COVID-19 assistance to improve access to technology, capital in Duluth
Duluth City Council approves federal funding for COVID-19 relief efforts.
Federal relief funds will soon be flowing to assist some of Duluth's residents hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Monday night, the Duluth City Council signed off on $139,000 to improve access to technology in Duluth's Lincoln Park neighborhood and another $130,000 to help women- and minority-run businesses get off the ground.
ChaQuana McEntyre, president and founder of a nonprofit called Family Rise Together, said her organization will offer "culturally specific workshops teaching all people, but particularly Native American and African American people, how to start businesses in the state of Minnesota."
She explained that minority entrepreneurs often lack access to capital.
"We provide an opportunity for individuals to be able to pitch their project or their business idea and services to the community and get some critical feedback, which is really important when you're starting a business, so that they can be prepared for a launch date," McEntyre said.
Ben VanTassel, manager of Duluth's planning and development division, said: "What I think is most important, especially for that specific project, is helping people through the process of understanding what resources are out there and available. And lots of those sources have very quick timelines. It seems like there are grants or opportunities coming out every day."
"We've heard a swelling need for technology and kind of what the technology gap means for people, especially people who are low- and moderate-income," VanTassel said
"The reality is that right now in the United States we have more unemployed people than we can imagine. And if you can't get a job, how are you going to eat? You're going to have to do something," McEntyre said. Her program aims to help launch about two dozen businesses.
Jodi Slick, founder and executive director of Ecolibrium3, said the COVID-19 pandemic has deepened the digital divide in two ways. She noted that many of the places where people could turn for technological access, such as public libraries, are no longer open to the public.
"The other way is that so many of the things that could have been done in person previously have been shifted to using online as the primary method of service delivery," she said.
Ecolibrium aims to provide free neighborhood-based Wi-Fi to about 5,000 people in Duluth's Lincoln Park neighborhood and also hire a technologist to help people navigate the service.
"We realize that Lincoln Park is already a neighborhood that faces multiple challenges, from food access to poor respiratory health to other economic and educational disparities," Slick said. "So, identifying the digital divide was one of the top three issues that we've been talking about."
VanTassel said additional federal money is helping Duluth through a difficult period.
"All together, these different funding sources are really helping to meet these needs that kind of started when the pandemic began and helping to to make sure that people don't fall through the cracks," he said.