How diversity, inclusion, and equity can make your community more prosperous for all citizens

By Noelle Salerno

Diversity, inclusion, and equity aren’t new topics for economic developers, but they are becoming increasingly top of mind as communities work to address gaps in income, educational attainment, and overall economic prosperity.

A diverse, inclusive, and equitable community is a sign of strength and economic vitality, and can be an attractive asset for recruiting talent and business. Interestingly, demographic changes project that after 2040, there will be no racial majority in the US. Additionally, the Pew Research Center reports that diversity is embraced by the majority of the population: “nearly two-thirds of Americans (64%) say an increasing number of people from different races, ethnic groups and nationalities in the U.S. makes the country a better place to live; fewer (29%) think growing diversity in the country does not make much difference, and just 5% think it makes the country a worse place to live.”

Becoming more diverse, inclusive, and equitable will not only help your community be more attractive to business and talent – it will also help your overall economic prosperity. For example, the Metropolitan Planning Council partnered with the Urban Institute to conduct a study of economic and racial segregation patterns in the 100 largest metropolitan areas in the country. They drilled down in the Chicago region, examining the impacts on the region if levels of segregation were reduced to median levels of segregation in the nation’s 100 largest metros. They found that incomes of African Americans in the Chicago region would rise an average of $2,982 per person per year; the region as a whole would earn an additional $4.4 billion in income; and regional gross domestic product would grow $8 billion. As this study illustrates, inequality has a negative impact on the entire community, not just individuals.

So how can economic developers help their communities embrace diversity and become more inclusive and equitable?

  • Understand how your community stacks up on diversity, inclusion, and equity measures. Digging into metrics related to poverty, income, educational attainment, and leadership across age, gender, and ethnicity will help you better understand these dynamics in your community. Greater MSP digs in further with its Regional Dashboard, looking at metrics such as percent of jobs that are family sustaining and average number of jobs reachable within 30 minutes by public transit or walking.
  • Uncover the root cause of your community’s equity issues. Many equity challenges are the result of historical segregation and other systemic causes embedded in our social institutions and structures. Relying solely on organizations such as nonprofits to address these challenges is not a long-term solution. Community leaders must examine policies and programs related to land use, transportation, and education, to name a few. For example, the City of Austin’s Task Force on Institutional Racism and Systems Equities just released a report on the state of the city’s equity challenges and recommendations for addressing them. This type of initiative requires the support of a broad cross-section of community stakeholders. As an economic developer, you have community connections and influence to start this conversation with your leaders.
  • Ensure there is diverse representation in your community conversations. When working to address diversity, inclusion, and equity challenges, it is important to have diverse community representation at the table. Engage local civic organizations that may already have established connections with under-represented groups in your community. Economic developers can also actively recruit a diverse board and staff to ensure leadership is more representative of the community.

Addressing diversity, inclusion, and equity does not come with easy answers or quick fixes. But it is a critical component of your economic development program and will help your community become a thriving, prosperous location for all citizens.