While issues related to racism and equity have been present for generations, several pivotal events in 2020 shone a bright light on the scale and pervasive nature of racial disparities. In the first quarter of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic and the associated economic downturn drew attention to the importance of “essential” occupations and to the vulnerability of these positions, which often pay lower wages and in which people of color are typically over-represented. Fallout from the virus also highlighted social inequities in the delivery of healthcare and gaps in access to critical infrastructure, like broadband. The death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, which sparked worldwide protests, was a vivid reminder of America’s troubled policing history and immense social justice challenges. Understanding economic development’s role in mitigating these issues and addressing structural racism head-on became a top priority for the profession’s leading association, the International Economic Development Council (IEDC).
Led by its Racism and Economic Development (RED) Committee, IEDC launched the Equitable Economic Development Playbook Program to examine structural racism in economic development and support the implementation of equitable practices and standards. As part of the initiative, IEDC engaged volunteer facilitators to provide technical assistance to multiple communities in the preparation of Equity Action Plans. TIP Strategies was engaged to work with a cohort of five economic development organizations looking to address equity across a range of areas: procurement (the City of El Paso, Texas); workforce development (Elevate Rapid City in South Dakota); organizational equity (Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation in Maryland); neighborhood revitalization (St. Louis Development Corporation in Missouri); and real estate development (Village Capital Corporation in Cleveland, Ohio). At the outset of the seven-month process, TIP conducted one-on-one sessions with each organization to define the issues and clarify the proposed approach. These individual sessions were followed by two virtual peer-learning opportunities where participants discussed key aspects of the planning process, like sharing common challenges and identifying outcome metrics. Finally, as the cohort worked through their action plans, TIP offered virtual office hours and provided a matrix to help guide implementation. TIP was engaged to facilitate a new cohort of communities in 2023, with the initial orientation conducted as part of the IEDC’s 2023 Leadership Summit in Tucson, Arizona.