Cedar-Riverside organization helps immigrants

Since its inception, the African Development Center leveraged $4.5 million in business capital.

Vincent Staupe

Four years ago, Hussein Samatar saw a need in the growing Twin Cities African immigrant community.

Through his work as a commercial lender at Wells Fargo, Samatar, a native of Somalia, said he repeatedly had to turn away African immigrants who did not have business plans or bookkeeping services – items essential to securing business loans.

“Those African immigrants who wanted to start a business were not understanding the American industry system,” said Samatar, a 2003-2004 Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs policy fellow.

In response to this need, Samatar founded the African Development Center in 2003 after consulting with business leaders in the African immigrant community.

The goal of the center, according to its Web site, is “to work within African communities in Minnesota to start and sustain successful businesses, build assets and promote community reinvestment.”

Since its inception, the development center launched a microlending program and began programming in business development homeownership training and financial literacy. It has also leveraged $4.5 million in business development capital on behalf of more than 39 clients, Samatar said.

One client who benefited from the center is Stephen Kaggwa, who owns Tam Tam’s, a Ugandan restaurant, at 605 Cedar Ave. S. Kaggwa received a business degree from Uganda’s Makerere University, but upon arriving in the Twin Cities in 2002, he said he realized he had little knowledge of how to start a restaurant in the United States.

Kaggwa said he wanted to open a Ugandan restaurant and looked to the center to help receive financing for the venture. After securing a start-up loan, Tam Tam’s, which is Swahili for “something sweet,” opened for business in July.

“The (center) was a very helpful hand to me,” Kaggwa said.

Deven Nelson from the West Bank Community Coalition said it’s important to have an organization like development center in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood.

“They’ve done really good things for the area,” Nelson said.

The close proximity of Cedar-Riverside to the University was not lost on Samatar, who said the Carlson School of Management helped compile databases that kept track of information for local businesses.

In addition to Tam Tam’s, the center helps other area businesses such as a grocery store, a barber and a tobacco shop.

“There are almost 50 African businesses in the small commercial corridor of the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood,” Samatar said. “We made the intentional choice to start our headquarters here.”

But Cedar-Riverside – with one of the largest concentrations of African immigrants in the country – is not the only neighborhood where businesses benefit from the center.

“We work with business owners in the entire seven-county metro area,” Samatar said. This includes recent work at the new Midtown Global Market complex in south Minneapolis.

The center is about fulfilling a need in the community by allowing businesspeople to become self-sufficient, Samatar said.

“It’s the American story,” he said. “To give people help so eventually they can help themselves.”