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St. Louis Development Corporation to examine racial inequities in economic development

Downtown St. Louis
Rachel Lippmann
/
St. Louis Public Radio
The St. Louis Development Corporation is one of five U.S. organizations that will study how systemic racism has affected economic development. The St. Louis corporation joins its counterparts in El Paso; Rapid City, South Dakota; Cleveland and Rockville, Maryland.

The St. Louis Development Corporation has been selected to join a national effort to examine racial inequity in development.

The St. Louis group will join economic development organizations in El Paso; Rapid City, South Dakota; Cleveland and Rockville, Maryland. Each will examine how systemic racism has long-excluded communities of color from economic development as part of the International Economic Development Corporation’s inaugural Equity Communities Cohort.

The effort will help spur economic growth and develop strategies for long-neglected communities that were further impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, St. Louis Development Corporation leaders said.

“The pandemic just really highlighted the disparities for our small businesses and in the Black community, specifically in St. Louis,” said Daffney Moore, the organization’s chief of staff. “We wanted to see how we could rebuild some of our corridors and how we could help small businesses create opportunities for small businesses and entrepreneurs that are not there.”

Moore said the corporation received a $25,000 grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, which is helping to fund the national effort along with the Kresge Foundation and Surdna Foundation. The development corporation also will receive technical assistance from the council. It will create an equitable action plan to address racial disparities in development.

The initiative is the latest effort by the economic development corporation to address economic justice and inequities. The corporation launched a survey last year asking residents what they wanted to see in the city’s economic justice plans.

Moore said that the council wants to focus on economic development opportunities in north St. Louis and that it’s a good time to do so.

“Currently, there are not a lot of places north where small businesses can have an office space, open a restaurant, and do other manufacturing,” Moore said. “So one of the things that we are trying to do is be intentional. No one should always have to go outside of their community to have resources.”

The cohort will publish an updated playbook with strategies and practices aimed at addressing systemic racism in their cities.

The pandemic brought many economic inequities to light that have existed for decades, said Nathan Ohle, president and CEO of the International Economic Development Corporation.

“We want to try and bring together not just best practices for the field on how economic developers can integrate racial equity into the practice,” Ohle said. “But we also want to take the time to really recognize the historic inequities that have happened in communities of all sizes.”

Ohle said he hopes the updated playbook will include strategies that organizations outside the cohort can use as a guide to aid racial equity programs.

“This builds out opportunities to create more equitable economic development opportunities, and certainly economic outcomes in each of these communities,” Ohle said. “Then we can build upon that showcase and highlight it so that other communities can learn from what's happened in St. Louis and the other four communities, and take those lessons and apply them to their own communities.”

Follow Chad on Twitter: @iamcdavis

Chad is a general assignment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.

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