Loyola University Chicago

Quinlan School of Business

Baumhart Scholars drive community and economic development

Baumhart Scholars drive community and economic development

Three rising Baumhart Scholars — Kemena Brooks, Jonathan McGee, and Jasmine Williams — discuss their thoughts on moving Chicago toward greater equity.

Chicago has been aptly described as two cities separated by extreme gaps in household wealth, educational access, food access, life expectancy, and more. The current pandemic has further highlighted these inequities with blacks in the city being nearly six times more likely to die from COVID-19 than whites.

“To move Chicago toward greater equity, we need innovative and courageous leaders across all sectors of our economy to invest in our neighborhoods, in our workforce, and in access to health and education,” says Seth Green of the Baumhart Center at Loyola’s Quinlan School of Business.

But how can we begin to move the needle?

Below, three rising Baumhart Scholars at the forefront of community and economic development in Chicago share their perspective.

  • Kemena Brooks is the senior project manager for The Community Builders, Inc. She is leading efforts to develop affordable housing and community assets throughout Chicago.
  • Jonathan McGee is the assistant deputy director of regional economic development for the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. He “threads the needle” between local governments, businesses, workforce agencies, and communities to help create economic opportunity.
  • Jasmine Williams is the program developer for the Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership. She works to ensure people are meaningfully employed.

All three are beginning the Baumhart Scholars MBA program in fall 2020.

Insights from Baumhart Scholars

How can we drive economic development in Chicago?

Brooks: “We need to look at the history in our communities and how policies have shaped them to understand why particular communities face certain challenges. This uncovering of systemic barriers will lead to better informed community development practices.”

McGee: “We need to focus on upskilling and training programs, and we need to address the digital divide that has been highlighted by COVID-19. Workforce development is so important in advancing community development in underserved neighborhoods, because the first thing a company wants to know before they enter a community is whether there are workers available and whether they have the necessary skills.”

Williams: “Partnerships. It’s up to us and other leaders to come together. It’s no longer about ‘whose responsibility is it?’ It’s on all of us. Employers are now recognizing the importance of workforce training programs. They have skin in the game and know they need to get involved.”

What are specific examples of progress?

Brooks: “The city’s INVEST South/West initiative. While in its infancy, the program can help to support revitalization in neighborhoods and along corridors that have long been overlooked. This initiative is an opportunity to support the community’s long-standing organizations and residents.”

McGee: “Governor J.B. Pritzker and the Illinois legislature passed a historic $45 billion capital infrastructure bill including the Rebuild Illinois programs, broadband expansion, apprenticeship programs, a data centers tax credit, and more. This is significant because all of these programs contain a social equity component, and the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity is at the forefront of ensuring that these dollars get to the communities across the state that need them the most. Additionally, we’re exploring what other states are doing. We are looking at their models and their public and private approaches to inform our strategy here in Chicago and in Illinois.”

Any final thoughts?

McGee: “Before a company or a business enters a community, we need to understand the impact it will have on the community – not just the economic benefit or impact, but the environmental and sociocultural, too. In what ways could the company change the community, and how are they going to be held accountable?”

Williams: “Post COVID-19, we need to take a hard look at how to improve the systems we have in place at the different levels of government to address issues like unemployment. We need to become more innovative in our interactions and in our responses to the people in those systems.”

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