As the central county of one of the nation’s largest metropolitan areas (Houston, Texas), Harris County provides an extensive array of services to a population the size of which rivals many states. Despite its numerous responsibilities, broad network, and substantial budget, the County lacked a clear role in economic and workforce development. In early 2019, the Harris County Commissioners Court called for the creation of a department that would maximize the County’s ability to advance its goals around creating a more effective and equitable approach to development and help to address the region’s growing economic disparities.
In response to Commissioner’s actions, Harris County engaged TIP Strategies to help establish the Department of Economic Equity and Opportunity (DEEO). Over the course of the 12-month engagement, TIP helped define an organizational structure for the department and prepare an operations plan. The first order of business was gaining consensus on whether the new department would focus on creating economic opportunity through a relatively narrow lens (procurement) or a wider social equity framework. Following extensive discussions with Harris County and Commissioners Court staff, a series of stakeholder working groups, and a review of best practice examples from benchmark communities, the DEEO was charged with the broader mission of facilitating economic opportunity that is competitive, equitable, and sustainable. The DEEO comprises two operational divisions that address distinct areas: Economic Opportunity (minority, women, and disadvantaged business enterprise program; small business assistance; and traditional economic development activities) and an Office of the Director (community partnerships, policy, strategic planning, and metrics). TIP was also engaged to guide the search for an executive to head up the office.