An equitable growth strategy, particularly in high density, multi-ethnic communities, requires three commitments: Terraform while doing no harm; adopt culturally responsive economic strategies, and advance STEM based competitiveness.
A commitment to “terraforming”
Star Trek’s Wrath of Khan introduced Project Genesis, a biotechnology solution for transforming desolate planets into vibrant, verdant places to sustain life. The only caveat was that anything alive was extinguished as part of the terraforming process, and the tech was unstable, so it failed. In the contemporary (and awesome) Star Trek Discovery, the Enterprise uses a mushroom inspired mycelium network (biotechnology) to move through time and space. In both cases, science serves as a conduit to improving quality of life. Creating equitable growth will need to rely on life sciences for “terraforming”, while allowing existing life to flourish, but in better conditions. To “terraform” and create equitable economic opportunity requires aligning economic decision making with life affirming solutions, while making a conscious decision to invest in place based quality of life. I’m not sure what the alternative is, and really don’t want to find out, but reconnecting humans with nature through STEM is a pro-social economic option. As for my specific recommendations, we should ”terraform” the former PES Refinery, vacant lots in Philly, as well as brownfields, so we can create more lush, verdant places for people to create opportunities to grow. The metaverse shouldn’t be that attractive to so many.
A commitment to culturally responsive economic development
I consider myself a cultural economist, and I consider our nation’s primary culture of capitalism an extraordinary lesson in right and wrong as it relates to equity, social justice, and now sustainability. Some can argue, but the take-make-break-discard model, without any focus on circularity, is putting all of us at risk. We are running out of resources and other nations know it too. The E.U. is moving fast on a circular economy to generate less waste, while creating more business opportunities. African nations, where the world gets so many of its raw materials, are starting to push back, even in the face of purposeful disruption, because they need resources for themselves (consider Ghana telling Pennsylvania and Switzerland that they’re going to start reducing cocoa shipments so they can build indigenous businesses at home). Culturally responsive economic development throws open the door for BIPOC Philadelphians to work with allies to remake capitalism in struggling communities, and to create vertically integrated businesses where one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. Imagine design contests to develop new products, financed by culturally responsive investment in solutions. We may be able to attract and retain talent if we make it lucrative and rewarding to remove/mitigate waste, while creating business opportunities in communities that would have never considered a biodigester plant, or a battery manufacturer, or a food processing plant that’s owned as a cooperative. We have to respond to Philadelphia’s socio-economic reality, and make decisions supported with the right data from asking the right questions (beyond dusty, nonproductive economic indicators). Culturally responsive economic development gives us the opportunity to market ourselves as both a sanctuary city and the city with the most inclusive and diverse business representation in our $388B annual economy. Let’s go!
A commitment to BIPOC competitiveness
We all know the adage, loose lips sink ships, and loose strategy sinks economic productivity. As a senior advisor to ESI, and the Senior Fellow to the National Institute for Inclusive Competitiveness, nothing has been more clear to me over the past two years than the lack of infrastructure to enable Black businesses to become valued economic producers, especially in the Philadelphia region’s economy. We can get the stats on the productivity levels anywhere, so I’m going to focus on the real talk. We need more BIPOC companies in the bio-economy, able to use STEM expertise to compete for business in integrative medicine, engineering for controlled agriculture environments, health, fintech, energy alternatives, waste management, and water reclamation. How many BIPOC businesses are in the highly competitive life sciences space for research and development? Could BIPOC leaders tap indigenous talent to terraform toxic parts of Philadelphia? And how do we create more consistent access to heavy hitters in the business world, those with capital, those who control capital, and those who know the language of capital, to create 10-15 BIPOC businesses each year, generating $10M each, as a goal for the next 20 years. To compete you have to have strategy, targets and goals.
Without an intentional “inclusive competitiveness” strategy, how do we establish a goal to increase economic productivity to stimulate BIPOC STEM based business growth? We can’t. Instead, more money is dumped into business planning assistance, workforce training and maybe a pass through subcontract to a minority firm, often in very traditional industries. It’s not an ecosystem that produces competitiveness. I’m not throwing shade but creating robust avenues into entrepreneurship, led by successful entrepreneurs, should be a regional priority. Even if we have to bring in BIPOC companies to serve as primes and formal mentors to local and regional companies.
Success would see us adamantly defining equity as business ownership, while respecting that equitable access to societal resources is a critical social justice issue. Equitable economic growth requires inclusive economic opportunity, based on White business owner trust in BIPOC business management, resources, financial literacy, reliability, IP protection, and other criteria for doing business with people who own the majority of businesses, land, resources, and investment vehicles in the city. In the past 60 years, the dramatic growth of consumerism in the Black American community, with a dramatic decline in equitable ownership of raw materials or the means of production, is now a threat to personal liberty and social sovereignty. Please read that again. We know that the number of dollars a community recirculates and reinvests in itself is a sign of both cultural continuity and competitiveness. So in the end, I’d love to see BIPOC companies respected as productive, profitable stakeholders in competitive high growth industries that then drive equitable economic growth at home.
Jamie Bracey Green is a senior advisor to Econsult Solutions. As an urban farmer and sustainability advocate, she is pushing hard to produce food, energy, and new product manufacturing solutions in urban communities. Ms. Green is an accomplished educational psychologist (PhD) with significant expertise persuading colleagues to collaborate to achieve results. She is nationally recognized for designing and scaling pre-college developmental pathways and student success initiatives for underrepresented and nontraditional learners in science, engineering, computer science and related technologies. Her competencies are most valuable when institutional culture change is required to compete in the market.