In her State of the County address Wednesday, Hennepin County Board Chair Marion Greene highlighted successes and challenges, with a focus on racial inequity and climate change.
In the hybrid address, with officials attending virtually as well as in-person at Hennepin County's Minneapolis Central Library, Green touted the county's growth in population, diversity and nonprofit-county partnerships. She also thanked county staff for providing for the needs of residents during the deadly coronavirus pandemic.
"Hennepin County and our partners are changing lives. We're changing lives by preserving our planet. We're changing lives by making sure everyone has a roof over their head. We're changing lives by ensuring livelihood," Greene said.
The 30-minute speech highlighted ideas to boost housing, diversify business opportunities and address climate change.
The county is working with more than 20 organizations to address the forecast changes to Minnesota's environment. Greene addressed four strategies:
- Achieve carbon neutrality. Continue cutting energy usage by 3% each year. Study ways to cut the carbon footprint at county buildings. Install a solar array at the jail.
- Cut greenhouse emissions in transportation. Fund transit development and maintenance to existing routes. Add electric vehicles to the county's fleet and expand charging stations.
- Push for a zero-waste future. Reduce food waste by supporting rescue food programs. Provide waste prevention grants and expand organics recycling programs.
- Capture carbon from the atmosphere by protecting natural resources. Collaborate with landowners to improve soil health, plant trees and take care of natural areas.
Hennepin County spent nearly $200 million in pandemic relief funds to change long-standing disparities in housing, Greene said.
"Purchase and rental costs are going up, housing is becoming more difficult to secure, and individual buying power remains stagnant. This is leading to increased destabilization of communities across the county, and has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, and longstanding inequities in our region," she said.
A few key stable housing investments Greene mentioned include:
- Acquiring properties to turn into long-term affordable housing.
- Providing funds to help housing projects open more quickly.
- Increasing homeownership with new programs for people disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.
Throughout her speech, Greene spoke about the need to address the inequities faced by people of color in Minnesota.
"The hard truth is that economic power and success is not distributed equitably on our region," Greene said. "We continue to see stark disparities in metrics like employment, education and business ownership."
The goal for small business growth is to make it easier for those from all backgrounds to start and grow in Hennepin County, she said. Greene touted programs like Elevate Business, a partnership with the Minneapolis Regional Chamber that has offered free business advice to small companies. The county has also contracted with 23 advisors with an emphasis on offering culturally-specific services in multiple languages.
The number of new small businesses increased by 31% since the start of the pandemic, which Greene says is a clear sign that business support is key for recovering from the pandemic.
"We have to continue to champion every resident, and the planet. This is what will improve lives, and will make our region even more attractive to live and build a business," Greene said.