LEAP Launches New Department of Equitable Economic Planning to Address Systemic Inequality in Economic Development

New Department Will Focus on Unlocking Full Potential of Local Economy Through Intentional Inclusion of Traditionally Underserved Populations

LANSING, Mich. – The Lansing Economic Area Partnership (LEAP) has announced the creation of a new Department of Equitable Economic Planning (DEEP), which will aim to unlock the full potential of the local economy by expanding opportunities for low-income people and communities that are primarily Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC). Additionally, LEAP elevated Tony Willis to Chief Equity Development Officer to lead DEEP.

Investing in equity practices just makes good economic sense. Since 2000, the United States economy lost an estimated $16 trillion due to discrimination, according to a September 2020 study by Citi Group. By addressing the racial wealth gap by 2028, U.S. GDP would grow by an estimated $1.5 trillion, or 6% of its current level, according to an August 2019 McKinsey report.

“Prioritizing the empowerment of historically disenfranchised communities does more than elevate those communities’ circumstances,” said Willis. “Strategically infusing equity into economic development practices grows quality jobs and increases entrepreneurship, ownership and wealth while increasing profit opportunities for our businesses, which in turn cultivates a stronger, more competitive economy on the whole.”

Currently, LEAP’s equity-focused programming includes One and All, an inclusive entrepreneurship initiative launched in 2020 and The Hatching business pitch competition series. Together these programs are designed to increase successful entrepreneurship and small-business ownership among historically underrepresented populations and those who are struggling to maintain a basic cost of living and are open to residents of Clinton, Eaton, Ingham and Shiawassee counties.

Additionally, LEAP staff participates in a diversity, equity and inclusion training pilot program at Lansing Community College, which began in January 2020.

“LEAP has always aimed to center diversity, equity and inclusion in all our economic development efforts. Nearly all literature in economic development now shows that good jobs follow talent, and talent is fundamentally attracted to a great place. The more uniquely well-known our region is for genuine and intentional inclusiveness of all people, the more businesses we will land and grow,” said Bob Trezise, president and CEO of LEAP. “Through DEEP, we will be able to substantially increase our investment in creating an economy that truly works for all greater Lansing’s residents and addresses the challenge of systemic racism and other forms of discrimination.”

In its first year, DEEP’s strategic goals include plans to support the conversion of existing DBAs to LLCs and help support and reconstitute business organizations within the Black and Hispanic community; revising and improving LEAP’s existing diversity statement, which is readopted and signed by LEAP’s board of directors each year; creating a comprehensive application, review and award process for LEAP’s annual Diversity Star Award program; and developing a strategic approach to seeking grant funding to increase capacity for long-term goals and future programming.

Long-term goals for the department include programs to enhance and strengthen business ownership, from supply chain advancement to cooperative creation; community empowerment and economic development education; and advocation for and implementation of progressive business policy.

“Addressing systemic inequity begins by just getting started,” said Willis. “As an organization and as a community, there’s much work to be done. The creation of DEEP represents an important, intentional step to more vibrant, equitable communities that truly represent our vision of ‘stronger together.’”

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About LEAP
The Lansing Economic Area Partnership (LEAP) is a coalition of area leaders partnering to build a stronger community for all—working every day to grow, retain and attract business to the Lansing, Michigan, region.