Field Notes is a series of TIP Strategies interviews with leaders across the country exploring pressing economic, workforce, and community development issues.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, only one in four young adults in Dallas earned a living wage. Unfortunately, the pandemic only exacerbated the situation, particularly for minority communities. In response, local leaders came together to launch Dallas Thrives, a community vision focused on doubling living-wage attainment in a single generation. We spoke with Elizabeth McClain, Vice President of Higher Education and Workforce at the Dallas Regional Chamber, to learn more.

Q1. What is the Dallas Thrives initiative? How did it come about?

Dallas Thrives is a coalition of senior business, education, government, and community leaders working collaboratively towards one shared long-term mission: doubling living-wage attainment of young adults in Dallas County with equity, while providing Dallas area employers the diverse, skilled talent they need to grow their companies and our regional economy. It was first developed from discussions between the Dallas Regional Chamber (DRC) and The Commit Partnership (Commit) about? convening community leaders for a day-long visioning session with Boston Consulting Group (BCG), who helped create the Dallas Thrives vision and framework.

Q2. What are the major challenges that this initiative is intended to solve? How has the COVID-19 pandemic and economic downturn affected these challenges?

Dallas Thrives is working toward increasing the low living-wage attainment for Dallas County young adults, especially for Black and Latinx young adults who are three times less likely than their White counterparts to earn a living wage. To reach this goal, we are focusing on organizing and aligning existing programs in the region in five key areas: (1) workforce pipeline alignment; (2) career exploration and guidance; (3) readiness, credential attainment, and placement; (4) connections to the workforce; and (5) employer investment. While we started laying the blueprint for Dallas Thrives before COVID-19 hit our region, we quickly incorporated the pandemic’s impacts on our young adults, businesses, education providers, and economy into the strategy. As a response to this need, we are in the process of creating a High Priority Jobs Report that outlines the top growth jobs in our region that pay a living wage. What makes this report different than others is that it is created with multiple organizations in the region that analyze LMI but were working in silos. For the first time, we have a report that is truly built by community experts for community leaders.

Q3. Why is expanding living-wage attainment imperative for Dallas?

The impact of increasing the number of young adults earning a living wage in Dallas creates ~$4B increase in annual GDP and ~$40M increase in sales tax revenue. By not investing in these students’ access to living-wage jobs, Dallas is leaving money on the table. Additionally, Texas demographics are rapidly changing, with projections of a majority of the workforce being Black or Latinx in as little as ten years. With the current education attainment gap between White and Black and Latinx young adults, our businesses will not have enough skilled talent to fill high priority jobs.

Q4. What role do you think the business community can play in providing living-wage access to all residents?

The business community plays such a critical role in providing living wage access to all residents in our community! I think the most basic way is by setting wage expectations of the living wage for their communities. But, the business community can also create career ladders that ensure entry-level talent who may not be at living wage can easily access higher paying jobs through on-the-job training, upskilling, or reskilling. In addition, as the business community continues to work with education and training providers on how to best prepare students for the workforce, living-wage jobs become more accessible. The opportunities for the business community to engage in supporting living-wage attainment are vast and creative.

Q5. What is your advice to other communities who want to expand living-wage attainment?

Talk to each other! We found that while we all knew and liked each other, we weren’t always communicating or connecting the dots between similar initiatives. I know it’s tough to give up “turf” or ownership, but when we all work collectively towards a shared goal, the real winners are the young adults who we are all working for each day. Dallas Thrives has created a space for all to shine and all to share as we work to build the infrastructure for workforce alignment.

Q6. How can people learn more about Dallas Thrives and stay connected to your work?

You can visit our website www.dallasthrives.com or follow us on social media using @DallasThrives.


Elizabeth Caudill McClain currently serves as Vice President, Education & Workforce at the Dallas Regional Chamber working with regional businesses, education and workforce institutions, and the Texas Legislature to improve the talent pipeline.

She is an alumnus of the inaugural Dallas Economic Opportunity Leadership Academy (facilitated by the Aspen Institute), the Dallas Mayor’s Star Council, the ACCE National Fellowship for Education Attainment, and was appointed by Dallas City Councilmember David Blewett to serve as Vice-Chair of the Dallas Community Development Commission. She also serves on the boards of CitySquare, a non-profit fighting the causes and effects of poverty, and Per Scholas DFW, a non-profit workforce development program focused on opening doors to transformative technology careers for underrepresented communities. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Texas Christian University and served a year in AmeriCorps VISTA at Northwestern University before earning her Masters of Education in Higher Education Public Policy at Southern Methodist University.

For more information on Dallas Thrives, contact Elizabeth at ecmcclain@dallaschamber.org.