Home > Blog > June 2019 > 3 Takeaways for Economic Inclusion in Greater Akron

3 Takeaways for Economic Inclusion in Greater Akron

Monday, June 17, 2019 by Steve Millard

I got exposed last week.

Early in the week, the Fund for our Economic Future invited me to go to Minneapolis to talk with about 15 other leaders from around the country focused on driving initiatives for economic inclusion in their communities.  Cities like San Diego, Nashville, Indianapolis, Chicago, Syracuse and Birmingham.  All wrestling with unique challenges in their communities to drive equity and opportunity for their companies and their workers across socioeconomic sectors – race, gender and geography.  I ended my week in Pittsburgh with a few hundred leaders convening on inclusive entrepreneurship as a driver of growth in our cities.

There were a lot of really smart people talking about these issues.  Some with their heads down and focused on this issue for almost a decade—others, like us in Akron – a little earlier in our efforts to best make an impact.  I walked away with three significant take-aways worth sharing – and worth embedding in the work we are considering on economic inclusion here in Greater Akron.

First – “inclusive growth” is a fuzzy concept.  That means that we all think we are talking about the same thing when we use those words, but our concepts and ideas about the issue may vary widely.  Are we seeking broad prosperity that seeks to drive some growth for everyone no matter where they are?  Is equity the goal – meaning that we only win if we close the gap on wages and opportunity among different socioeconomic groups?  Or is the answer “economic mobility” – the ability of those born in poverty to successfully achieve movement to the top end of the economic spectrum during their lifetime?  Talking about inclusion without getting super clear on what we really mean will stymie our ability to meet our goals and each definition requires its own set of strategies for success.

Second, not all jobs are quality jobs.  There is a body of work emerging on “opportunity industries” that focuses on those jobs that provide a longer-term path to economic success for workers.  “Good jobs” require less than a baccalaureate degree and pay at least the median wage and include benefits.  “Promising jobs” are also held by those with less than a baccalaureate degree.  They pay less and may not include benefits, but they are statistically linked to getting to a “good job” within ten years.  Creating new jobs doesn’t help our community unless they are at least good or promising jobs.  How we reward job creation and which jobs we incentivize becomes a really important backdrop for our work in inclusive growth.

Third, behavioral change among our region’s firms is critical to long term change.  We need new norms to the ways in which we think about hiring people and making procurement decisions.  We also need to create greater awareness of the systemic barriers and unconscious bias that we all have “encoded” from our accumulated experience.  From judging a resume by the nature of the candidates first name to being unaware of the impact public transit schedules have on employees’ ability to be at work, on-time—most of us aren’t even cognizant of the bias we bring to our decision making each day.

Being among all these practitioners was enlightening and a bit depressing.  While there are lots of ideas and efforts being shaped by leaders across the country – no one has figured out the “right answer”, yet.  My sense is that it will take a generation to really shift inequality that has been generations in the making.  The good news is there is a sincere effort coming together in Greater Akron to drive change – I look forward to including our companies in that work.

Posted: Monday, June 17, 2019 by Steve Millard | with 47 comments


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