Equity Resources for Economic Development & Planning

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This page represents the collection of resources and practices related to equity and inclusion gathered and shared in response to member requests, as well as other resources shared with NADO by federal agencies and other partners.

RDOs, their leadership, their staff, and their external partners are all starting from different places and have different interests in equity and inclusion.  Our member regions’ populations vary quite a bit around the United States, and so does the approach to addressing equity.  For instance, even in locations with little racial, ethnic, or language diversity, there may be barriers to accessing programs and services among people with limited income and residents with disabilities, as well as among minority groups that may be a small part of the total population.  Many RDOs consider equity to be integrated across their regional programs and services.  Some complete plans and written documents with an equity focus, such as an updated public participation plan, a housing assessment, or an ADA and sidewalk inventory.  Others work on equity-focused projects, such as workforce housing, entrepreneurship in low-income communities, or public dialogues about diversity.

Email us at [email protected] with any additional resources on equity and inclusion in community and economic development and regional planning work. Additional resources will be added over time.

(Last updated April 26, 2022)

RDO Examples

  • The Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (OH) completed a Diversity and Inclusion 2019 – 2020 Work Plan (PDF) focusing on six key areas of diversity that span the organization’s internal processes and external programming: Workforce, Workplace, Service to Diverse Populations, Diversity Spend, Diverse Requirements, and Diverse Communications. Learn more here.
  • Souris Basin Planning Council (ND) includes an inclusivity statement on its website, calling attention to not just race and gender as markers of diversity, but also several other personal characteristics that affect individual and group experiences. According to the statement: “Inclusion encompasses empowering the voice of all members of a community.”
  • Western Piedmont Council of Governments (NC) completed the Study of Equity, Economic and Demographic Data for the City of Hickory in 2021, upon request from the city and the North Carolina Branch of the NAACP. The report identifies and analyzes gaps in race and ethnic group statistics in a variety of issue areas. The report has eight sections: Demographics, Income and Poverty Data, Educational Attainment, Health Care, Employment Data, Housing, Education Achievement (School Data) and Minority-Owned Businesses.
  • Metropolitan Council (MN) released a Story Map called Rethinking Areas of Concentrated Poverty in fall 2020. This product is the result of feedback from the community about the organization’s efforts to understand equity and disparate impact. The analysis presents concentrated poverty and concentrated wealth together, as the results from the same historic processes, rather than poverty alone.
  • Region 9 Development Commission’s (MN) Equity & Inclusion Initiatives are exemplary resources for helping to create vibrant and resilient communities through community and economic development.
  • Mid-America Regional Council has an excellent toolkit for local governments entitled Becoming a Welcoming Community. It is designed to create a welcoming and encouraging climate attractive for immigrants who want to resettle and integrate into the community.
  • Region Five Development Commission (MN) established an extensive Welcoming Communities initiative that is focused on workforce attraction and expanding cultural agility for individuals, organizations, and communities. The Equitable Economic Systems for regional prosperity initiative seeks to dislodge the cultural inertia and increase the public courage to be welcoming. It further seeks to increase welcoming community advocacy groups to help build welcoming communities. These actions lay the necessary social groundwork for a modernized approach to rural community and economic development – an approach based on welcoming diversity and building value  chains/interconnections of all kinds to foster economic innovation and equitably grow vibrant, inclusive communities.
  • From the Southwest Regional Development Commission in Minnesota: Local Human Services-Public Transportation Coordination Plan (LHSPTCP). LHSPTCP’s Strategy #2 is to identify non-English languages spoken, written, and read throughout the region in order to provide service schedules and marketing materials for all transportation riders. Read the Languages & Interpreter Services in Southwest Minnesota document. (PDF, developed with MnDOT funding support)
  • Pioneer Valley Planning Commission (MA) includes Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing Plans in their Housing Planning program. PVPC is also able to assist in planning and facilitating community conversations around housing challenges and needs in communities and with the implementation of key action items in these plans. Through this range of work, PVPC is working to create a region where all people are afforded the opportunity to obtain a safe, stable home in a community where they are able to prosper.
  • The Big Table organized by the Greater Peoria Economic Development Council and partners promotes regional community building through conversations designed to strengthen and connect communities. Through open, thoughtful conversations that focus on how to strengthen the region, participants will spark new relationships and new ways for working together by deepening an understanding of what the region needs.

Resources for Internal Policies and External Programs 

  • With funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the New Growth Innovation Network conducted research and delivered the report Inclusive Community and Economic Development in Small and Midsize Cities.  It discusses how uniting community development principles and economic development practice, with a focus on elevating community voice and racial equity, is central to addressing equity issues at the neighborhood level and changing the trajectory for longer term outcomes for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) and low- and middle-income (LMI) populations.  
  • [New] The International City/County Managers Association published the article Intersectionality in the LGTBQIA Community. The article explains intersectionality as the “interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender” and provides examples of local government efforts.
  • The Small-town Immigration Clearinghouse is a source of information and ideas about recent immigrants experiencing life in the United States.  It tracks the diversity explosion as it is manifested in the new lives of immigrants and heralds communities that foster new arrivals’ participation in social, economic, political, cultural, and civic life.
  • The Standford Social Innovation Review began publishing a new article series This Is What Racism Looks Like in 2021. The first article proposes a framework for organizations and businesses that centers belonging and dignity over diversity (which may not necessarily be inclusive).
  • The Government Alliance on race and Equity (GARE) is a national network of government working to achieve racial equity and advance opportunities for all. Developing a network of government focusing on racial equity is critically important to getting to different outcomes in our communities. The goal must be beyond closing the gaps; we must lift up overall outcomes, focusing efforts those who are faring worst. Deeply racialized systems are costly and depress outcomes and life chances for us collectively. To advance equity, government must focus not only on individual programs, but also on policy and institutional strategies that are driving the production of inequities.
  • Prosperity Now published a compilation of best practices and recommendations from a wide range of resources that Prosperity Now’s Racial Wealth Divide Initiative (RWDI) and Communications teams thought would be helpful for naming, framing, defining and understanding the issue: Communicating on Race and Racial Economic Equity.
  • The Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity is an interdisciplinary engaged research institute at The Ohio State University established in May 2003. Its goal is to connect individuals and communities with opportunities needed for thriving by educating the public, building the capacity of allied social justice organizations, and investing in efforts that support equity and inclusion.
  • In fall 2019, Central Appalachian Network hosted its first Equity webinar. It focused on concrete ways to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion practices within the operational aspects of your organization.
  • The Annie E. Casey Foundation maintains a Race Matters Collection, which includes many excellent resources, including self-assessments, Organizational Assessment, Equity Impact Assessment, Purchasing Assessment, Community Building, and much more.
  • The mission of the Conscious Style Guide is to help writers and editors think critically about using language—including words, portrayals, framing, and representation—to empower instead of limit. In one place, you can access style guides covering terminology for various communities and find links to key articles debating usage. This page may be useful for crafting written documents for internal RDO processes or for programs.
  • A post from SurveyMonkey entitled “Resources for advancing racial equity in your workforce” includes a number of helpful resources for organizations that are working to listen and learn from their employees, customers, and other stakeholders.
  • Entrepreneurial Ecosystems (e2) published in November 2020 a feature paper titled “Is Your Community a JEDI Hometown?” The paper explores what diversity means in growing an entrepreneurial economy and community. e2 advocates the perspective that diversity is an asset both culturally and economically.

Engagement

  • On February 24, NADO RF hosted the webinar “Embracing Change: Strengthening Communities in Rural America.”  During this webinar, learn how a group of committed, caring, and passionate residents of St. James, MN (pop. 4,750) chose to embrace the changing population demographic in their small town as an opportunity. In the process of getting to know one another’s stories and working on projects designed to recognize and celebrate the diverse cultural heritage of the town’s residents, trusting relationships formed that have built bridges between diverse community members, creating a more welcoming community for all.  The webinar recording, slide deck, and additional resources are available here.
  • The Wachusett Station Smart Growth Corridor Plan: A Case Study on Engaging Underrepresented Communities. Targeted engagement with underrepresented and diverse communities can be a critical strategy for developing an effective and authentic neighborhood or regional plan. This NADO Research Foundation case study highlights the efforts of the Montachusett Regional Planning Commission (MRPC) to ensure an inclusive, participatory approach to corridor planning around a transit stop.
  • PolicyLink published a Community Engagement Guide for Sustainable Communities that describes a Sustainable Communities Initiative, where communities are catalyzing new networks of relationships, finding new problem-solving methods, and creating new inclusive decision-making tables to craft an authentic vision for an equitable and prosperous future.
  • Community Heart & Soul seeks to help people to shape the future of their communities by actively seeking the collective wisdom of all residents, improving local decision-making, creating a shared sense of belonging, and ultimately strengthening the social, cultural, and economic vibrancy of each place. It launches a new way of doing business that nurtures a more vibrant community far into the future.
  • Arts and culture are essential for building community, supporting development, nurturing health and well-being, and contributing to economic opportunity. www.communitydevelopment.art was first launched in May 2019 with early findings from research on the ArtPlace America Community Development Investments initiative (CDI). In December 2020, the site is relaunching with not only a great deal of new material documenting and analyzing the CDI experiences, but also publications and resources about a wide array of other local projects and cross-site applied research on arts, culture and equitable development.

Regional Data and Tools

  • [New] The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) has released a beta version of the Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool.  CEQ created the mapping tool to help Federal agencies identify communities that are “marginalized, underserved, and overburdened by pollution,” and it can also be useful to reference in regional planning and development efforts.
  • The U.S. Census Bureau has shared information about its efforts around Advancing Equity with Data, as well as a list of Equity Data resources (links to more information) and Equity Data Tools (tools to access the Census Bureau’s data).
  • The Federal Reserve has created a new tool that models how much gross domestic product (GDP) would have increased each year by eliminating racial and gender gaps in earnings, hours worked, educational attainment, and employment.  The tool provides data of simulated economic gains from 2005 to 2019 for each U.S. state and Washington, DC.
  • The Pew Charitable Trusts published a report on How States Can Direct Economic Development to Places and People in Need: Strategies to strengthen place-based programs, better support distressed areas. To address local disparities and help struggling areas thrive, governments at all levels have spent hundreds of billions of dollars over the past 40 years on a range of geographically targeted, or “place-based,” economic development programs. Pew’s analysis found that the criteria that states use to geographically target their programs are often ill-conceived or out-of-date, with the result that initiatives end up serving wealthy locations instead of disadvantaged ones. And even when programs do reach the intended communities, they often are not well-suited to help residents.
  • The USDA’s Economic Research Service publishes an extensive collection of data and research, including Rural Economy & Population information.
  • The goal of StatsAmerica is to provide actionable data for economic developers to use in site requests, developing metrics, grant writing and strategic planning.
  • EJSCREEN is the Environmental Justice Screening and Mapping Tool from the Environmental Protection Agency. It is based on nationally consistent data and an approach that combines environmental and demographic indicators in maps and reports.
  • The Urban Institute ranked 274 cities on their economic and racial inclusion. Other communities and regions may be able to use the same metrics if they are not included in this list.
  • Racial Equity Tools is designed to support individuals and groups working to achieve racial equity. This site offers tools, research, tips, curricula and ideas for people who want to increase their own understanding and to help those working toward justice at every level – in systems, organizations, communities and the culture at large.

    Economic Resilience

  • The nation’s 12 Federal Reserve Banks are jointly hosting an event series called Racism and the Economy.  Events in late 2020 and 2021 have focused on employment, housing, education, and the profession of economics.  A total of 11 events are scheduled to occur.  In addition, the Federal Reserve Banks have a suite of materials encompassing work related to economic disparities, including data, research, lending information, and more.
  • Planning for a Just Recovery in U.S. Cities and Communities is a video from the Institute for Sustainable Cities.
  • [Updated] The Aspen Institute Economic Opportunities Program (EOP) developed this Job Quality Tools Library to support leaders working in a variety of fields related to economic opportunity to engage in practical action to improve jobs. The library offers tools, resources, and guidance to help leaders adopt practices to strengthen job quality in their own organizations, in the businesses they partner with, and across labor markets. In addition, the CDFI Pacific Community Ventures (PCV) has shared a Good Jobs, Good Business Toolkit directed at small businesses. Aspen Institute EOP and PCV have worked together to support small businesses to improve job quality.
  • In December 2020, Aspen Institute Community Strategies Group  published Equitable Recovery and Resilience in Rural America, a Thrive Rural brief authored by Brian Dabson. The brief explores place-based rural realities and inequalities and provides transformational ideas and pivotal moves that government at every level can take to help rural communities become more dynamic, healthy places where everyone belongs, lives with dignity, and thrives.
  • In November 2019, the Aspen Institute Community Strategies Group published Rural Development Hubs Report: Strengthening America’s Innovation Infrastructure.  Hubs are organizations that lead efforts to do economic development differently, focusing on equity and inclusion, investing in multiple forms of community assets, and rooting wealth locally through strategies for local ownership and control of businesses and assets.

Planning Resources 

  • The NADO Research Foundation posted a Planning and Environment Linkages (PEL) article at RuralTransportation.org focused on environmental justice, equity, and inclusion considerations as part of the transportation planning process and PEL studies. PennDOT’s Alternative Funding PEL Study is used as a case study example of how one state DOT approached equitable participation and input when considering options for bridge and roadway funding. 
  • The American Planning Association is committed to promoting equitable communities. APA offers a robust collection of resources — from on-demand education and research reports to magazine articles and podcasts— that provide a framework for smart, inclusive growth. Take special note of their Equity Diversity Inclusion and Planning for Equity Policy Guide.
  • The Interaction Institute for Social Change has an Equity and Urban Planning page with four key lessons for equity in planning.
  • An article by the Lincoln Institute for Land Policy: Planning for Social Equity – How Baltimore and Dallas Are Connecting Segregated Neighborhoods to Opportunity

Transportation

  • TransitPlanning4All hosted a webcast primer in February 2022, exploring best practices in inclusive mobility with a particular emphasis on inclusive planning. Inclusive planning ensures that stakeholders and transportation participants with mobility issues play a critical role in the planning process. This human-centered approach ensures older adults and people with physical or mental disabilities have their concerns reflected from the earliest phase.
  • A short report from the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) titled Evaluating Transportation Equity was released in January 2022. With multiple groups and metrics to consider, the report makes note of the need for horizontal equity policies to minimize external costs, progressive vertical equity policies with regard to both need and income, and social justice policies to ensure disadvantaged and underserved groups are included and structural injustices are minimized.
  • The U.S. Department of Transportation hosted two virtual public meetings in November 2021 for the Justice40 Initiative.  Justice40 aims to deliver 40 percent of the overall benefits of relevant federal investments to disadvantaged communities. On January 27, 2021, President Biden signed Executive Order (EO) 14008, “Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad” which created a government-wide “Justice40 Initiative.”  The USDOT will develop a methodology to identify disadvantaged communities and benefits for Justice40-covered programs, consistent with guidance from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and relevant statutory authorities.
  • In July 2021, NADO Associate Director Carrie Kissel shared the presentation Planning with not for: Rural Transportation and Equity in a rural-specific session at the Automated Road Transport Symposium.
  • The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Transportation Planning Capacity Building Program has a new Transportation Equity page that explains what transportation equity is from a U.S. DOT perspective, Title VI, transportation equity-related executive orders, and the role of planning organizations. The page also includes a list of equity resources.
  • A report from the European INCLUSION project focuses on inclusive mobility. How to make inclusive mobility a reality: 8 principles and tools for a fair(er) transport system is a comprehensive primer that can serve as a starting point for inclusivity beginners, or as a source of best practices for adept practitioners.
  • Policy Link’s Axel Santana covers strategies to improve equity in transportation infrastructure, workforce, safety outcomes, and more in The Road to Transportation Equity for Roads and Bridges.
  • Transportation and Equity with Tamika Butler, Toole Design. Tamika L. Butler, Esq., director of Equity and Inclusion at Toole Design, joins the ITE Talks Transportation Podcast to discuss the critical issue of equity in transportation. She delves deep into the challenges transportation professionals confront when it comes to designing systems and communities that are safer, more accessible, and more equitable for all, and discusses key disparities and concerns currently at play in the industry.
  • National RTAP created an ADA Toolkit to help rural transit managers understand the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) requirements for public transit providers under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), and to help rural transit systems comply with the ADA requirements that apply to them.
  • Transit Planning 4 All, sponsored by the Administration for Community Living, is an inclusive and coordinated transportation-planning project that has funded a series of pilot projects across the nation, each seeking to increase inclusion in transportation planning and services for people with disabilities and older adults.
  • The National Aging and Disability Transportation Center is a great source of information for equitable transportation planning. One recent article by Eileen Schroff discusses transportation planning for the future, in light of recent national developments.
  • In January 2020, NADO Associate Director Carrie Kissel provided an introductory presentation on going beyond compliance in rural transportation and equity at the Annual Meeting of the Transportation Research Board.
  • The Transit Cooperative Research Program (TCRP) published a Research Report 214 Equity Analysis in Regional Transportation Planning Processes Volume 1: Guide, along with a companion Volume 2: Research Overview . The two documents are designed to help Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) analyze and address equity effectively in long-range, regional, multimodal transportation planning and programming processes.

Federal Guidance on Civil Rights Policies 

All federal agencies have their own interpretations of how to comply with federal Civil Rights policies. The guidance published by the Federal Transit Administration is comprehensive and explains how similar policies (such as Environmental Justice and Title VI) relate to one another, so it may be worth reading even for organizations that do not receive transit funding.

  • Environmental Justice: Avoid, minimize, or mitigate disproportionately high and adverse human health and environmental effects, including social and economic effects, on minority populations and low-income populations (FTA Circular PDF 
  • Title VI of the Civil Rights Act: Prohibits discrimination by recipients of Federal financial assistance on the basis of race, color, and national origin, including the denial of meaningful access for limited English proficient (LEP) persons (FTA Circular PDF) 
  • Americans with Disabilities Act: Prohibits discrimination and ensures equal opportunity and access for persons with disabilities (FTA Circular PDF) 

[New] In addition, in April 2022, over 90 federal agencies released equity action plans that include special initiatives to address historic inequity (such as investment in rural and Tribal broadband infrastructure) as well as to embed equity into day-to-day governing.

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Joe McKinney has served as Executive Director of the National Association of Development Organizations since 2012. He previously served as the Executive Director of the Land of Sky Regional Council in Asheville, North Carolina from 2003 to 2012. Under his leadership, Land of Sky became recognized nationally for its innovation in program areas including planning and economic development, workforce development, transportation and transit, aging services, volunteer services, and geographic information systems. Joe has also held various other roles in city, county, association, and government management. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Public Policy Analysis from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from UNC-Chapel Hill.

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