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Leading the Way

In response to recent protests throughout the country after the killing of George Floyd by police officers, many businesses, organizations, and community leaders have called for an end to racial inequality. While there is still much work to be done in terms of inclusion, equity, and diversity in our economic development organizations and communities, I want to highlight the efforts of a few economic development and community organizations in our state who are leading the way in fostering and promoting inclusive practices.

Understanding Where Your Region Is on Diversity and Inclusion

In northern Indiana, the South Bend- Elkhart Regional Partnership has made it an intentional goal to provide a robust solution to support regional employers in their efforts to foster inclusive environments. Strategies include providing companies with tools, resources and education to create inclusive environments, and tracking the engagement and impact of these resources; developing a regional outreach plan to survey regional employers and sharing the information learned; and, implementing a public awareness campaign.

Promoting Minority Entrepreneurship

In a recent blog post, I noted the lack of access to resources among minority small business owners. Mentorship, capital, and deals are often more difficult for minority entrepreneurs to access, yet are critical to successfully starting a new business. As such, creating programs to specifically work with African Americans, People of Color, and Women is very important in fostering diverse entrepreneurs.

To address this disparity, the Partnership launched HustleSBE, a six-week training and networking experience for existing businesses looking to develop a sustainable growth strategy, to provide access to the resources that help most small businesses go from launching to building capacity and thriving.

Setting the Intention

Community Solutions, Inc. a community development consulting firm in central Indiana, made a public commitment to an Equity Centered Community of Practice with the intention that "it will guide everything we are and everything we do as a company." Community Solutions, Inc. helps improve the effectiveness of programs for a diverse array of clients from a variety of industries, including health care systems, charitable foundations, targeted urban and rural communities, and public agencies.

“It starts with intention," says Lyneir Richardson, executive director of the Rutgers University Center for Urban Entrepreneurship and Economic Development. By making inclusion a part of the mission, strategic plan, and vision, organizations and communities can evaluate and design policies and programs using an inclusive lens in order to promote economic prosperity for all.

In the past, professional development for economic developers has been slow to promote and share ideas and practices that can foster greater equity, diversity, and inclusion in our communities and businesses. Even so, these organizations provide good models of strategies economic development organizations and businesses can employ to foster inclusive practices aimed at overcoming racial inequality and bias.

As leaders and influencers, it's not enough to say we want to end racial and gender inequality; we need to lead the charge. A good place for economic development organizations to begin being more inclusive is to do business with minority businesses and create diverse advisory boards. In addition, they can focus on understanding where their regions and businesses are on diversity and inclusion, and use the data to determine what resources, training, and programs are most needed to move the needle. Finally, and critically, we (all economic developers) can open our own networks to recruit People of Color into our profession. We must be deliberate in our approach to seek and invite those that are underrepresented.

As communities and organizations seek solutions to create more equitable practices, the economic development profession has an opportunity to step up. We can be the facilitators, brokering conversations on the local and regional levels to find solutions and effect change.

In our own communities, we can model the leadership that South Bend-Elkhart Regional Partnership and Community Solutions, Inc has shown. I challenge economic development professionals to seize this opportunity to lead the way by promoting practices and offering resources that encourage and foster more diverse and inclusive employers and businesses in our communities.

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