Opportunity in the Twin Cities - Open for Opportunity

The 2023 Open for Opportunity Roadshow kicked off in the snowy Twin Cities, hosting many of the local business owners and changemakers that help drive Minnesota’s vibrant franchise landscape. Minneapolis-St. Paul has approximately the 3rd highest concentration of franchise brands in the U.S., with nearly 5,000 individual franchise locations – making for a powerful demonstration of the effect and footprint of franchising in the local economy, for business owners, employees and the community.

The stop opened with a roundtable discussion at the Minneapolis Regional Chamber, featuring remarks from Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey (D), who noted how “critical of a component this business model is both to our city and the recovery process.” The mayor cited the lower barriers to entry that franchising offers over its independent business counterparts. The focus on franchising as a route to small business ownership, rather than “big business” also shed light on the diversity present in franchising, and more than that, the investment that many franchise owners are making in underrepresented communities.

Courtney Henry, a local McDonald’s owner, highlighted that seven out of the nine McDonald’s locations in the immediate area are owned by minorities. He shared his pride in the way his business is “making a big difference, noting that several of his former crew are now McDonald’s owners themselves,” saying, “We’ve been working over 10 years with black youth, personally sending over 50 kids to tour HBCUs.” The roundtable, which also included a host of IFA members and local third parties interested in workforce and diversity, gave key insights into the positive impacts a community can receive from franchisees in business for themselves, but not by themselves. Dorothy Bridges, President and CEO of the Metropolitan Economic Development Association (MEDA), noted, “Franchise operations do provide the low barrier to entry,” an example of the power of franchising in supplying opportunity to underserved and underrepresented communities. The full video and list of participants are available here.

Following the roundtable, the group ventured out to Jessica and Tyler Gustafson’s Discover Strength in Wayzata. After their military careers and realizing they wanted something outside of the corporate world, the Gustafsons opened the first franchised location of Discover Strength, an emerging Minneapolis-based brand. They had always wanted to own their own business and credit franchising with giving them the ability to do so. Veterans and franchising make a great match, resulting in the fact that an astounding 14% of franchisees veterans, even though veterans account for about 7% of the population. As U.S. military veterans, both Jessica and Tyler are used to serving others, and one year after opening their studio, they take their greatest pride in the 300 members they serve and the employees they support.

The team then made its way to one of IFA Board Member Tamra Kennedy’s Taco John’s locations in Little Canada. Central to her business is building careers and helping people grow in all aspects of their lives, while being an integral part of the community around her. In every facet of her business, she strives to give her employees more than just a job – noting, “If I can give these kids a place they’re excited to go, I’ve succeeded.”

The following day, Self Esteem Brands hosted a roundtable discussion, focused on the franchise workforce and the risk of legislative and regulatory challenges that could impact progress. Self Esteem Brands co-founders Chuck Runyon and Dave Mortensen stressed the impact of their business on people – both in their own employees and the thousands of business owners in their system. Roundtable participants each shared their stories and unique perspectives on the ways business and government need to work together to promote the business model. IFA members were joined by local workforce development groups, representatives from the convenience store and construction industries, and staff from the offices of Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Tina Smith (D-MN), Majority Whip Emmer (R-MN), and Rep. Dean Phillips (D-MN) for the discussion.

The Roadshow stop ended on a high note, visiting Keith Shifrin at his School of Rock in St. Paul. Keith opened during the height of the pandemic and credits the franchise system for providing the critical support to navigate that time and grow. Now he and his team teach over 400 students and perform dozens of shows. “It is a perpetual smile,” he says. “The world would be a better place if everyone had an instrument in their hands.”

After a jam-packed two days in the Twin Cities, it’s clear, even in the snow – Minnesota is Open for Opportunity.

Next up – Open for Opportunity New Jersey and Las Vegas!