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Carlson School seniors Caitlin Dowden, Laura Thorson, and Lisa Ofstedal

Carlson School seniors, from left to right, Caitlin Dowden, Laura Thorson, and Lisa Ofstedal helped Longfellow Latino businesses like the Bookstore of the Americas (pictured) attract new customers.

Good neighbor policy

By Erin Peterson

From eNews, August 4, 2005

To get from the University of Minnesota to the Longfellow neighborhood in Minneapolis you just have to travel a few miles south, but in some ways, that distance can seem a world away. Longfellow is home to dozens of Latino-owned businesses, but many have struggled to increase their visibility among English-speaking neighborhood residents. So when three students from senior lecturer Holly Littlefield's Honors Business Communication class at the Carlson School of Management offered to put together a promotional campaign package for Latino businesses in Longfellow, many jumped at the chance.

Over the course of eight weeks, Caitlin Dowden, Lisa Ofstedal, and Laura Thorson worked with eight small businesses-mostly restaurants-to raise their profile in the neighborhood. The three helped the businesses develop a flyer with coupons that was distributed to about 2,000 households. They also created a "passport" with which users received a stamp after making a purchase at a participating business; once the pages from all the businesses had been stamped, the passport could be redeemed for a free gift. Each business also received a customized CD, complete with marketing materials, so that owners could create their own promotional items in the future.

Ofstedal says the business owners were grateful for the help the students provided. "In some classes, students might come in and throw out ideas, but nothing would ever really happen," she says. "They appreciated that when we were done, they actually had something."

The trio admits that the project had its challenges. Meetings were conducted in both English and Spanish, a stretch when all three say they're proficient, but not fluent, in the language. And because most of the businesses involved didn't have Internet access, every change in a plan required one of the students to hop on a bus or bike to get in-person approvals from the owners.

Still, the end result was worth it, the students say. While learning about concepts in the classroom was one thing, applying them in real-world situations made them realize that talk was easy, but action was harder. "The demands were real," says Thorson. "They wanted a lot from us, and we had to step up and deliver."

By the time the project was completed, Longfellow-area residents had redeemed dozens of coupons, and the businesses were pleased with the results. "The owner of one of the restaurants said she had regular customers who came in and told her that they hadn't known there were this many Latino businesses in the neighborhood, and now they had intentions to go to all of them," says Dowden. "That's what the heart of this project is about."

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