Employment and Jobs

Amanda Blondeau, Job Quality Fellow

May 21, 2019  • Economic Opportunities Program

Director of Business Services, Northern Initiatives

Based in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Northern Initiatives is a community development financial institution (CDFI) serving Michigan and parts of Wisconsin. Northern Initiatives provides both “money and know-how” to small businesses in predominately rural areas to help them support the creation of quality, enduring jobs. This includes access to capital and support services, such as individual coaching and educational resources. Amanda Blondeau, who oversees Northern Initiative’s Business Services Program, is designing resources and training to help businesses in its network understand different components of job quality and steps for incorporating them in their companies.

Since 1992, Northern Initiatives has made loans totaling over $66 million, creating more than 5,000 jobs and supporting economic inclusion in the region by lending to small business owners that might not otherwise qualify for loans from traditional banks.

“At Northern Initiatives, we’ve been doing job quality work without putting that name to it by focusing on how businesses provide a good environment for employees that allows them to advance in their careers and support their families,” says Blondeau. “We’re now working to formalize these efforts, both in awareness of job quality across our communities and through small business education.”

Key to its job quality education strategy is Initiate, an online education portal with videos, guides, and interactive tools to help small business owners grow their businesses and provide quality jobs. Not only has Initiate positioned the organization to grow its customer base by 20 percent per year, Northern Initiatives has also expanded use of the platform to six CDFIs based in California, Colorado, Illinois, Minnesota, Texas, and Wisconsin.

Leveraging Technology to Overcome Geographic Barriers

Small businesses are important for sustaining rural economies, and yet it can be challenging for rural entrepreneurs to access business development services. Blended models that combine individual coaching with online learning can make it easier to help rural entrepreneurs meet their business needs. Entrepreneurs in Northern Initiatives’ portfolio work with a business coach who helps them establish goals and an action plan. They can then draw on the Initiate platform’s interactive tools and guides to help them meet their goals from anywhere, at any time. “This is a blended model,” explains Blondeau. “We combine individual coaching with self-directed learning, allowing us to meet the needs of rural businesses owners and expand our reach.”

Northern Initiatives is creating a series of guides and tools for the Initiate portal to educate small businesses on the value of offering quality jobs to attract and retain employees and develop a sustainable business strategy. Staff will work with Northern Initiative’s borrowers to gather baseline data on the jobs they are currently offering and characteristics they value in a good job.

As businesses in its portfolio improve job quality, Northern Initiatives will include these quality jobs indicators in its annual report and publicly share stories of how businesses are providing quality jobs.



Businesses of every size can benefit by advancing job quality. At @niupnorth, #JobQuality Fellow Amanda Blondeau (@dumodifference) is giving small businesses the resources they need to create quality, enduring jobs.

“Small business is really one of the main creators of good quality jobs, because they believe in their communities [and] they are very rooted in their communities.” Amanda Blondeau (@niupnorth), #JobQuality Fellow

Our economy needs more quality jobs. Learn how leaders like Amanda Blondeau (@dumodifference) of @niupnorth are innovating to boost opportunity in communities across the country.


Learn more

Amanda Blondeau is a member of the Job Quality Fellowship, Class of 2018-19. The Job Quality Fellowship is a project of the Aspen Institute Economic Opportunities Program.

Learn how the Economic Opportunities Program is helping low- and moderate-income Americans connect to and thrive in a changing economy. Follow us on social media and join our mailing list to stay up-to-date on publications, blog posts, and other announcements.

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