Nexus Community Partners

Classroom full of adults and leader

Addressing economic opportunity on Saint Paul's East Side

Nexus Community Partners (Nexus) is changing the way economic disparities and opportunities are addressed on Saint Paul’s East Side. Their recent research into local and national innovations have changed the way some are thinking about economic growth.

Financial strife is especially pronounced on the East Side. As of 2014, 30 percent of residents were living below the poverty line.The income gap between families of color and white families in Minnesota is nearly double the national average. This economic inequity builds instability into the fabric of our communities.

“Despite the investments happening on the East Side, we weren’t making progress as quickly as we hoped. One of our roles at Nexus is to be the bridge between our community and the partners investing in our neighborhoods. We needed to figure out how to crack this nut. We thought if we could look at what was working locally and nationally we could find a way to bring sustainable employment and robust job creation together,” said Elena Gaarder, program officer at Nexus.

With support from Mardag Foundation, Nexus was able to conduct research and build national partnerships focused on growing economic opportunity on the East Side. Nexus facilitated a trip to California for members of the East Side Economic Growth Initiative (ESEGI), a collaboration of 10 organizations working on economic development on the East Side, to learn from best practices nationally.

These findings, combined with a compilation of research around community wealth building and Nexus’ own knowledge of the East Side, produced a report titled, “Strengthening Local Economies” that has formed the basis of a slow, but steady shift in the way job creation and workforce development are treated locally.

The report highlights three models for economic growth and development that could be replicated on the East Side: Worker-owned businesses give employees ownership of a company, and an equal share in the profits; Social enterprises create jobs while providing on-the-job training and eliminate traditional barriers to employment for homeless or ex-offender populations; Cross sectoral partnerships give everyone a stake in the game, ensuring investments from private, public and philanthropic sectors are strategically aligned for the greatest impact.

“Having resources from Mardag Foundation allowed us to involve the people who would do the work in the process of figuring out solutions. They had the opportunity to think through whether these models would work for them, if we could replicate it in our community and what had the most relevance for the people who would benefit from this work. We were able to reach solutions created by the community, for the community,” said Gaarder.