LEAP expands equity work in Greater Lansing and beyond

As the Lansing Economic Area Partnership (LEAP) continues efforts to support the economic health of Clinton, Eaton and Ingham Counties – especially within small businesses – the need to do so fairly remains paramount.

The effects of COVID-19 have highlighted long-standing flaws in societal structures that have historically oppressed and disadvantaged many communities. Our answer must seek evolution beyond the old “normal” and not a return to it.

LEAP has always strived to be the leader among Michigan’s economic development organizations when it comes to putting diversity, equity and inclusion at the center. However, we recognize that overall economic development has a lot to do to create economies that really work for everyone. Because of this reality, LEAP established the new Equitable Economic Planning Department (DEEP) in late 2020 to unlock the full potential of the local economy and expand opportunities for low-income people and communities, which are mostly black, indigenous and colored acts (BIPOC).

The economic case for eliminating inequality is clear. According to a September 2020 study by Citi Group, the U.S. economy has lost an estimated $ 16 trillion since 2000 due to discrimination. According to a 2019 McKinsey report, US GDP is expected to grow by an estimated $ 1.5 trillion, or six percent of its current level, by 2028 alone. BuiltIn has compiled more than 80 statistics that show the myriad benefits of striving for diverse, inclusive jobs, from increased innovation to increased revenue.

The data is clear: diversity, equity and inclusion are not just good buzzwords. They are good business.

DEEP’s strategic approach to equitable economic development in Greater Lansing comprises three focal points: programs, collaborations and strategies.

Program Focus: Improved Business Accountability. For the first year, DEEP’s programmatic focus will primarily be on improving corporate accountability for historically underserved groups by transforming companies classified as DBAs into LLCs. This extends the life of the business beyond the life of the owner, allows for securing larger contracts and other benefits.

Schwarz- and Latinx-owned companies were hardest hit after the pandemic broke out. Schwarz- and Latinx-owned companies are more likely to be formed than DBAs, adding additional challenges as many initial COVID-related utilities for DBAs have been banned from eligibility.

Cooperations: the basis for success. Community collaboration will be vital as we lay the foundation for DEEP’s work. LEAP has teamed up with several partners representing a variety of populations in the greater Lansing area to determine the fairest way to distribute small business aid in 2020. These partnerships will continue to play an invaluable role in the equity work beyond responding to COVID-19. To meet the needs of historically disenfranchised communities, one must listen to the voices of those who are actively encountering systemic barriers to understand how best to dismantle those barriers and strengthen our communities for success. In a first step, we support and support corporate organizations that specifically focus on Black and Latinx communities.

Internal Policy: Bringing the Work Home. By reflecting on current internal policies, we can better understand what we are doing well as an organization and how we can improve to better serve historically underserved populations. There is always room to grow and learn, especially since we invite previously unheard voices to talk.

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The starting points for further policy development include the review of the annual LEAP Declaration on Diversity, Justice and Inclusion, which is endorsed and approved each year by our Board of Directors, and the strategic allocation of our allocation to the discretionary Business Accelerator Fund (BAF) in support of technology startups with BIPOC and other underrepresented founders who have received less funding from the program in the past.

And those are goals for the first year. We have an ambitious agenda that continuously builds on each previous phase with long-term goals including advancing the supply chain and diversifying sourcing.

As we continue to improve and develop our policies and practices, LEAP hopes to use our position as a regional leader to inspire others to begin or deepen their justice work in the greater Lansing area and beyond. After all, we have to face the challenge together of realizing the full potential of our economy so that we can really become stronger together.

Tony Willis is the Chief Equity Planning Officer at LEAP.

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