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Regional Collaboration Solves National Problem: The Inclusive Development Network Closes Equity Gaps for Working Adults

In March 2019, CAEL launched the Inclusive Development Network (IDN), a cohort of five regions united by a commitment to prioritizing inclusion and equity to better serve the workforce and economic development needs of underserved populations. The inaugural cohort included Cleveland, Ohio; Corpus Christi, Texas; Spokane, Washington; the Northeast Oklahoma Regional Alliance (NORA); and Pensacola, Florida. These communities were selected from more than 35 applications. The 18-month initiative, made possible by grants from ECMC Foundation and JPMorgan Chase & Co., concluded in December of 2020 and continues to inspire collaboration today. Through the IDN, each community received support, including financial stipends and consulting services, to help advance more robust equity and inclusion strategies within their economic and workforce development initiatives, including:

  • Customized data analysis, assistance in project implementation, and outreach from the International Economic Development Council, Burning Glass Technologies, and other IDN partners.
  • Consulting on sustainability and long-term strategic development planning.
  • A comprehensive individualized implementation plan and timeline.
  • Monthly meetings and quarterly convenings to review progress and build synergies that advanced each community’s strategic efforts. Meetings covered a wide variety of best-practice presentations about equity and inclusion, education and training programs, labor market analysis, site selection, and innovative workforce development strategies.

Helping communities prosper at the intersection of learning and work 

Each IDN community had a leadership team that included government agencies, postsecondary institutions, employers, and community, workforce, and economic development organizations. Together, they translated diverse educational experiences into equitable economic opportunity. As the nation works to address systemic inequity and recover from the economic devastation of the global pandemic, there is growing awareness of the importance of IDN’s mission. The IDN collaboration model is revealing best practices in workforce and economic development that can shape the blueprint for successful economic development in regions across the country.

Cleveland, Ohio

IDN work in Cleveland included collaboration among the Greater Cleveland Partnership (GCP), MAGNET: The Manufacturing Advocacy and Growth Network, and the Urban League of Greater Cleveland. The GCP has a longstanding process to assess organizational diversity and inclusion, using globally recognized standards to establish goals and track progress. Participants focused on equity and inclusion progress in the manufacturing sector, both at the industry level and within individual enterprises. Their collaboration identified an equity scholarship as an effective opportunity to supplement the region’s work to increase African American employment within the manufacturing sector. 

Pensacola, Florida

Pensacola’s IDN project work centered on fostering regional dialogue about what is needed to cultivate economic development that is both inclusive and sustainable. Before the pandemic, IDN project data showed that automation was threatening to disrupt more than 41,000 local workers by 2030. Racial minorities and workers lacking bachelor’s degrees were at a higher risk. The Pensacola team built a plan to track the workforce effects of automation and address its disproportionate, negative impacts on vulnerable populations. The plan focused on increasing awareness about the link between postsecondary education and stable careers. The pandemic underscored the urgency of this work and the need for it to transcend occupations and encompass workers. Moving forward, the team is examining the future of work for those who were struggling even during the low unemployment landscape prior to the pandemic. Plans call for continued community collaboration that includes citizens, educators, and businesses to maintain an inclusive greater Pensacola economy.

NORA, Oklahoma

NORA is a regional economic and community development group that serves 14 rural counties in northeastern Oklahoma. NORA’s IDN work included the Port of Muskogee, Claremore Industrial and Economic Development Authority, MidAmerica Industrial Park, and Cherokee Nation Career Services. Collaboration focused on using data to connect resources with female, justice-involved, and Native American residents, particularly those facing barriers to rewarding careers, over a large, rural area. The NORA IDN team worked to increase access to diverse education and training resources. It also focused on helping employers connect with underserved populations to improve workplace inclusivity. 

Spokane, Washington

IDN work in Spokane focused on single mothers who, as heads of household, were at or below the poverty line. Targeted occupational areas included healthcare and life science, information technology, manufacturing, and professional services. Among the challenges addressed were language difficulties, transportation access, lack of schedule flexibility in work and school, limited childcare access, and other issues related to both rural and urban residential settings. The team used data analysis, including benchmarking against peer regions, to help appraise workforce readiness and the impact of educational resources on regional talent pipelines. One early result of the IDN work in Spokane is the use of employers who employ disadvantaged workers in good jobs as ambassadors to help encourage other businesses to follow suit.

Corpus Christi

Although women and Hispanics are both majority minorities in the population of Corpus Christi, they are underrepresented in the workforce. Unfortunately, employers of Hispanics and women were among those most affected by the pandemic and resulting shutdowns. Corpus Christi’s IDN work focuses on addressing the workforce challenges faced by these populations. To do so, it launched a multiphase project to build collaboration among employers to link education and training with skills gaps in target industries. The efforts focus on areas that w have the greatest opportunity in the pandemic recovery. The plan includes working with community organizations to increase awareness of education and job opportunities. It also features mentoring and entrepreneurship, childcare, nontraditional training models, and other resources that can help increase Hispanics and women’s access to the workplace.

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We are fortunate to have had the opportunity to be involved with the IDN initiative and CAEL, especially during the challenges of the pandemic. The learning community concept, the portal, and the technical partners’ assistance are all very much appreciated. The experience has not been “cookie-cutter” but very much immersive as we planned for what needs to be built for the future.
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Dr. Gilda E. Ramirez
Corpus Christi IDN Project Leader
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