• WisBusiness

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Jennifer Sereno: Joint summit set to advance economic development, strengthen leadership and diversity

By Jennifer Sereno
Madison Region Economic Partnership and Urban League of Greater Madison to host joint meeting

Can the Madison region become a national model for transforming racial disparities into economic opportunities?

Yes -- if the Madison Region Economic Partnership and Urban League of Greater Madison have anything to do with it. In a groundbreaking step forward for the region, the two organizations will hold a joint summit focused on economic development, diversity and leadership.

The event, set for May 9, combines MadREP's annual state of the region summit with the Urban League's workplace diversity and leadership event to reach more employers and leverage collective efforts in the region. Attendance at the event, called Advancing Talent, Opportunity and Prosperity: The Madison Region's Economic Development, Diversity and Leadership Summit, is expected at 500, ranging from CEOs and entrepreneurs to educators and diverse community leaders.

"Economic, workforce and community development are inherently intertwined," says Paul Jadin, president of MadREP. "With this partnership, we are committed to bringing together a diversity of voices to address the region's challenges, celebrate our progress and leverage the opportunities that will ensure our economy's continued growth."

Featured speakers at the event include:

* Joel Kotkin, an internationally recognized authority on global economic, political and social trends and author of The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050;

* Ken Salazar, a former U.S. Senator and U.S. Secretary of the Interior who is one of nine Hispanic senators to serve the U.S. and is now a partner at the law firm WilmerHale; and

* Maria Campbell, an industry consultant on leadership and diversity who served as corporate director of diversity at S.C. Johnson for 28 years.

Kaleem Caire, president and CEO of the Urban League, says the south central Wisconsin region benefits from a number of inherent economic strengths, including the model effort by MadREP and the Urban League to focus on challenges together.

"Everything we need to make a community great, we have right here: a world-class university, a great technical college. And we are the seat of government," he says. Caire, who announced this week he will step down from his post at the end of the month, will remain involved in the summit planning process.

To maximize the region's potential, Jadin says opportunities for advancement in the New Economy need to extend throughout the workforce to reach the unemployed and underemployed.

"If we don't include everybody, we can't claim to be a prosperous region," Jadin says. "I hope we'll come out of the event with a better understanding of what everybody can do."

Where to start?

The summit organizers credit several major employment sectors including the insurance industry, health care, government and some media and real estate employers with leading the way. Increasingly, area employers are seeking new ways to increase the diversity of candidates within competitive applicant pools.

"It's important to let people know there are companies that are already stepping up to the plate," Caire says.

Yet while the summit will focus on the positive, there is serious work to be done.

Plans for the event follow a series of reports identifying racial disparities in the region including data published in December by the Center on Wisconsin Strategy focusing on employment and income challenges. According to the report, the unemployment rate for blacks over age 16 stood at 13.3 percent in 2012, compared with 5 percent for whites. At $26,222, the median income for African Americans was less than half of the $53,499 for whites.

In Madison, employment challenges are complicated by educational disparities. According to research published by The Business Journals, the city ranks seventh in the nation with 42.9 percent of the adult population holding a bachelor's degree. Yet the four-year high school graduation rate for African-American students in Madison schools stood at 53.1 percent vs. 86.7 percent for whites in 2011-12, according to the MacIver Institute.

"We need to do a better job of getting people through high school and getting them some sort of post high school training, whether it's a certificate program or two year associate degree," Jadin says. "Then, we're addressing two needs at the same time because clearly there are many companies that are hard-pressed to find talent for entry level roles. Those are areas where we can make significant strides."

One effort that appears to be working involves a multi-tiered training program offered by the Urban League in collaboration with local businesses. Since 2009, the number of individuals served by the organization has risen from 183 to 1,731 last year. The Urban League training starts at a foundational level, then moves on to customer service and industry specific training, including opportunities to link with participating employers.

The joint summit in May aims to build on such efforts and provide self-assessment tools employers may use to measure progress ranging from gains in the workforce to increased diversity at the board level, Jadin says.

Participation from throughout the eight-county MadREP region serving Columbia, Dane, Dodge, Green, Iowa, Jefferson, Rock and Sauk is encouraged, with scholarship support and special group rates available. With its headline speakers, updates on regional progress, resource offerings and networking opportunities, the summit promises to jumpstart new collaborations.

"The fruits of today's labors may not be seen for five to 10 years, but that doesn't mean we should stop trying," Jadin says. "The message is that economic development is something that should benefit everyone."

Summit registration details

Advancing Talent, Opportunity and Prosperity: The Madison Region’s Economic Development, Diversity and Leadership Summit

Registration for the daylong event set for Friday, May 9, from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., is available online at http://www.advancesummit.com. The event will be held at Monona Terrace.

-- Sereno is a former business editor of the Wisconsin State Journal who has written about new economy trends for various publications. Send email to sereno.jennifer@gmail.com.


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