College of Education and Human Development

Connect Magazine

Working for the Northside

North Minneapolis art on building


The Northside Job Creation Team (NJCT) has a clear-cut goal: to help bring sustainable jobs to North Minneapolis that pay a living wage and offer decent benefits. So far, it has succeeded in its task, and it wants to make sure that success continues. Its new collaboration with CEHD’s Workforce Development and Research Lab (WDRL) is an effort to do just that.

The NJCT was formed in 2012 with its roots going back to a job summit held by then-Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton two years earlier. The idea was to infuse employment opportunities into that underserved area of the community.

“Most people don’t understand what underserved means,” explains Heidi Barajas, an associate professor in the Department of Organizational Leadership, Policy, and Development and former director of the University’s Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center (UROC). “North Minneapolis simply didn’t have developers interested in looking for opportunities there. The city had never even mapped the available real estate places for businesses to come.”

Bill English

William "Bill" English
Bill English has successfully led the NJCT since its inception

Tapped to lead the NJCT was William “Bill” English. English, a former vice president at Control Data and well known in the area, has interests that lie at the intersection of business and community, so if anyone could make the plan work, it was him.

“They knew of the work Mr. English had done previously around community engagement and his long-term business acumen, and they charged him with forming this collaborative,” says James De Sota, a former assistant director at UROC and now the director of program development and delivery at the U’s Center for Transportation Studies. “From the beginning, it was Mr. English meeting with different representatives from the public community and governmental organizations and trying to form this kind of collaborative that could really focus on economic development and job creation centered in North Minneapolis. It started with a group of four or five at the very beginning and then grew to between 40 and 50 different member institutions that were part of the coalition.”

English used his familiarity with how business works to connect entrepreneurs, existing small business owners, and mid-size companies to resources that can help them analyze their business plans and invest in projects that generate jobs in North Minneapolis. He served as a wayfinder of sorts.

The original goal of the NJCT was to help bring in 1,000 sustainable-wage jobs to North Minneapolis by 2019. “At this point, over a decade, approximately 1,200 jobs have been created either directly by the NJCT or by its affiliated members,” De Sota says. “Now that they’ve hit that milestone, they’re looking at adding another 600 jobs in the next year or two with some advanced manufacturing companies that are expanding or moving into North Minneapolis. It’s pretty exciting.”

Dr.Timothy Childs
Dr. Timothy Childs, NJCT member and founder of TCL Precision Water Technology in North Minneapolis, is looking to hire at least 100 new workers from the area to scale up the company. 

Besides its coalition of government, non-profit, faith-based, and business stakeholders, the NJCT also has strong ties to the University of Minnesota. One of these is the Carlson Consulting Enterprise, an experiential learning program for students in the Carlson School of Management. Here, NJCT received guidance on employment trends, market analyses, and real estate mapping, among other topics. UROC had been another partner from the very beginning. UROC’s mission is to “advance learning, improve the quality of life, and discover breakthrough solutions to critical problems” in urban communities. It has provided NJCT with a meeting space, administrative assistance, and help with fiduciary matters.

Devean George and Mary Stock
Former NBA player and now developer Devean Geeorgee is coordinating with the NJCT with a plan to turn a former warehouse in North Minneapolis into a modular housing manufacturing plant. He is with Mary Stoick, senior vice president/director of Tax Credit Lending at Sunrise Banks. 

“We were able to partner with people who understood the unique needs of community members and really wanted to develop the people along with their business,” Barajas says. “And it helped to have the Carlson research to help guide people on what kind of businesses were likely to succeed in North Minneapolis.

Workforce Development and Research Lab

More recently, the NJCT has entered a relationship with CEHD in its Workforce Development and Research Lab (WDRL). Launched in 2021, the WDRL is an interdisciplinary group of scholars, including researchers and students, dedicated to addressing the challenges facing workers in the rapidly changing workplace by developing actionable research and strategies. The lab is a collaboration between the School of Social Work and the Department of Organizational Leadership Policy and Development (OLPD). It is co-directed by OLPD professors Alexandre Ardichvili and Kenneth Bartlett.

“Part of that lab is us doing research with some of our students, giving them an opportunity to have some field work. But also, for us to connect it to practice,” says OLPD Assistant Professor Stephanie Sisco, who focuses on workforce and career development. “The directors go out and find projects that make sense for us to take on.”

The WDRL’s involvement with the NJCT began when former co-director and School of Social Work Professor John Bricout was having a conversation with English, mentioning that the lab was looking to take on some research projects with a community focus.

“The co-director came back to our lab and sent out an email asking, ‘Is there anyone interested in engaging in community work centered on job creation in North Minneapolis?’” Sisco explains. “I raised my hand because the work that I have traditionally been doing is focused on professionals of color and how they experience social inequities at work, how they navigate that, and how they empower one another through social participatory learning strategies. It made sense for me to take on that project. I got connected to Bill right away.”

S. Sisco
OLPD Assistant Professor Stephanie Sisco has been working with the NJCT to create a strategic plan that reinforces the organization’s sustainability.

Sisco learned that the NJCT has changed a bit in the last few years. “It used to be a very robust group of so many people with a lot of energy and attention from others supporting their work that they were able to secure resources,” she says. “But after the pandemic, George Floyd, and other cultural and social impacts, people kind of got disengaged. There are a small few that stayed, like the executive leadership committee, but in terms of the numbers they had before, it was significantly lower.”

Sisco met with English to determine how her expertise could best support NJCT and they landed on the goal of sustainability. How can the NJCT sustain its mission given all of what it has been going through and to continue the work that’s needed? There is also the question of succession planning—English turned 90 this year and is looking to step down from his post.

