FARGO — If the group photo with smiles abounding at the end of an hourlong "summit" between metro city officials and the Liberian business community on Thursday, Oct. 14, at the Fargo Civic Center was any indication, progress was made.

About 25 immigrants from the West African country who run businesses ranging from hair salons to communications in Fargo, Moorhead and West Fargo met with the mayors from the three cities along with police chiefs and economic development officials to discuss concerns.

Arnaud Kpoho, who runs a nonprofit working to help African businesses in the area, listed three top concerns of the community, which are security, funding and a community center for the estimated 7,000 Liberians living in the metro area.

When it comes to security, Kpoho said they had a report of a burglary in a Liberian business, but police never investigated the incident.

Business owner Gibson Jerue, of Fargo, who has lived in the community since 2008, said police are often called to Liberian gatherings because of noise.

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"We speak loud," he said, "but we aren't fighting."

He explained that their parents taught them to speak loud so they didn't have to repeat themselves.

United Liberians Association of North Dakota President Ebenezer Saye and Jerue said they have seen improvements in the past year under Fargo Police Chief David Zibolski and his staff.

West Fargo Police Chief Denis Otterness and Zibolski emphasized that every reported crime is investigated to the fullest and impartially.

Zibolski said if there are problems with police response, they should contact the department's Cultural Liaison Officer Vince Kempf.

Kempf held a meeting with the Liberian community earlier this week about what to expect during a traffic stop, Zibolski said.

As for business funding, Kpoho said Liberian business owners expressed concerns about being shut out from receiving COVID-19 relief funds, loans and credit from financial institutions.

In response to that concern, Moorhead Mayor Shelly Carlson, Moorhead City Economic Development Administrator Amy Thorpe and Chamber of Commerce President Shannon Full offered a list of agencies and programs that are available to assist.

Carlson said the New American Development Center, Cultural Diversity Resources, Immigrant Development Center and the West Central Initiative would all be able to help with business concerns.

Thorpe said the city, Downtown Moorhead Inc. and the Small Business Development Center at Concordia College are also available to help retain and assist new businesses.

Full, who said the Chamber was hiring a diversity and inclusion director starting Nov. 1, said Liberians could receive free one-on-one help on running businesses from SCORE, which is made up of retired business executives who serve as mentors. She also mentioned the Chamber's Professionals of Color Committee and the Women Connect group.

Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney said the city is working with the Bush Foundation on business funding options for the community. He said the state Department of Commerce is also available to help.

West Fargo Mayor Bernie Dardis urged members of the Liberian community to attend events and forge connections.

"We welcome you and want to engage," he said.

With the Liberian community seeking a community center, Mahoney and Kempf said they could look into finding a place to hold education sessions and discuss issues.

Saye said they hope to find a place where common interests could be discussed.

He and Kpoho said the summit was helpful, as officials provided many ways businesspeople could find assistance.

"We are backing you, too," Saye said.

After the meeting, Kpoho added that he thought it went "pretty well."

"The dialogue is a start," he said.