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Culturally Based Economic Development

Developing Successful Businesses Through a Cultural Approach

Culture is the foundation of healthy people, healthy communities, healthy businesses, and a healthy society. When we look at the Social Determinants of Health, we see culture as the through-line that connects all aspects of health outcomes. That’s why we work with entrepreneurs to develop a more holistic approach to business ownership in both preparation and expansion. Centering our approach on cultural health has the dual focus of developing the hard skills necessary for business success while reclaiming and connecting to a deeper sense of culture.

Our approach taps into Social Capital, the kinship networks that contain the emotional support, labor, and referrals within the community needed for business success as well as the Cultural Capital needed to understand and interface with the bankers, customers, employees, and vendors a business needs for robust operations.

We set out to prove this model in the early 2000’s when we partnered with the Neighborhood Development Center to launch Midtown Global Market, a vibrant economic and cultural center — home to over 45 businesses spanning over 22 cultures. More than 1.5 million patrons visit Midtown Global Market each year to experience an extraordinary variety of tastes, arts and crafts as well as music and dance programs.

We work with entrepreneurs to built the core concepts of business success – setting achievable goals, understanding competing priorities, maintaining positive relationships without compromising value, realistic planning that considers the true human capital necessary to have a successful start-up. Entrepreneurs receives intensive one-on-one coaching and consultation from staff, Elders, community members as they build on these core concepts. The hard skills are focused around Branding, Marketing, and Networking, Management, Infrastructure Creation, and Business Plan Development.



Culture- consists of practices that people create to give themselves continuity and cohesion across generations. Culture consists of a set of highly patterned, unspoken implicit rules, behaviors and thoughts which control everything that [we] do. [ A people, peoplehood is at the core of culture.]


  • A state of physical, mental, social, and spiritual well being. It is not only the absence of infirmity and disease.
  • The state of balance, harmony, and connectedness within and between many systems – the body, the family, the community, the environment, and culture. It cannot be seen only in an individual context.
  • An active state of being; people must be active participants to be healthy. It cannot be achieved by being passive. 

Building Midtown Global Market

In the early 2000’s, the City of Minneapolis was searching for a use for the long vacant Sears building on Lake Street. Neighbors and local Latino business owners helped convince city officials that the historic building should be saved and, ultimately, reflect the ethnic diversity of the neighborhood and the entrepreneurial energy of the businesses on Lake Street.

At the time, NDC, Latino Economic Development Center and other organizations were working with small businesses on Lake Street to fill empty storefronts by providing training and start-up loans. Fearing that the former Sears building would become a large “big box” store that would drive out local business, neighboring entrepreneurs looked to NDC to help create another space for small businesses to start and grow.

Midtown Global Market subsequently took shape through the extraordinary efforts of a wide range of people. Entrepreneurs, community organizations, the City of Minneapolis (under visionary leadership from Mayor Rybak), countless donors, lenders and tax credit investors all worked tirelessly to make the project a success. Midtown Global Market opened for business on May 15, 2006.  Eighteen of the original businesses are still here.

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