Prosperity and Poverty in the Midst of Economic Development


he headlines and numbers are eye-catching. In Indianapolis, a marketing software provider expands, adding another 150 high-wage jobs to the downtown landscape and the state’s tax rolls. Similarly, around the nation there are stories of companies moving into brand new office space and doubling the headcount. While announcements such as these are a positive boost for the community, for residents who live below the poverty line these big numbers mean little.

What effect does economic growth have on a person who may be working but not earning a living wage, or who is worried about food security and how to get to the closest source for healthy food? An article by Daniela Bergmann in the Chicago Policy Review sheds a bit of hopeful light by noting that regions adopting public policies targeting poor residents can be used together with efforts to grow state economies and attract companies such as those noted above. Let us look at two regions that have done just that by instituting incentive programs geared toward including the working poor.

Midwest Region Making a Move in the Right Direction

Close to home, the City of Indianapolis is targeting inclusive growth by looking at their existing economic incentive programs differently. This is timely, considering that although Indianapolis finds itself ranked in the top 10 cities for young professionals, it is also the sixth most economically segregated region, and has seen a startling 80% increase in residents living in poverty over the last ten years. To begin to address this, both Develop Indy and City leadership have identified four key pillars to support inclusive growth:

• Business Growth to both increase the number and quality of available jobs in sectors such as government, healthcare, and education
• Skills Development to help prepare residents for jobs that actually pay wages that will enable them to support their families
• Physical Investment to encourage private investment, inclusive housing, connectivity, and other amenities that improve quality of life
• Social Capital & Support Systems to identify and assist with community needs and help remove the barriers that impede quality of life. Interestingly, the aforementioned access to healthy food is included in this pillar, underscoring the importance of this to economically challenged residents.

West Coast Region Working On Improving Inclusive Initiatives

Portland, Oregon has begun to address inclusive growth in the form of Public Benefit Agreements (PBA). As an example, Prosper Portland, the city’s economic development entity, has instituted a program where a company can enter into a PBA with the local startup community to focus on inclusive entrepreneurship programs, and help identify career opportunities and diversity goals focused on hiring and training underrepresented populations. It is a win-win for the business community by identifying new opportunities and solving a social problem at the same time. Prosper Portland has also modified its economic development tax incentive program, the Portland Enterprise Zone (E-Zone), so that it is now an innovative model identifying shared value between business, community, and the public sector. Prosper Portland also noted the gentrification that was occurring with needed urban renewal, as lower-income residents were being pushed toward outer fringes of Portland considered more affordable. This group responded by deepening its commitment to an equitable and inclusive economy built on the four cornerstones of:

  • growing family-wage jobs
  • advancing opportunities for prosperity
  • collaborating with partners for an equitable city
  • and creating vibrant neighborhoods and communities.

Gaining Ground and Reaching New Heights

These are just two examples of major U.S. cities who are making strides toward truly inclusive economic growth for their residents. In our role as a site selection firm, we see how quality of talent and place are driving factors for companies looking for a new location. Our goal is to build a positive, long-term relationship for both company and community. We commend communities for leveraging their assets to benefit both their current and future residents.

Susan Jarvis serves as Senior Client Advisor with Ginovus.