Equitable opportunity is Nashville’s #1 priority

Ashford Hughes

Nashville is at a tipping point.

While this city is experiencing a moment of prosperity, brought forth by record-breaking tourism and tremendous growth and development, there are still many communities that are not benefitting from the boom.

Recent studies reveal unemployment rates in minority communities are at more than eight percent and nearly 30% of those residents live below the poverty line.

As the city’s chief diversity, equity, and inclusion officer, these startling statistics give me great pause. However, together with Mayor Briley, my colleagues in the Briley Administration, and many members of the community, we have been steadfast in pursuing aggressive measures that seek to address these issues.

Chiefly important are the steps taken to ensure economic inclusion for businesses owned by women and minorities. After listening to and collaborating with various business and community groups, we’ve actively chosen to pursue opportunities that will create a strong small business pipeline and encourage more workforce development and career opportunities for those who live in marginalized communities.

In April 2018, Mayor Briley appointed a 21-member Minority Business Advisory Council (MBAC) to engage business leaders on how to strategically support businesses owned by women and ethnic minorities.

In July 2018, we engaged all of its ethnic minority chambers, as well as the LGBT chamber, to ensure we included relevant stakeholders in our quest to develop inclusive government policies and practices that support the growth of small businesses owned by minorities and women. This measure included a direct appropriation of $25,000 each to support their efforts.

Additionally, we budgeted $500,000 to support the compliance staff and outreach at the Business Assistance Office and $100,000 for business capacity building for ethnic minority and women owned businesses at the Nashville Business Incubation Center.

In June 2019, our city was selected to be in the 2019 cohort of Living Cities’ City Accelerator on Inclusive Procurement. After the competitive application process, we were selected as one of 10 chosen to participate in the prestigious program.

The city will receive $50,000 in grant funding, along with coaching, technical assistance, and implementation resources in the coming year. Equity is our goal, and we are focused on leveling the playing the field for firms owned by people of color and women.

We are constantly being highlighted nationally for our work in this space, as our city is one of six as a member of the Annie Casey Foundation Southern Cities Economic Inclusion Cohort. All of us see equity as our primary aim.

Altogether, we’ve seen some early progress. Our city’s spending with minority and women-owned businesses is up $20.8 million from 2017 to 2018. This increase occurred before our most recent disparity study showed the city passively discriminates against minority-owned businesses in the distribution of public contracts, and before passed we launched the Equal Business Opportunity in July 2019. Naturally, we want to keep this momentum going.

When equity is the focus, Nashville has and will continue to make giant strides. I look forward to collaborating with all those interested in utilizing the tools and resources available to eliminate systemic barriers and uplift underserved communities.

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