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Minnesota Legislature

Hmong-American business owners tell lawmakers more support needed to start, grow businesses

Noah Her testifies before the House Jobs and Economic Development Finance Division on HF2731 sponsored by Rep. Tim Mahoney, left, which would, in part, provide funding to the Hmong Chamber of Commerce. Photo by Paul Battaglia

The Hmong community’s arrival to St. Paul’s East Side “miraculously and fortunately” changed the area, with new businesses filling empty storefronts after years of decline, Rep. Tim Mahoney (DFL-St. Paul) told the House Jobs and Economic Development Finance Division Thursday.

But Hmong business owners can struggle to start businesses or keep them open, often lacking knowledge in key areas as well as the support needed to access that information.

Mahoney sponsors HF2731, which would provide grant funding to the Hmong Chamber of Commerce to help bridge this gap by educating business owners.

The division held the bill over for possible inclusion in its omnibus bill – which awaits discussion on the House Floor. A companion, SF2709, sponsored by Senate President Jeremy Miller (R-Winona), awaits action by the Senate Jobs and Economic Growth Finance and Policy Committee.

The Hmong-American business community’s “most urgent need” is to keep business alive for the first few years, said Noah Her, interim executive director of the Minnesota Hmong Chamber of Commerce.

Committee hears bill to aid Hmong-American business owners 4/11/19

The chamber has put together a training program to help make that happen, covering subjects including accounting, how to properly incorporate a business, compliance with state and local laws, how to manage operations, how to conduct market research, and how to write a business plan.

The program not only benefits aspiring entrepreneurs, but also current business owners who hope to expand their businesses or scale-up their operations. It is currently serving eight students, but has a growing waitlist and no resources to expand, Her said.

A $250,000 appropriation would allow the chamber to serve an additional 30 people, Her said, though no appropriation amount is specified in the bill.

The goal is to “stop some of the churn of someone starting up a business … getting the business up and running, and then finding that they missed something” that causes them to go out of business and lose their family’s savings and assets, Mahoney said.

While other organizations across the state also provide business development services, there is often a lack of cultural connection that makes it difficult for Hmong business owners to access those resources, including language barriers, Her and Mahoney said.

Cultural barriers can pose a major hurdle for prospective business owners, who often struggle to access technical assistance and may have specific struggles that aren’t adequately addressed by existing programs, said Rep. Hodan Hassan (DFL-Mpls).

In Minnesota’s Somali-American community, for example, a strong oral tradition makes it vital to directly communicate the importance of reading and filling out forms and prioritizing paperwork, she said.

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