From the County Manager Column from April 6, 2021

New Economic Inclusion & Competitiveness Plan to build, preserve affordable housing and support minority-owned small businesses

Well before the pandemic began, we knew strong housing and small business support systems were central to improving the lives of all Ramsey County residents and achieving our county goals. We also knew that our current and future prosperity rested on every Ramsey County resident having a chance to share in that prosperity, and that could only happen by ensuring that barriers based on race, culture, gender or ability were eliminated.

Over the last several months, our Community & Economic Development staff and so many outside partners have been working hard to develop a Ramsey County Economic Inclusion & Competitiveness Plan, which was released March 23 at a board workshop. A significant housing crisis persists, and proactive measures – not reactive – must be taken to improve our local quality of life. At the end of the day, one cannot prosper without a place to call home and an opportunity to build a career. This plan boldly takes on both elements, and I am glad to see the region take notice.

The plan – believed to be the first of its kind for county governments – prioritizes investments in communities of color that will foster prosperity and a more competitive regional economy. A once-in-a-generation commitment of this size and scope could not have been achieved without extensive community and stakeholder input, which occurred over the last 18 months. Special thanks to the Community & Economic Development team and many community partners who worked tirelessly to identify gaps where county investment and coordination can play a unique role in strengthening economic recovery. The need for reducing racially biased housing and investment disparities was a clear and consistent call to action throughout this effort.

To help achieve the plan, Ramsey County is exploring a nearly $12 million property tax levy through the Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA) next year. Many of our peers already utilize HRA levies to address affordable housing challenges. Upon implementation, Ramsey County will become the final metro county to collect a levy through an HRA or economic development authority.

I’m proud of our title as Minnesota’s most racially and ethnically diverse county. Our future will shine brighter than anywhere else by ensuring that our diversity of wisdom, expertise, experience and talent aligns with a collective vision of forward momentum and inclusive growth for all! Further investments are crucial to serving our constituents who call Ramsey County home. An additional 500 minority business enterprises (MBEs) are needed to match the national minority business ownership rate, and 15,000 deeply affordable housing units need to be built to meet current demand. This is a huge challenge, but we are up to meeting it.

Our county board celebrated the plan as an incredible milestone when it was presented to the board last month.

View board workshop presentation and discussion

In the plan’s opening message, Board Chair Toni Carter writes: “We understand that a vibrant, competitive county economy is built on adequate, high-quality housing options, paths to entrepreneurship, an innovative business sector, thriving commercial corridors and ample opportunities for workforce development. These outcomes are only possible by ensuring that all of our county residents and workers have equitable and inclusive access to all of these opportunities. Too many of our fellow neighbors are hurting from the lack of access to quality housing, the barriers to starting a small business and the inability to accumulate household wealth.”

Capital investments of the past – including the destruction of the historically Black Rondo neighborhood for the construction of I-94 – were deliberate and discriminative missteps. While we cannot totally erase past generational harm, this new plan provides a key chance for the county to commit to a better path forward.

Key elements of the plan include:

  • Preserving and increasing the supply of rental housing units for lowest-income residents.  
  • Expanding affordable homeownership opportunities and improving housing stability for communities that have experienced historic wealth extraction.
  • Fostering inclusive economic development within county transit, economic and cultural corridors.
  • Supporting communities in equitable site development.
  • Sustaining and accelerating workforce recovery programs.
  • Developing pathways to entrepreneurship and Black, Latinx, Asian and Indigenous business ownership.
  • Attracting and growing high-wage industry and innovation: technology, advanced manufacturing and life sciences.
  • Strengthening business retention and expansion infrastructure to support communities.

We know we can’t do all this work alone. We plan to align our work with all Ramsey County residents, communities and other interested parties. As part of that, I invite you to join us for a Mapping Prejudice event on Thursday, April 8, from 6-8 p.m. over Zoom. The event – a culmination of two years of planning – will center on the history of countywide redlining and its current and future impacts. My deep thanks to our property tax and records team who helped Mapping Prejudice volunteers cull through historical data and records going back to the earliest development of cities throughout the county. Their commitment to public transparency has been fundamental to our success thus far.

The work of this transformational plan is just beginning, and I am confident that our collective spirit and passion will ensure long-term economic growth, equity and inclusion in Ramsey County.