An Open Letter to OEDA’s Members and Ohio’s Economic Development Community
Dear Members, Partners, and Colleagues:
OEDA has been listening and learning as the issues around systemic racism have been brought to the forefront and captured the nation’s attention. It is devastating that the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd—and, sadly, the indisputable video evidence of their killings—became the catalysts for our country to collectively pay attention and admit that systemic racism exists. What is also indisputable is that the time for change is now.
As an individual, I also have been listening. I have come to better understand how passive or silent opposition to systemic racism is part of the problem. While the answers to racial injustice are complex and multi-faceted, we must act. We are personally and professionally called to participate in the process, identify solutions, and implement change.
At its core, economic development is based on a shared vision of economic prosperity and an improved quality of life for all. But structural racism continues to be a barrier to economic opportunity for Black Americans. The result is a persistent racial wealth gap which leaves Black Americans in an economically precarious situation and creates a cycle of economic struggle. The poverty rate for Black Americans is more than double that of white Americans and the racial wealth gap has increased—widening since the Great Recession of 2007-2009. It would be irresponsible to think there are easy answers to systemic and structural racism. But it would be reckless to believe these numbers will change if we continue on as we have in the past.
Economic development is a complex and incremental process. It is often whittled down to “jobs created or retained” to simplify communications. But it is so much more today. Economic development is revitalized downtowns and affordable housing, transportation and broadband access, workforce development and entrepreneurship. We are seeing more and more communities develop strategies around inclusive economic development to help address disadvantaged populations. I believe we are going in the right direction as a profession but there is so much left to do.
As the professional association for Ohio’s economic developers, OEDA will work to challenge and change the values and structures that perpetuate systemic racism and deny economic opportunity. We must confront the uncomfortable truths and actively seek solutions. To that end, OEDA has outlined one of its first steps– a standing committee on racism, inclusivity, and economic development. Initially the committee will look at minority representation in OEDA’s leadership and the economic development profession as a whole and on how economic development policies and programs can be tools to combat racism. We are also developing resources to help members address economic disparities and racial injustice. These initial steps are just that—a beginning. We hope you will be part of the conversation and help us do more.
We don’t have all the answers right now but economic developers can be part of the solution if we listen, engage, and act. We must be proactive and intentional to combat racism if we are to truly create economic opportunity for all. Economic development might look a little different in the future but it’s what we do. Ohio’s economic developers are a community of listeners and problem solvers. We are conveners and connectors. We work each and every day to build a better tomorrow—and OEDA will continue to work with you every step of the way.
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