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MCEDC chosen for program to advance equity in economic development

Fostering shared prosperity in a post-pandemic economic recovery and permanently is a strategic priority,” says MCEDC President and CEO Benjamin H. Wu. (The Daily Record/File Photo)

The Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation will be one of five organizations nationwide to participate in a new program to better equity and diversity standards and practices within economic development organizations.

The program, called the Equity Communities initiative, is being run by the International Economic Development Council and will provide participating organizations with site visits, webinars, check-ins and other resources. The year-long program will culminate in each of the five organizations developing an Equity Action Plan, focused on the unique needs of their community. The Rockefeller Center also contributed $25,000 towards MCEDC’s equity work.

Lynne Stein Benzion, director of economic development for MCEDC, said it has only been within the past decade or so that many economic development professionals have acknowledged that traditional economic development practices benefit white developers more than they do the larger community.

“For the first 10 years that I was in economic development, I never heard the word equity, I never heard about how the practices of economic development might not be beneficial to everybody … especially traditional economic development, which is all about real estate and that kind of thing,” she said.

More recently, though, MCEDC leadership and economic developers have become more aware of the ways traditional economic development often fails to support minority residents and minority business owners.

Benzion hopes that working with the leaders and fellow cohort members of the Equity Communities program will help MCEDC address a few key issues.

First, MCEDC is hoping to find ways to make capital more available to Black and other minority business owners, who are historically less likely to receive bank funding and venture capital funding than white business owners. The organization also wants to help these business owners access education about business accounting and business finances.

There are already a number of organizations in Maryland that share those goals, said Jerry Sanford, director of small and local business engagement for MCEDC, “but we want to figure out how to coordinate that better and how to create more responsive programs.”

Second, the corporation hopes to learn how to better collaborate with other organizations and governmental agencies in Montgomery County to advance equity goals. One way, for example, would be another Montgomery County agency helping MCEDC gather data and metrics related to diversity and economic development in the county.

Finally, MCEDC hopes to make internal changes to support equity within the organization, potentially by offering more education, including cultural sensitivity training, to team members.

“It’s important for us to appraise our own practices and strive for equity within our organization,” Benzion said. “We know already we’ll be making some changes.”

The program is part of a larger initiative by IEDC to tackle structural racism within the field of economic development. The initiative kicked off with the February launch of the council’s Playbook for Equitable Economic Development, a guide that outlines best practices for equitable economic and community development.

“Diversity is a hallmark of Montgomery County. We’re one of the most diverse counties in the country with 150 languages spoken in our schools and one-third of our residents foreign-born. The IEDC Equity Communities program is a perfect guide for our MCEDC inclusive economy initiative. Fostering shared prosperity in a post-pandemic economic recovery and permanently is a strategic priority,” said MCEDC President and CEO Benjamin H. Wu in a news release.