Employment & Workforce Development St. Cloud is now home to the fastest growing black/African American racial group in the region since 2000. These communities however continually experience lower labor force participation rates and higher unemployment and thus poverty rates. Majority of the black immigrant communities need further skill development, industry knowledge and resources before they can successfully be referred to an employer or occupational training. To this end, we created an economic development agenda that includes sustainable employment and enterprise development (SEED) programs that aims to prepare members of our communities and business to be contributing forces for our regional economy. These programs particularly provide a continuum of services for educational and employment advancement for black immigrants and refugees in Central Minnesota. While our SEED programs focus on these communities, services are provided to any eligible individual over the age of 18 that walks into our office. On the other hand, CAIRO supports businesses’ hiring needs by finding, preparing, and connecting the most qualified job seekers to their available job opportunities in the region. These include, but are not limited to, screening, matching, and connecting qualified black immigrants to employment, helping companies grow through access to skilled labor, and providing career development and training services that are informed by a deep cultural understanding of our job seekers as well as grounded knowledge of the employers’ needs and labor market trends in the region.For example, The Bilingual Workforce Training, Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) Class A, project brings together a collective impact of five (5) partners aiming to meet the needs of an expanding local industry manufacturing and national logistics. Specifically, this project funds the training and development of 18 Heavy and Tractor-Trailer Truck Drivers. We provide pre-credentialing and post-credentialing career counseling and job placements to participants. Over the course of 4 weeks, participants will go through an intensive training that include but not limited to defensive driving techniques, handling freight, how to handle accidents, aspects of insurance, customer relations, maintenance of equipment, dealing with various transmissions, backing, docking, day and night driving in town and over the road. We also provide community service and work-based job training program for our low-income, unemployed seniors in the black immigrant community. PRIME Academy Too often, recent immigrants are poorly prepared for the challenges that they face and the opportunities that could be available to them. Through our work with black immigrant business owners, we find that many of them continue to struggle with U.S. systems and institutions, even after many years of living here. While limited English and technical capacity is often a challenge, we are also concerned that they struggle because they are not given sufficient information and are often engaged in the traditional industries and banking institutions that do not adequately attend to their cultural perspectives and needs. Through our Promoting Refugee & Immigrant Micro-Enterprise (PRIME) Academy, we provide free business development and technical assistance services to minority-owned businesses (black immigrants) in Central Minnesota which are struggling with lack of funding, inadequate management and entrepreneurial skills, and ineffective business planning. The Overall goal is aimed at creating, strengthening, and sustaining the resilience and competences of black immigrant micro-entrepreneurs required to overcome some of their unique challenges on economic and social inclusion in central Minnesota. The PRIME Academy represents a sustainable framework to promote equal opportunities for refugees and immigrants starting, running, and expanding a business. The PRIME Academy specifically works to provide the following: Business training- consisting of group training concerning general topics related with starting and conducting a business (e.g., how to register business, how to write a business plan) Professional and administrative advice- to make it easier to deal with the administrative requirements to run a business Individual business support (coaching and mentoring)- One-to-one, tailor-made support to help the entrepreneurs with facing specific sectorial or individual challenges Networking- Support to establish business networks, reach business associations, etc. Tangible support- which can consist of assisting with application and accessing micro-loans and other (micro)credit instruments Transversal skills- which are skills that are not specifically related to a job or task and that they are normally applied in a wide range of working situations. These among others include intercultural and communication skills, and language skills. Housing Access & Stability (HAS) The effects of Central Minnesota’s housing crisis on our black immigrant communities are devastating. A lack of affordable housing, tight lending standards, inconsistent and restrictive lending practices, low minimum wage, and racist housing policies are all factors contributing to the dire housing situation in Central Minnesota. At CAIRO, we firmly believe that an infrastructure of housing access and stability services can ensure support for the most vulnerable in the communities.Access to stable, affordable, and high-quality housing is a critical component of our economic development portfolio. Our housing access and stability services exist to educate tenants on their rights and responsibilities, reduce barriers, eliminate racial disparities and maximize key housing functions that create pathways to long-term, affordable housing. In addition to the lack of adequate housing that are spacious enough for our communities’ large size families, many lower cost rental units are substandard exposing the tenants to health and safety risks, such as vermin, mold, water leaks, and inadequate heating or cooling systems. Those that aspire to own their homes often have trouble finding mortgage financing that adheres to their beliefs, customs and cultures. They also find it challenging to afford the required down payments without turning to conventional debt-financing mechanisms because their limited income levels. In partnership with HUD-licensed facilitators, from the region, CAIRO offers free financial education, home ownership classes and housing counseling services to aspiring home buyers.