By Tony Willis

As the Lansing Economic Area Partnership (LEAP) continues to lead efforts to support the economic health of Clinton, Eaton and Ingham counties — particularly within the small-business community — the imperative to do so equitably continues to be top of mind.

The impact of COVID-19 has illuminated longstanding flaws in the societal structures that have historically oppressed and disadvantaged many communities; our response must strive for evolution beyond the old “normal” rather than a return to it.

LEAP has always aimed to be the leader among Michigan’s economic development organizations in centering diversity, equity and inclusion. Still, we recognize economic development as a whole has much work to do in hopes of creating economies that genuinely work for all. Because of this reality, at the end of 2020, LEAP established the new Department of Equitable Economic Planning (DEEP) to unlock the local economy’s full potential by expanding opportunities for low-income people and communities that are primarily Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC).

The economic case for addressing inequity is clear. Since 2000, the United States economy lost an estimated $16 trillion due to discrimination, according to a September 2020 study by Citi Group. By addressing the racial wealth gap by 2028 alone, U.S. GDP stands to grow by an estimated $1.5 trillion, or six percent of its current level, according to a 2019 McKinsey report. BuiltIn has aggregated more than 80 statistics outlining the myriad benefits of striving for diverse, inclusive workplaces, from increased innovation to higher revenue.

The data are clear: diversity, equity and inclusion aren’t just good buzzwords. They’re good business.

DEEP’s strategic approach to equitable economic development in Greater Lansing involves three focus areas: programs, collaborations and policies.

Program focus: Enhanced business ownership. In year one, DEEP’s programmatic focus will primarily support enhanced business ownership for historically underserved groups by converting businesses classified as DBAs to LLCs, which increases the business’s longevity beyond the owner’s lifespan, the ability to secure bigger contracts and other benefits.

The starting points for policy evolution include the review of LEAP’s annual diversity, equity and inclusion statement, which is reaffirmed and readopted each year by our board of directors, and strategically allocating our discretionary Business Accelerator Fund (BAF) allotment to support tech startups with BIPOC and other underrepresented founders, who have historically secured less funding through the program.

And these are first-year goals. We have an ambitious agenda that continually builds on each previous phase, with long term goals including supply chain advancement and procurement diversification.

As we continue to improve and evolve our policies and practices, LEAP hopes to leverage our position as a regional leader to inspire others to begin or deepen their equity work, both in greater Lansing and beyond. After all, it’s in rising to the challenge to unlock our economy’s full potential that we truly become stronger, together.

See Original Article at Lansing State Journal