1,000 @ 2% = the sweet spot

I attended a great celebration today: At the corner of 38th St. and Nicollet Ave., a community of neighbors, small-business owners, business lenders, economic-development specialists and neighbors gathered to welcome a great new business to its new location — and to celebrate the help that got them there.

We met at the new home of the Blackbird Café, one of my favorite establishments, at the intersection of 38th and Nicollet. The Blackbird, along with several other great small businesses, was sadly destroyed in a fire last February at their old location at 50th and Bryant. Now, however, they’re within a few weeks of opening at this great new location with the help of a 2% loan from the City of Minneapolis. The coolest part was that the 2% loan to the Blackbird marked the 1,000th 2% loan that the City has made to small businesses in every corner of Minneapolis.

Small businesses mark the sweet spot in Minneapolis’ economy where help from the City, even in seemingly small amounts, can make a big difference — and multiplied 1,000 times, the 2% loans have made an enormous impact. Since the program first began in 1988, these 1,000 loans have:

  • invested a total of $28 million in small businesses in Minneapolis;
  • generated $87 million more in private investment;
  • created more than 2,000 jobs;
  • and retained more than 9,300 jobs.

And I want to make sure to mention that over 97% of these 2% loans have been paid back in full, with interest.

These loans are just the kind of investment that government should be making — and now more than ever, this is the right time to make it. I’m especially proud that through this tough recession, the City of Minneapolis has continued to lend to small businesses, helping them create jobs and revitalize our economy at a time when we need it the most.

Matt Perry, president of the Nicollet–East Harriet Business Association, nailed it on the head today. “Small businesses create the fabric of the city,” he said. “Small businesses in Minneapolis are likely to hire Minneapolis residents for jobs, so a small investment has big ripple effects.”

I remember so clearly the fire that destroyed the first home of the Blackbird back in February, because I was on site as soon as I heard about it. I spent a lot of time with co-owners Chris Stevens and Gail Mollner: first I consoled them, then I put in their hands a packet of information about ways that the City could help them stay and grow in Minneapolis. I encouraged them to call Bob Lind, the manager of the City’s Business Finance program, because Bob and his team of dedicated small-business specialists never give up until they find a way, or often several ways, to help a business start or expand.

Chris said, “There were a lot of good reasons not to reopen the café, but the outpouring of support from neighbors, customers and the restaurant community, plus the help from the City of Minneapolis, convinced us that we should.”

“We can’t measure how grateful we are for all the support,” Gail added.

Like I said, some great folks joined us at the event today. I was very excited that Robert Stephens, the founder of the Geek Squad, was there. Not just because he’s a funny, engaging guy, but because back when the Geek Squad was still a little-known start-up — and after they’d been turned down for financing by a bank — the City gave them financing to help them grow. “It was the one and only loan we ever took out, and we paid it back in full, faster than we had planned.” Robert said. “I know I paid it back faster than my student loan from the University of Minnesota!”

Dean Sanberg, the new owner of the small business WindRider International, was there, too. WindRider is a manufacturer of innovative sailboats that moved to Minneapolis from Pine City earlier this year. They’re a great business to have in the City of Lakes and we’ve helped them expand with a 2% loan, too.

If you’re a small-business owner or are thinking of starting your own small business, call us: we’d love to help. The 2% loan program is one of 15 different finance tools that the City of Minneapolis uses to support our diverse small-business community. For more information on the range of tools the City has at our disposal for small business, see http://www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/cped/business_assistance.asp or call Bob Lind at (612) 673-5068.

From the Geek Squad to the Blackbird, we are standing shoulder-to-shoulder with entrepreneurs who are growing businesses and creating jobs. And the best is that there is more to come.

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