Asian Economic Development Association Helps More Than 30 Local Businesses

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The civil unrest sparked by the murder of George Floyd resulted in significant property damage to cultural corridors where Black, Indigenous and People of Color work and own businesses. That’s why Greater Twin Cities United Way, in partnership with The Minneapolis Foundation and the Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundation, established the Twin Cities Rebuild for the Future Fund.

The fund provided immediate support to small businesses owned by Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) for things like repairs, equipment, technology, building materials and relocation expenses related to the damage. Grants were distributed to nonprofits and community organizations who directly support small business development.

One of these organizations is Asian Economic Development Association (AEDA), established about fifteen years ago to help Asian-owned small businesses with workforce and business development, technical assistance, training programs, lending and finances, and more.

“Everything is integrated in our organization,” said Executive Director Va-Megn Thoj. “Our programming is really about empowering people and supporting them as entrepreneurs so they can thrive.”

Following the civil unrest, Thoj said he was incredibly thankful to learn AEDA was receiving a grant from the Twin Cities Rebuild for the Future Fund.

“We’ve established a good relationship with Greater Twin Cities United Way over the years and we have deep community connections with Asian-owned businesses, so it was a natural partnership,” said Thoj.

To help distribute the Rebuild dollars, AEDA created an application process. They also did intensive on-the-ground outreach and engagement, contacting owners and surveying damages. AEDA said they made access to funding as easy as possible for businesses and helped non-English speaking owners through the process step-by-step. After reviewing all the information, a team tried to decipher the most critical needs to fund.

“There was a lot of urgency; people’s lives had been turned upside-down,” said Thoj. “Some businesses were totally destroyed; burned down where others were only broken into but completely looted. There were thousands of damaged businesses. We identified about 100 businesses that we could support. Out of that number, it was hard to decide whose needs were greatest.”

AEDA was able to help more than 30 Asian-owned local businesses. One of those was 7-Mile Sportswear off University Avenue in St. Paul. The store has served the community for more than 25 years. Owner Jin Lim said his business was broken into, completely looted, and destroyed by fire, smoke and water, resulting in more than $1.5 million in damages.

“Everybody suffered that day,” said Lim. “My store looked totally unrecognizable. It was hard to get back on our feet to re-open, and I am so grateful for help from the Rebuild fund.”

Three months after receiving grant dollars, 7-Mile Sportswear is open once again and has been able to completely restock their inventory. Lim also said between the Rebuild funding, AEDA support, and volunteers who pitched in to clean things up and repair damages, he saw the strength of our community.

“If anything, the past few months have reinforced my commitment to joining together and helping your neighbor,” Lim said.

To learn more about the Twin Cities Rebuild for the Future Fund, visit tcrebuild.org. Greater Twin Cities United Way, The Minneapolis Foundation and the Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundation are also partnering on a multi-year collaboration with the goal of transforming the criminal justice system– stay tuned for more details to come!

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