Full Story Published in Minneapolis Star Tribune
By Neal St. Anthony, Star Tribune
Davis Powell was in state prison several years ago for robbing an Apple Valley movie theater of $3,700.
Powell, in his 20s and with a bad attitude, said he sought fast cash to settle debts, move out of his mother’s place, and rent from a friend. Instead, he was arrested and pleaded guilty. During a prison stint, Powell decided he would change course.
Today, he is a truck driver for LKQ Corp, an auto parts distributor with a regional operation in Fridley. And Powell, 37, is one license away from driving huge semitrailer trucks, and has the potential annual earnings of $75,000 or more.
Powell is an empowered, purposeful man.
“I’m never late on rent or car payment,” he said. “And the car is paid. I’m debt-free. I learned through ’empowerment’ training at Twin Cities Rise how to avoid borrowing, save money, and know the difference between your wants and your needs.
“I sometimes help my family and friends. And the homeless. I’m a Christian. And just because somebody thinks something is cool doesn’t mean I gotta do it or have it.”
Powell assumed a can-do attitude and achievable goals, thanks to training and coaching for several months through Twin Cities Rise. The 27-year-old nonprofit business helps unemployed and underemployed folks boost technical and personal skills.
But Powell’s journey to empowerment wasn’t easy. While enrolled at North Side-based Rise, Powell also worked a temp job that required a three-bus commute.
After graduation, he took a job fixing and changing tires that paid $14 an hour, plus benefits, by 2017. He also has delivered newspapers and he drove a downtown pedicab in 2018 and 2019.
Hired by LKQ in 2020, Powell’s several-stop route to Duluth begins at 2:30 a.m. and concludes most days around 1 p.m. He listens to music and Christian broadcasts and enjoys chatting with customers along the route.
Powell always wanted to drive a truck. And there’s a shortage of drivers. Now he’s driven to become that $75,000-plus-a-year truck driver.
“Davis is detailed and very concerned about making sure things are done correctly,” said Joe Hernandez, general manager of the LKQ operations in Fridley and St. Cloud. “He is a great person and a pleasure to work with.”
Powell is one of 1,200-plus mostly low-income, disproportionately minority clients who spend several weeks to months annually in training at Twin Cities Rise. Its empowerment training addresses decision making, communication, humility and owning choices. The average participant is 36 years old.
Not everybody graduates the first time. Most leave with better prospects and a higher wage.
The program, founded by former General Mills executive Steve Rothschild, is a partner agency of Northside Achievement Zone. It works with schools, nonprofits and businesses to help individuals and families break the often-generational cycle of poverty.
“We are a connector between the marginalized and employers,” said Rise CEO Tom Streitz, a one-time Marine officer, lawyer and former Minneapolis housing director. “Average starting wages have gone up from $16 to $18 per hour, since COVID-19 and 2020,as employers are hiring again.”
Rise’s revenue increased to about $4.6 million last year, which helped it develop online instruction and counseling.
“We’re growing, including to St. Cloud and Rochester because employers asked us,” Streitz said. “But we don’t have to build bricks and mortar.”
The program served 1,245 participants in 2020. More than 560 were in its long-term employment training programs and 275 graduated to paid internships and jobs. The hires move from an income, if they have income, of less than $13,000 to an average income of $35,000.
The returns to society are tremendous in terms of lower costs and tax-paying citizens.
A 2013-18 study of the nonprofit by Ecotone Analytics concluded that $1 invested in Twin Cities Rise yields $7.48 in returns to society for full-time job placements. Many participants came from prison, some were homeless and others lacked a drivers license, sufficient education or skills working with people. These barriers drive public costs that subside when the program and its partners help with find stable housing and a living-wage job.
Also, baby boomers didn’t replace themselves with even two children per couple. The incremental workforce growth for a decade has been from members of minority groups and immigrants.
State workforce analysis from 2014 through 2019 found that the growth of employment by members of minority groups in such categories as management, technology, education health care, engineering and construction grew faster than the overall job market. That was before 2020, when unemployment spiked because of COVID-19. Those job losses hit minority members particularly hard.
About 80% of Twin Cities Rise’s funding comes from private sources. It gets state training money, about $700,000 last year. However, under a unique model that has been renewed with bipartisan support at the Legislature, the nonprofit gets up to $22,000 per placement, but only after two years’ retention.
“My goal is to make TCR a stronger organization than the one I found,” said Board Chair Donzel Leggett, who joined the board five years ago and is vice president of global manufacturing at General Mills. “And it was strong when I came to the board.
“When our participants go through empowerment and coaching with the expertise of our fantastic staff … many of them gain the emotional intelligence and wherewithal to break out of the cycle of generational poverty. We’re having an impact regionally and even nationally.”