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Mercado Central, an Urban Business Incubator

Immigrant populations are increasing in number in cities throughout the United States. Newly settled immigrants face multiple challenges: making connections with long-time residents, finding rewarding work that will allow them to contribute their talents and skills to their new communities, and maintaining their cultural traditions. How can our newest community members be supported in overcoming each of these challenges? Through the establishment of an “urban business incubator,” like Mercado Central in Minneapolis, MN.

Mercado Central is a member-owned cooperative located in South Minneapolis. This business cooperative was designed by its members to recreate a traditional Latin American market. This means that Mercado Central serves retail needs while acting as a center for civic engagement and cultural expression.

Mercado Central opened in 1999 after three years of hard work by graduates of the Neighborhood Development Center, Inc. (NDC) Ethnic Entrepreneur Training Program. This program serves immigrants who might have experience operating a business in their own country, but who are unfamiliar with the intricacies of running a business in the United States. The Training Program helps with business plan development and imparts skills for dealing with bankers, inspectors, and other officials.

As more and more Latinos completed the Training Program, they recognized a shared need for commercial space. In January of 1997 a small group of these business owners incorporated as a cooperative and formed Mercado Central. From 1997 to 1999, the Mercado Board, NDC, the Whittier CDC, Interfaith Action, and Project for Pride in Living worked together to develop the cooperative, train and finance the businesses, develop operations and marketing plans, and rehabilitate and design the Mercado Central facility. In July of 1999, Mercado Central held its three day long grand opening.

Today Mercado Central is 100-percent occupied and has 49 member businesses; there is a waiting list of Latino business owners who would like to join the project. Current participants include restaurants, grocery stores, services (an upholsterer, a tailor, etc.) and shops selling artifacts, jewelry, books and music. The incubator services offered to Mercado Central’s members include low overhead costs, group marketing activities, pro bono legal services, and access to on site technical assistance and office equipment.

Mercado Central can claim many successes, one of which is that it has helped to revitalize a deteriorating section of Minneapolis. As one Mercado Central business owner commented, referring to the section of Minneapolis in which Mercado Central is located, ten years ago “there were times you couldn’t walk here. It was so dangerous.” (Star Tribune, 2001) Mercado Central has helped to turn that around.

The Neighborhood Development Center, which helped train Mercado Central’s members and supported the cooperative’s development, is a non-profit organization that serves emerging entrepreneurs in the inner cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

Contact Group: Neighborhood Development Center, Inc.

Address: 6511/2 University Avenue
St. Paul, MN 55104

Phone: 651-291-2480

Fax: 651-291-2597

Email: windndc@windndc.org

Web site: http://www.windndc.org