Inclusive Economic Development Matters: A Kentucky Blueprint

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

By Nancy Jamison, President & CEO, San Diego Grantmakers

I recently had the honor of joining a regional delegation of business, government and nonprofit representatives in Louisville, Kentucky to learn from their highly regarded efforts in inclusive economic development. Why so? It is clear that the work of SDG to champion equity and opportunity and connect the work of many of our members to this new business approach in our region is an important one.

The San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation* (EDC)’s goal is to move beyond the traditional role of an economic development entity (economic growth through business attraction) and ensure that the region focuses on creating opportunities for a broader cross section of community members so that everyone can benefit from the region’s current and future economic prosperity.

It has been fascinating to help bring a philanthropic perspective to the discussions the EDC is having about how to be more inclusive and equitable in their work. As Richard Florida points out, “U.S. cities have for decades now been focused on the types of economic growth strategies that can increase inequality and leave the poor and less advantaged behind.”  

The EDC exploration of its best role in inclusive economic growth has fueled in part by their participation in a Brookings Institute project with Indianapolis and Nashville. Here are some highlights of their research:

  • San Diego has been a majority minority region since 2010 and will be 46% Hispanic by 2050. This demographic shift has occurred all while disparities in education and opportunity persist by race and ethnicity.
  • Only 17% of Latinos in the county have a BA and only 19% of Latinos hold jobs in the tech industry.
  • Only 4% of jobs in San Diego are located in or near communities with high poverty.

So what were key lessons from this visit to Louisville? (in addition to a little about horse racing and bourbon!)

  1. Leadership matters – the Louisville Mayor and other leaders (philanthropy and business executives alike), seemed to truly understood that their focus on inclusivity is critical to economic strength and competitiveness. They have firmly held views that investing in opportunity for the largely African American communities that have been systematically oppressed historically - and therefore have not benefited from the region’s growth and opportunity-  is not simply a moral imperative but an economic one.
  2. Truth and history matter – the leader of Louisville’s EDC equivalent organization shared some sobering data on the impact of ‘Redlining’ (the practice of denying services, either directly or through selectively raising prices, to residents of certain areas based on the racial or ethnic composition of those areas) in their region and the ramifications from those policies are still being felt today.
  3. Big ideas matter - Louisville is engaged in a program for local residents to obtain 55,000 post secondary degrees by 2020 to meet their anticipated workforce and community needs.
  4. Philanthropic coordination matters - 12 local foundations funded a shared data initiative called The Greater Louisville Project to jointly gather the kind of information about community wellbeing that could inspire action and effect cross-sector collaborative change and also better inform their own grantmaking strategies.

And despite how impressed I was with their work, I also found the phrase “Do nothing about me without me” ringing true in my mind during our visit, wondering about how inclusive their path to inclusive practices has been. For example, there were very few people of color participating in our meetings with Louisville leaders – evidence perhaps of the system racism that they referred to. To my mind, broad levels of engagement in inclusive economic development strategies matters deeply.

I applaud the leadership of the EDC under President Mark Cafferty, and their entire board and staff, for moving in this direction, and ensuring that a coalition of all community members is at the forefront of this journey.

I hope that more discussions between the EDC, SDG and our members lie ahead. If there is one thing we know to be a powerful lever for change it is joining hands across other sectors and working together for a better future for all San Diegans.

*The EDC Foundation is also a long time member of SDG.

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