighted the DFL proposal for paid family leave that would allow workers to take up to 12 weeks of medical or family leave.  

“For the state to truly be the best place to raise children and raise a family, every family and entrepreneur should feel they have a chance to thrive,” Walz said.

Dana Smith’s business MinnyRow Market in Hopkins ended up closing shortly after she and her husband opened it in November 2020. 

“It was a passion of ours,” Smith said. 

A woman poses for a portrait
Entrepreneur Dana Smith attends Black Entrepreneurs Day and shares the story of her own business endeavors at the Capitol on Friday.
Nina Moini | MPR News

MinnyRow was a small-scale grocery store and deli focused on Minnesota-based food vendors.

“The biggest hurdle was opening during COVID,” Smith said. “We couldn’t have a grand opening.”

While Smith said her business had a boost of initial support, it did not last.

“I do believe it was a little performative, people were coming to show their support but after that we never regained that exposure and volume of sales again.”

Smith said she felt like she was not able to learn about or gain access to resources to help her business until it was too late.

“The biggest thing I believe that people could do is provide resources and services to companies,” Smith said. “There needs to be a database for the government to know and the community to know where the Black businesses are and what services they are seeking.”

Smith said she may reopen her business someday as she works to rebuild her finances. When she does, Smith said she hopes gaining access to resources and information will be less challenging.

“We are not ruling anything out,” Smith said. “Our passion is still local.”