City approves small business office

The City Council approved funding for a small business office to help immigrant business owners

Eliana Schreiber

In an effort to help small immigrant businesses, Minneapolis will put money toward a new project.

In its budget approved Friday, the Minneapolis City Council approved the creation of a small business office in 2017.

Ward 6 City Council Member Abdi Warsame said the idea for the office stemmed from feedback the council received from local small business owners.

Warsame said the office will help establish small businesses, particularly immigrant and women-owned businesses.

He said the office will administer loans and grants, act as a one-stop shop for business owners and direct them to resources to help navigate the business world.

Warsame said he hopes the proposed office will inform future policy decisions, depending on feedback the council gets from the community.

“The idea is to have a small office dedicated to help small businesses,” he said. “Small businesses are drivers of business.”

West Bank Business Association Chair Phil Kelly said it can be hard for small business owners to make it to the organization’s meetings, which are often held in the afternoons when it is inconvenient to leave stores or restaurants unattended.

Al-karama Mall owner Hesem Shire emigrated from Somalia to the U.S. in the 1990s and opened his store in 2003.

But Shire said he knew English and had owned other businesses before moving, which made for a smoother transition.

He said owning a small business is always risky and he can never know how much he will profit, but for many immigrant business owners — especially Somali Muslims — it’s not always so easy.

Samiya Ali, named after her mother’s shop, Samiya Clothing on Cedar Avenue, said getting loans is a big problem for Somali Muslim immigrants.

Islamic Sharia law doesn’t allow interest and only permits fixed-interest loans, which are hard for most business owners to get, Ali said.

She said if the new small business office provides these loans, it would reach a large group of Cedar-Riverside business owners who need them.

Ali’s mother, Fadumo Ali, said she is excited for the office and supports the idea. The Ali family members were among the first Somali business owners in Cedar-Riverside in 1997.