In the United States over the last four decades, more and more people in general and people of color in particular have gradually become familiar with the benefits of healthy eating and health food coops. Simultaneously during that time period, according to the USDA, Minnesota has developed into the second-largest food coop state in the nation.
Seward Coop founded their first store in 1972 on Franklin Avenue in South Minneapolis. In their long history, much like many of the Minnesota food coops, very few people of color, including African Americans, have worked in their stores as managers. Currently, after over 40-plus years, Seward Coop has hired Raynardo Williams, a 35-year-old African American born and raised in St. Paul, to manage their second location, which is under construction on 38th Street across from Sabathani Community Center in South Minneapolis.
The MSR spoke with Williams (RW) about his vision for the new location and his execution plans for that diverse area. He told us he is very excited and ready for the new challenge.
MSR: How did you find out about this job opportunity as the store manager for the Seward Coop’s “Friendship” location?
RW: I heard about the opportunity from a close friend. I began conversations with Seward last September 2014 but didn’t come on board until February 9, 2015.
MSR: What is your background and experience that made them decide to select you?
RW: I was a project manager for Securian Financial Group for 11 years. I managed their broker compensation division. I left in 2012 to start my own consulting business. I earned my master’s degree in management from Hamline University and a bachelor’s degree in business from National American University.
MSR: Since you started working in February 2015, what kind of training are you attending to get you prepared for this new challenge?
RW: My on-boarding process has consisted of basically learning the operations of the coop and the grocery industry. I have been doing a lot of one-on-one trainings, and last week I went to Birmingham, Washington for the Rising Star training. This is a well-known training throughout the coop world… It’s an overview of coop operations.
MSR: So tell me your overall vision for the new Seward Coop Friendship location.
RW: The first part of the vision starts with being a resource for the community, as it relates to being able to provide healthy, nutritious foods for all of our community members. I think also, being that coops are member-owned, we have that opportunity to provide that ownership and investment for community members.
Unlike purchasing stock or ownership within a large organization, although you get your dividends, you may be purchasing the stock and someone miles and miles across the country are reaping the benefits of that stock, but with local coops that stock investment stays within the community.
Lastly, we just want to provide job opportunities for our community members as well.
MSR: What is your plan for meeting hiring needs, special food options, and targeted outreach of the diverse neighborhood surrounding this new location?
RW: Seward Coop is known for carrying a diverse pool of products currently, so we definitely want to hear the interest and concerns of our community members of what’s needed. But on the flipside, we are open and aware of the need for diverse products and we are making sure that our coop continues to carry them.
Now as it relates to [hiring], sure we are tracking individuals from within the community, we’re taking various steps in order to make that happen. In August of this year, we will be hosting a job fair. It will most likely be held at the Sabathani Community Center.
On May 16, 2015, we are hosting an informational fair, which is also at Sabathani Community Center. The informational fair is going to make people aware of the upcoming opportunities available at this new location. Also, it’s going to talk about the benefits of working at a coop as well.
We are moving into a new area with several different people of color. We just want to make sure that all of the people realize the benefits of working at a coop. As you may be aware, coops have not done a great job over the years of attracting people of color. So we are making sure that we get out and be proactive to make sure that people are aware of the various benefits of working for coops.
MSR: What is the projected number of jobs that will be created from this new location?
RW: Right now, we are estimating 80-plus job opportunities for this new store location.
MSR: I understand that all of the positions are classified as living wage jobs?
MSR: What is the projected opening date?
RW: We are expecting an early October 2015 opening. Seward Coop has a couple more projects going on. On top of our current location at Franklin Avenue in South Minneapolis, we are opening a production center, which will produce all of our products.
In addition, there will be a café as well. Both are scheduled for around the July 2015 timeframe. Seward has three live projects that will bring more opportunities for members of the community this year.
MSR: How many more jobs are expected with those two projects?
RW: I don’t have those projections yet.
For more information regarding the Seward Coop informational meeting on May 16, 2015 or the upcoming job fair in August 2015, go to www.seward.coop.
James L. Stroud, Jr welcomes reader responses to email@example.com.