Welcome To the Conference: Equitable Growth for the Future

“Economic development is more than just trying to encourage growth; it’s about making a positive change throughout the community using data, so everybody wins.”

Equitable growth for the future was the main idea highlighted in the Welcome Keynote address to kick off the C2ER/LMI Institute’s 62nd annual conference in Columbus, Ohio on June 14. The theme of the conference, Using Data to Pave the Way, drew together nearly 400 economic researchers, both in-person and virtually, to learn, network, and share ideas on regional economic development.

Keynote speakers welcoming researchers to the conference included Kenny McDonald, President and CEO of the Columbus Partnership, and Janelle Coleman, Vice President, Corporate Philanthropy Engagement, and President of the American Electric Power Foundation. Both speakers presented actionable ideas for how economic development researchers can support individual communities’ growth and innovation as well as create an openness to diversity and inclusion to drive regions forward.

McDonald focused on the process of turning data into action, translating it to the community, and using it for encouraging positive outcomes for communities, states, and the country. He cited how leaders in communities are struggling to figure out where their economic paths are going, therefore it is key for economic development work to provide not only insight into the economic development space that has been brought about post-COVID but must also lead to solutions for the community. McDonald encouraged peer-to-peer counseling for the attendees of the conference, explaining that because everyone has so much to learn, it is crucial they all work together and engage in conversations with each other to understand how they are using their data to encourage change.

Coleman highlighted the future that economic researchers are paving the way towards, in which diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are at the forefront. According to the U.S. Census, 4 out of 10 individuals identify as non-white. Data analysis from the Brookings Institution shows that racial and ethnic minorities accounted for all the nation’s population growth and were responsible for population gains in many states and metropolitan areas. Therefore, Coleman suggested three buckets of improvement for the future of economic development. First is to adjust business models, ensuring research and community interactions reflect the diversity of the nation, beginning with the people doing the work and collecting the data. Economic developers must strive for a workforce that reflects the community they serve by attracting, retaining, and developing talent with a focus on diversity. Second, to promote an inclusive workplace where everyone can feel safe and succeed. Third, to invest in communities and incorporate small and diverse businesses in community decision-making to ensure people in the communities have the opportunity to prosper. These efforts support the collective impact approach. No entity can improve their community alone; it must be in conjunction with a myriad of partners working towards one common goal.

Both McDonald and Coleman came together to discuss how data is influencing DEI efforts, specifically how data is important to investments in the community to ensure it is serving the populations it was intended for. The speakers also focused on how investments impact the future of communities and the necessity of the researchers who produce data meeting the clients in the communities they serve.