By Ebimo Amungo
At the height of the Covid 19 pandemic when most of America was put under lockdown and several people lost their jobs, one former Ethiopian refugee, Tashitaa Tufaa, who runs a transportation business in Minneapolis continued to pay his 250 strong staff their full salaries despite the negative impact of the pandemic on his business.
Tashitaa Tufaa is the founder and CEO of the Metropolitan Transportation Network, a contract school bus service provider. MTN is headquartered in Fridley, Minneapolis and public records indicate that the company employs and it made a revenue of $16million in 2019.
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Tashitaa Tufaa is an African success story. He is an embodiment of the American dream and is also the recipient of several awards for his entrepreneurial accomplishments. He received the 2012 Entrepreneurship Award from the Metropolitan Economic Development Association in Minneapolis for his business entrepreneurship, celebrating a diverse, multicultural workforce with more than 300 fleet buses that transport 15,000 children from schools in the Minneapolis, St. Cloud and Sauk Rapids school districts. He was also the 2018/2019 Outstanding Refugee award recipient from the Minnesota Department of Human Resources.
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Tashitaa Tufaa was born and raised in Negele Arsi district in the Oromia region of Ethiopia where he grew up. As a child, he worked alongside his 13 siblings on the family farm. As an adult he got a job as a teacher and worked for about two years after completing college in Zimbabwe. He was also active in politics in Ethiopia.
Tufaa came to the U.S. as a refugee and sought asylum following the fall of Ethiopia’s communist Derg regime in 1991, he helped campaign for the Oromo Liberation Front in his native Oromia region and felt he would be targeted by the new regime. He told the VOA in an interview
On arriving America, Tashitaa Tufaa said his biggest challenge was to start all over.
“The biggest I obstacle I faced coming here was starting over. I could not go to school. I could not get professional development. I had to restart everything from the very beginning.”
His first job was as a dishwasher in Minneapolis Hilton where he was paid $5.65 an hour. Eventually, he held as many as three jobs at once, including being a security guard. He later invested in his personal development when he pursued a graduate degree and earned his master’s degree in political science and international relations from the University of Minnesota.
“It wasn’t easy getting into graduate school. What made getting accepted difficult, I think, was probably my accent. I was told to take graduate-level courses in order for them to be able to see how good I would be in my classes. I think I took three or four courses prior to being admitted. I studied international relations and politics and government. After I graduated, I worked for the Minneapolis Housing Authority as a civil servant. I was at the Minneapolis Public School District for several years prior to starting my transportation business. Said in an interview after he won the 2018-2019 Outstanding Refugee Award in Minneapolis
Starting with one van
Tashitaa Tufaa felt the need to strike out as an entrepreneur in 2003 after he lost his job at Minneapolis Housing Authority. After sketching out their idea for a transportation company , Tufaa and his brother began delivering handwritten letters to public school districts seeking contracts. He started with his wife’s single minivan transporting homeless children.
“In the summer of 2003, I had a very aggressive marketing campaign to start my business. I went to school districts and transportation companies to seek services to start this transportation business, and many of them actually were making fun of me. In September 2003, the Osseo School District had a job opportunity, and they gave me a chance.
MTN has gone on to win new contracts with school districts, charter schools and private schools. Each day, Metropolitan Transportation Network carries more than 15,000 children to schools, field trips and other destinations in Minneapolis and other Minnesota cities. The firm operates in several communities, including St. Cloud, Sauk Rapids, Crystal and Coon Rapids in Minneapolis.
“What makes us unique, I think, is that this is a family-owned business, and that the owners are on top of the day-to-day operations of the company,” “Mine is a very loyal family with an excellent work ethic, and that makes us different.” Tufaa told Business Journal.
The company has continued to grow and recently commissioned a $2.7 million operations center on a vacant industrial property site in North Minneapolis.
The road to success hasn’t been easy, but Tufaa believes his experience shows that for those willing to work hard, anything is possible.
“I do not believe in giving up,” he told VOA.
He has taken that grit and doggedness into his new venture. Tuafua is now investing in properties development and despite suffering a major setback when his contractor filed for bankruptcy has found a way to progress with the four-story, 43-unit apartment building at the northeast corner of Park and Franklin avenues.
Called the Park & Franklin Lofts, the 35,00-square-foot project will include nine 3-bedroom, eight 2-bedroom, 13 1-bedroom and 13 studio apartments. The property also includes a 17-stall surface parking lot.
Tashitaa Tufaa said he opted to invest in the property to create more housing for the neigbourhood he lived in when he arrived America
“I lived in an apartment just four blocks away from the Park and Franklin intersection when I first arrived in Minnesota from Ethiopia,” he said. “I know that part of the city very well, I love it, and I am excited to create more housing for the neighborhood.”
Tufaa believes in building and empowering communities to be self-sufficient. He is active in the local Oromo community. Estimated at 40,000 by the Minnesota Historical Society, Minnesota is home to the largest Oromo population outside of Ethiopia in the U.S.