Greater Louisville Inc. The Metro Chamber of Commerce
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December 14, 2021 4:48pm

OP-ED: A renewed focus on economic development, equity, and talent strategies

This article first appeared in Louisville Business First on December 10, 2021 and is co-authored by Sarah Davasher-Wisdom, president and CEO of Greater Louisville Inc., and Russell Cox, president and CEO of Norton Healthcare and the Chair of GLIDE Indianapolis.

Louisville is a community full of promise and opportunity, and while we strive to be better and stronger, we frequently look to neighboring markets for inspiration. Too often we find ourselves content and reluctant to take risks to achieve substantial growth and development.

How can Louisville move beyond being content to being remarkable? This is the question we asked ourselves during our annual GLIDE trip, and the reason we took a group of 100 business leaders up Interstate 65 last month.

In the continual quest to create the best Louisville, we thought it fitting to travel to a city we often find our own region compared to — Indianapolis. For more than a decade, Indianapolis has achieved economic and population growth by creating a culture of innovation and inclusion, and having a forward-thinking strategy to bring investment to the region.

We took this opportunity to dive deeper into the strategies Indianapolis has deployed over the last 10 to 20 years to get them where they are today, and brainstorm how the Louisville region can draw from their successes in a way that best meets the needs of our unique community.

Our trip to Indianapolis highlighted that economic development structure and processes must be well-positioned and complimented by strategies to attract high-caliber talent while maintaining a spirit of inclusivity.

Indianapolis’ model of economic development centers around the Indianapolis Chamber, which serves as the one-stop-shop for companies interested in coming to the Greater Indianapolis region. Through different arms of the organization, the chamber represents both the region and the city of Indianapolis.

This ensures continuity and simplicity for site selectors and businesses considering entering the market. It means fewer opportunities for balls to be dropped, cues to be missed, or leads to be lost.

The Greater Louisville business community believes creating a similar model would help address some of the most common feedback we receive about the current structure, which is that there is external and internal confusion on roles and responsibilities. By housing all economic development processes within GLI, business prospects and site consultants will have a more streamlined experience and get a holistic look at the 15-county region.

We heard repeatedly how important collaborative partnerships between government and the private sector are to the success of innovative projects. That means strengthening collaboration between organizations and distributing funding in a way that will maximize economic success for the benefit of all. This paradigm shift will create simplicity, new ideas, and hopefully more wins.

A more streamlined economic development model is only one piece of the puzzle. Companies will only bring jobs where the caliber of talent needed to fill them exists. The strong connection between talent attraction and business attraction, retention and expansion, is why a one-stop-shop model will help expand our community’s existing talent attraction campaign: GLI’s Live in Lou.

By creating a single brand for Greater Louisville, we can more easily market the region to prospective talent and bring more high-skilled workers. Investing resources and supporting community programs for talent development to ensure we have a strong homegrown workforce is equally critical.

Furthermore, a strong economy is an inclusive economy. Equity is intertwined with economic development, talent attraction, and other components of a robust economy. As we saw in Indianapolis, the business community has a big role to play in this work.

This runs the spectrum from intentional actions in our individual organizations, like increasing corporate minority business spend in order to increase capital for minority entrepreneurs. It also means investing in education, technology and public transportation options to connect predominantly Black and minority neighborhoods with our urban areas. GLI will continue collaborating with community programs to serve as a convener and connector to engage businesses.

Equity is a long-term journey, and we have seen this fight passed on from generation to generation. If we are going to be the generation that actualizes true racial equity, it is critical we continue making quantifiable progress to eliminate barriers and create a sense of belonging in Greater Louisville alongside all our economic development work.

The trip concluded with the unveiling of a new strategic partnership between Louisville’s major health care providers and higher education institutions. The Louisville Medical and Education District (LOUMED) will connect a major corridor of innovation in our city and foster connectivity and collaboration between healthcare, education and science.

However, for this district to reach its maximum potential, we must simultaneously take comprehensive action balanced with a compassionate approach to address safety issues and rising homelessness across the community and within the planned LOUMED district.

Going from good to great is no easy task, and it takes commitment from every leader and individual in our community. We are prepared to harness the energy and direction of the business community to work toward a more efficient and effective economic development model that fosters talent attraction and equity.