“The NJCT is really grounded in research,” De Sota says. “Doing any kind of evaluation had been high on our list. We knew there were areas that somebody like Stephanie could really help us underscore going forward, especially as we start transitioning the NJCT leadership over the next several years.”

To assist her project, Sisco received a grant from the University’s Research and Innovation Office and brought in two graduate students to work with her: Xun Yu, a PhD student in comparative and international development education in OLPD, and Dane Verrett, seeking a PhD in human resources development.

For a year, Sisco took a deep dive into the activities of the NJCT. She received full access to its inner workings, went to all its meetings, and frequently appeared on its agenda to give updates of where she was in her investigation: What else is out there? Who else is doing the type of work that NJCT is doing? What does the research actually say?

“I also did some interviews with members of the NJCT and some entrepreneurs and that was very insightful,” she says. With all the material she gathered, including a literature review, document analyses, observations, and the interviews, she crafted a sustainability strategy, along with some recommendations.

“Right now, they’re just looking at the endpoint, ‘we get jobs.’ But there’s more to it,” she says. “I identified four themes they need to focus on if they are going to continue their work, productivity, and growth,” she says. These themes are leadership, structure and process, communication, and impact.

De Sota says Sisco’s findings are going to have an immediate impact. “The NJCT is undergoing quite a bit of transition right now,” he says. “What are the key things that really need to be a part of that transition going forward? Stephanie and her team were able to highlight some of those key components—What is the NJCT? What are the NJCT members doing? What could they improve on?—but with some actual metrics behind them.”

HRD at the local level

Sisco plans to use this project more broadly in her own research. “That was shared upfront that this is mutually beneficial. I would be able to theorize what I’ve focused on for them to bring that to a scholarship and for that to be publishable,” she says.

She hopes to insert the work she has done into her field of study with a series of other publications that build upon it. What her project showed was that human resource development (HRD) can be impactful at the local level. Typically, it’s been global themed; there has not been much documented work done at the local community development level.

“There’s not a lot of research around community-engaged scholarship or community participatory-based scholarship,” she says. “I don’t know why we aren’t engaged in that type of work. This project is an example of how we can do that. We can be engaged with our community and help them and have some meaningful scholarship that comes from it.”

When she discussed her work with colleagues at a recent conference, she says she found it fulfilling because several said that they too have worked with various community groups to help them refine their initiatives. “I think it’s part of some of our dispositions, but we don’t necessarily pair that with our skill set and bring it to scholarship,” she says about her fellow HRD researchers. “Primarily, we’ve been associated with human resource management, but the skill sets that we have, the strategic practices that we have, are very much applicable to doing that work at the community level to help grassroot initiatives solve social issues and address social inequities. That’s kind of what I’m doing to demonstrate that. We’re not just helpful for people at work or in the workforce; we can empower people in our communities.”

This is a place where the WDRL can play a large role. “This is something we hope to continue doing, especially in regard to bolstering more partnerships with folks who can benefit from the tools that we have in my field,” Sisco says. “We want more projects like this. I think one of the missions of the lab is to broaden our reach so we can help. We want to do our part.” 


This is why I give

Elizabeth Craig (BS ’73, home economics) knows firsthand the challenges of working at an unpaid student internship. “The high school I was assigned to for student teaching was an hour from where I lived. I stayed in a spare room at my supervisor’s home during the week, and got a ride home with a friend on weekends.”

A graduate of Eden Prairie High School, Craig says the U of M was the only college she considered, and she chose to study home economics because of the field’s focus on healthier children and families. Even though she was based on the St. Paul campus, Craig happened to meet James Craig, Jr., an engineering student based on the Minneapolis campus, and they married during spring break week of their last semester.

Elizabeth Craig
Elizabeth Craig

After 10 years of teaching at the junior and senior high level, she lost her position due to declining enrollment overall in the district. Due to her active involvement in the home economics profession, Craig became an entrepreneur and was hired immediately by the Pillsbury Company to assist in the creation of three Pillsbury Classic Cookbooks. She was later hired by General Mills to create a wallchart that contained a week’s worth of lesson plans that reached more than four million classrooms across the country. Eventually, Craig founded ELC Global LLC Career Services, assisting people in all stages of life and career in securing meaningful and rewarding work.

In 2016, Craig was recognized with a CEHD Distinguished Alumni Award for her accomplishments as a master career strategist, speaker, and consultant. “My advice for college students is to get involved in fields and organizations where your interests lie,” she says. “This helps you gain confidence, which is the most important and most often the missing factor in a job search and in landing your next position.”

She decided to make a real difference to help students get involved. All but one of the college’s undergraduate majors require an applied experience, but the majority are unpaid and it’s difficult for students to find time for an additional paid job.

To help provide access to these critical opportunities, she and James established the Elizabeth and James Craig Scholarship for Career Experiences in CEHD. Honoring James' time at the College of Science and Engineering, they also established the James and Elizabeth Craig Scholarship in Engineering in the Department of Civil, Environmental, and Geo-Engineering. A few years later, they decided to give more to endow the funds. Their estate will add to both scholarships. Their philanthropy has brought them great joy. “Never underestimate the power of giving! The reward is in the smiles on the students’ faces and the smiles they bring to our faces," she says.


Photo Credit(s): Chad Davis, Courtesy of NJCT, Amanda Theisen, Sunrise Banks, Kerem Yücel, and MPR News.

Learn more about the Workforce Development and Research Lab:; Learn more about the Northside Job Creation Team: