[Session Summary]: “Strengthening Regions through Equity and Economic Inclusion Strategies”

In March 2022, the NADO Research Foundation (NADO RF) hosted the session “Strengthening Regions through Equity and Economic Inclusion Strategies” as part of the NADO Washington Conference.  Delivered in support of the New Growth Innovation Network’s Inclusive Recovery Initiative funded by the U.S. Economic Development Administration, this session explored how regional organizations are incorporating equity and economic inclusion principles into their plans, programs, and outreach efforts to ensure that all residents have an opportunity to be a part of shaping their community’s future.  The panel was moderated by NADO RF Senior Program Manager Ciara Ristig.  Click here to access the presentation slides and read more below for highlights from the session. 

Erica Anderson, Director of Economic and Community Development, Land of Sky Regional Council, Asheville, NC

Erica first discussed how the Land of Sky Regional Council (LOS) developed an online data tool called “Racial Disparity in the Land of Sky Region” in recognition that data analysis and visualizing disparities would be an important first step in defining and measuring equity in the region.  The tool features a variety of indicators classified by race and ethnicity, including income, poverty, homeownership, educational attainment, health, and access to technology.  The data is at the county level and utilized information from the U.S. Census.  LOS hopes to continue to update this tool and incorporate even more detailed community-level data to identify and connect underserved residents with opportunities and resources.     Erica also highlighted two initiatives underway in Western North Carolina :  Inclusive Hiring Partners, led by the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce and the Economic Development Coalition of Asheville-Buncombe County with the support of many partners including LOS, and the WNC Recovery to Career Ecosystem, funded by the Appalachian Regional Commission’s INSPIRE initiative and co-organized by LOS and the Southwestern Commission.  Inclusive Hiring Partners connects underrepresented communities with employers ready to fill high-demand roles.  It provides wrap-around services to targeted populations and training to workplaces on inclusive hiring practices and DEI training.  The Recovery to Career Ecosystem program strives to place individuals who have overcome substance use disorder in living-wage jobs through skills training and employer connections. 

Martha Heeter, Executive Director, PlanRVA, Richmond, VA

Martha discussed how PlanRVA, which serves nine localities in the greater Richmond region, has moved to incorporate equity and inclusion into operations and programming.  PlanRVA is also focusing on convening partners, while considering who will be impacted by the organization’s regional and transportation plans.  The 2020 civil unrest nation-wide and in the region led to a perspective shift, particularly regarding in-agency representation.  A 2021 Title VI compliance review also revealed gaps that needed to be addressed.  Martha explained how internally PlanRVA has embraced initiatives including an equitable recruitment strategy, an inclusive purchasing and supplier diversity program, the development of an inclusive meetings toolkit, and staff and partner training.  Ongoing equity and inclusion projects in the region include:  a Richmond Region Market Value Analysis (demographic and economic analysis of COVID-19 impacts on the housing market), the RVA Engage Civic Action Series (webinar series promoting dialogue among residents), the Lower Chickahominy Watershed Collaborative (supporting local governments in eastern part of the region to work with three newly designated tribal areas), and an equity analysis of regional transportation priorities. 

Bernadette Grafton, Program Analyst and University Center Coordinator, U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration, Washington, DC

Bernadette provided an overview of the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s role and program vision, noting that EDA’s seven Investment Priorities, which include promoting equity, support regional approaches and are focused on both geographies and populations.  She encouraged the group to review the Investment Priorities list to better understand EDA’s working definition of equity.  Bernadette noted that there are a handful of free federally-funded data sources and tools available that can support with equity and resilience planning, including the Argonne National Labs National Economic Resilience Data Explorer (NERDE), Census Poverty Viewer, and StatsAmerica.  She also pointed to equity-focused projects funded by EDA’s Research and Technical Assistance Program, including the American Resilience & Equity Networks Initiative (ARENI), the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and Recast City Equitable Lending Leaders training program, and NGIN’s Inclusive Recovery Initiative

Amanda Straight, Inclusive Economic Development Advisor, New Growth Innovation Network, Phoenix, AZ

Amanda provided an overview of NGIN’s Inclusive Recovery Initiative, which supports Economic Development Districts and other regional organizations with strategies and approaches to embrace economic inclusion as a core driver for sustainable economic growth.  The three overarching goals of this effort are to create a shared understanding of the barriers to long-term economic competitiveness; to examine the impact of COVID-19 on existing inequality and identify inclusive strategies for recovery and growth; and to support the development of inclusive growth strategies and solutions to be embedded in Comprehensive Economic Development Strategies (CEDS).  The Initiative includes a community of practice network and a technical assistance package.  The community of practice consists of EDDs that are supported through a resource hub, peer-to-peer sessions, guest speakers, and access to NGIN direct support.  The technical assistance program is assisting six EDDs across the country (one in each EDA region) with analytics on the economic impact of COVID-19, planning assistance to support economic inclusion in the CEDS, and support for implementation.  Best practices to emerge from the TA program will be shared with the wider community of practice. 
More information on equity and inclusion for regional development organizations is available at NADO RF’s Equity and Inclusion Resources for RDOs page. Contact Ciara Ristig at [email protected] or Brett Schwartz at [email protected] with any questions or to learn more.   This session was prepared by sub-awardee the NADO Research Foundation using Federal funds under award ED21HDQ3070009 to the New Growth Innovation Network from the U.S. Economic Development Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce.  The statements, findings, conclusions, and recommendations are those of the participant(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Economic Development Administration or the U.S. Department of Commerce.

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Joe McKinney serves as Executive Director of the National Association of Development Organizations (NADO). Headquartered in Washington DC, NADO provides advocacy, education, research, and training for the nation’s 500+ regional planning and development organizations.

Joe has thirty-one years of experience having served in city, county, regional, national association, and government management since 1991. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Public Policy Analysis from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and is a candidate for a master’s degree in Public Administration from UNC-Chapel Hill.

McKinney has provided congressional testimony on numerous occasions regarding the importance of regional development organizations in helping shape the nation’s economic growth. He is nationally recognized for promoting innovative solutions in areas such as planning and economic development, workforce development, transportation and transit, and aging services.

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