Coming Soon to Cedar Riverside: An Opportunity Center

A game of soccer in the shadow of the Cedar High Rises. Once these were student dorms for the University of Minnesota, currently home to thousands of Somali Americans.

Residents of the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood in Minneapolis are very excited about an upcoming community center that  is scheduled to open during the spring of 2017. Named after the neighborhood, The Cedar Riverside Opportunity Center has a mission to decrease the unemployment rate in the area. The twin cities is known to have one of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation. Sitting just over 3.5
percent, the unemployment rate in Minneapolis is quite below the national average of 4.8 percent. Job growth across a mix of industries in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area lowered the jobless rate to 3.7 percent in October, edging out cities like Austin, Texas, and Columbus, Ohio, who also proud themselves on their low unemployment rates. Those spectacular numbers do not represent the high unemployment rates
among the Somalis who live in the cedar riverside neighborhood in Minneapolis.

Almost 18 percent of the residents of the Cedar Riverside neighborhood don’t have jobs. That’s more than triple the unemployment rate in the city of Minneapolis. As discouraging as that sounds, unemployment rate is even higher among the young adults who live in that particular neighborhood. That is why Public officials as well as community leaders are very excited about the upcoming community development center. Located on the first floor of some luxury condos that were recently built across the street from the cedar high risers, the center wants to attract employers from both the public and the private sector to provide job opportunities to the East African Community in the neighborhood.
The center is partnering with community organizations like Emerge, Minneapolis Technical and Community College (MCTC), Hennepin County, Fairview Health Services, Hennepin County Workforce Development, the Hennepin County Library and the city of Minneapolis. Hennepin county and the city of Minneapolis contributed $250,000 and $100,000 respectively. The center has also raised funds from other local businesses and charities.

Community members and stakeholders attended a groundbreaking ceremony for the Cedar Riverside Opportunity Center (CROC) being developed to offer all the services a young person might need to choose a career path, get the proper training and schooling to pursue it, and find a job in the field after their training is complete.

Employers who will be recruiting from the Cedar Riverside Opportunity Center (CROC), will include Hennepin County, Fairview Health Services, Hennepin County Medical Center, the city of Minneapolis, the University of Minnesota, Augsburg College and St. Catherine University. The center is working on increasing the pool of employers as the number of trainees picks up. City council member, Abdi Warsame who championed the creation of the center has always recommended to tackle the unemployment rate in the Cedar Riverside neighborhood by providing resources aimed primarily to the Somali community. “Broadening the skill base and building community capacity helps alleviate issues of unemployment, underemployment, lack of homeownership and poverty”, said Warsame. This is not the first career development center in the Cedar Riverside neighborhood. There are several career development programs in the neighborhood that help residents with secondary things like resume building, interviewing skills and such. The only problem is that all those organizations offer the same services but none of them provide the training and the skills needed to perform the jobs the market demands. In a recent interview with Minnpost, the new center’s employment director, Mohamed Ali explained that the center will provide many services under one roof. “We will have colleges, navigators and employment counselors on-site” said Ali, who is also an associate director of employment at EMERGE. CROC (Cedar Riverside Opportunity Center) intends to offer their trainees several services that all intertwine with each other under one roof. For example, if a young man wants to find an IT job and doesn’t know where to start, the center will be able to provide him with a MCTC counselor on site that will recommend what courses the young man should take, then he will be advised to take an orientation class before heading to a community college to take the course. The center plans to provide resources like school supplies and transportation to those who need it as well. The center will keep track of the young man’s progress and eventually place him with a job. That was an example given by one of the staff members of the center. At the groundbreaking ceremony held back in October 26, Mayor Betsy Hodges, Hennepin County commissioner, Peter Mclaughlin, and city council member Abdi Warsame were all in hand to celebrate the $950,000 project. Mayor Betsy Hodges said, “This is a culmination of the vision that comes out of the community itself,” emphasizing the significance of the project to the community.