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Why being “welcoming to all” is a key part of placemaking

The state must do its part to ensure that no talented workers are turned off and turned away by Michigan’s communities. That means a legal framework that prohibits all forms of discrimination, and access to the resources necessary for social and economic mobility.

Being welcoming, in particular toward racial and ethnic minorities; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) individuals; and immigrants, is important not just to those often marginalized communities but to college-educated Millennials overall. A true talent agenda for economic development must acknowledge that creating an inclusive culture is a vital part of attracting talent.

This is another lesson worth learning from metro Minneapolis. In researching our recent report about how metropolitan Minneapolis became one of the wealthiest and most livable regions of the country, one issue was repeatedly cited by business and community leaders: the need to become more inclusive. Business and community leaders told us they have a moral responsibility to work toward closing racial disparities. But there’s a clear economic imperative, as well.

As in Michigan, economic growth in the Twin Cities is expected to outpace the working-age population growth over the next 20 years or so, giving employers and policymakers pause over how they’re going to find enough workers to support that growth.

“There are not a lot of good near-term solutions to growing our workforce,” said Peter Frosh, vice president of strategic partnerships at Greater MSP, a regional economic development group. “The best near-term solution we have is inclusion.”

Intentional inclusivity goes well beyond the absence of exclusion. Welcoming is a mix of overt and subtle signs that may appear different to different interpreters, and there are indicators that welcoming must be specific to be effective. In other words, to say, “Our state is welcoming to all,” may be meaningless to population subgroups that are not a part of the dominant culture—who are accustomed to feeling unwelcome even in places that are not explicitly exclusionary. LGBTQ individuals, immigrants, African-Americans and other non-white Americans still have reason to question whether they will feel welcome in a community that doesn’t make specific efforts to allay those concerns.

While we suggest that the goal should be, as a state, to cultivate a culture that is welcoming to all, immediate policy priorities should focus on three communities: immigrants, LGBTQ, and black Americans. In our report, we offer some specific recommendations for each of these groups, but also suggest that creating a welcoming culture is an ongoing effort and any Michigan community can think about ascending to the higher-order components of inclusivity.

Immigrants

Michigan’s population is almost seven percent foreign-born, and our population growth in immigrants has helped to offset continued population decline since 2010. As such, ensuring that the economic power of our foreign-born population is critical. In particular, we need to keep advancing policies that reduce barriers to economic integration, including language and cultural barriers, low skill levels in some cases, and difficulty transferring qualifications for more highly skilled immigrants.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer individuals

While discrimination based on race or ethnicity is already illegal, sexual orientation and gender identity remain non-protected classes in Michigan. The first step in Michigan should be the addition of LGBTQ non-discrimination to the Elliott Larsen Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination based on religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, height, weight, familial status, or marital status in the areas of employment, housing, education and access to public accommodation—but currently does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or identity. Once Michigan meets this minimum baseline of non-discrimination, there are a variety of approaches other states have taken to become even more welcoming, by showing that they are concerned with the issues that affect LGBTQ individuals—like prohibiting housing discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, adding LGBTQ protections to state anti-bullying laws, and allowing transgender people to obtain proof of identity documents that match their gender.

People of Color

Racial discrimination is an ongoing reality in employment, education, housing and the criminal justice system. Michigan has a legal framework that prohibits all forms of racial discrimination. But the everyday experience of people of color tells a very different story. One of, in far too many instances, anything but equal treatment.

In our “Improving student outcomes from education, birth to college” report we detail a state policy agenda to ensure that all Michigan children receive a quality education to prepare them for good-paying careers in a 21st Century economy. Included are recommendations for reducing concentrated poverty in both housing and schools.

In our “Sharing prosperity with those not participating in the high-wage knowledge-based economy” we detail our state policy recommendations to better connect those not participating in the high-wage, knowledge-based economy to careers that provide the wages and benefits needed to pay the bills, save for retirement and pay for the kids’ education.

Given the disproportionate impact of our system of mass imprisonment on black Americans, implementing criminal justice reforms is a key to improving economic participation of African-American Michiganders. This issue, too, is addressed in our “Sharing prosperity” paper, referenced above. Especially with recent episodes of police violence against black Americans, another urgent need is to consider efforts to increase police accountability.

Download our new report, “A path to good-paying careers for all Michiganders: Creating places across Michigan where people want to live and work,” for additional details about how we can make sure that Michigan embraces everyone who wants to be a part of our wonderful state and its future prosperity.

Photo credit: Susan Tucker/Shutterstock.com.

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Sarah Szurpicki

Sarah is a policy associate for Michigan Future, Inc. and partner at New Solutions Group, LLC, a consulting firm devoted to smart, collaborative, innovative approaches for organizations serving the public good.

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