Cincinnati selected for national program focused on closing racial wealth gaps

Cincinnati is one of eight cities across the United States selected to take part in a collaborative network focused on creating more racially equitable business opportunities and closing racial wealth gaps.

The Queen City is part of the inaugural Regional Inclusive Growth Network established by Brookings Metro and the Center for Economic Inclusion. The network aims to support coalitions developed in each of the eight small- and mid-sized cities that applied and were competitively selected.

Cincinnati is one of two Ohio cities taking part, the other being Akron. Other cities taking part are Birmingham, Ala; Des Moines, Iowa; Richmond, Va; St. Louis; New Orleans and Kansas City.

Each city is represented by an organization or partnership. The Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber is one of those partners.

Downtown Cincinnati skyline. (Casey Weldon)

As part of its participation in the network, the cities committed to an 18-month process. They’ll work together to develop goals, capabilities, practices and strategic investments focused on economic and racial inclusion as key economic objectives in these regions.

The initiative kicked off in late September with an initial convening in Akron. The partners will meet periodically throughout the process in the member cities, including here in Cincinnati.

Brendon Cull, president and CEO of the Cincinnati Chamber, described the timing of the selection as “perfect.” The organization plans to release its new growth-oriented strategic plan in January.

“We’ll be able to deeply engage with other regions on topics of equity, growth and vibrancy,” Cull said of the network. “It’s a huge opportunity to share our experiences and successes while learning from others.”

Brookings Metro – a part of the Brookings Institution – collaborates with local leaders to transform original research insights into policy and practical solutions that scale nationally.

Research by Brookings Metro shows small- and mid-sized cities continue to face economic challenges stemming from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. That plus an historic economic crisis and “social and racial reckoning” have led to a need for new policies and practices centered on generating inclusive economic growth, according to Alan Berube, Brookings Metro’s interim vice president and director.

Berube believes cross-sector coalitions, such as those selected for this network, are critical for channeling the impact and resources of the private sector toward scaled, sustainable and equitable economic development strategies.

“Many of America’s small- and mid-sized cities have struggled to achieve inclusive economic growth – economic progress that generates higher wages and employment and reduces long-standing disparities by race and place,” he added. “We’ve learned that success requires building multi-sector coalitions that can marshal collective commitment, capacity and investment to achieve equitable development at a meaningful scale.”

Brendon Cull, CEO of the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber

Together, Brookings Metro and the Center for Economic Inclusion, will work with these partners over the next year and a half to engage in research and best-practice sharing on a range of topics that create more inclusive economies for all people with an intentional focus on racial equity. As part of the network, each city will recruit at least 15 employers to participate in the Racial Equity Dividends Index created by the Center for Economic Inclusion to help businesses measure their progress towards building racially equitable and inclusive workplaces.

The index will give participating companies in each city specific metrics by which they can measure their individual progress. 

“The future of America’s economy rests on the ability of employers in regions like these to maximize the talent of Black, Indigenous, Asian and Latino people in the workforce and supply chains to accelerate economic mobility,” said Tawanna A. Black, founder and CEO of the Center for Economic Inclusion.

“The economic benefits of uprooting racism are undeniable. By giving business leaders and policymakers the tools to do so, we can dramatically widen pathways to economic mobility for all people and improve regional economic growth and competitiveness,” she added.

Participation in the regional network is part of a years-long effort by the Cincinnati Chamber to support inclusive growth across the region. Over the years, the chamber built several initiatives aligned with that goal, including the Workforce Innovation Center, Minority Business Accelerator, the Center for Research and Data, the Leadership Center and Diverse by Design. 

The Cincinnati Chamber believes the added insights, research and connections to Brookings Metro, the Center for Economic Inclusion and the other participating cities provides an opportunity to further accelerate its progress towards a more inclusive economy in Southwest Ohio.

Audrey Treasure, vice president and executive director of the Workforce Innovation Center, described the network as a chance to work collaboratively to solve some of the region’s – and the country’s – biggest challenges.

“This network will enable us to grow, learn, and improve our offerings even further,” she said.


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