April 2024

Columbus Urban League, Columbus Partnership Outline Ways to Bridge the Opportunity Gap

Survey Says: Community ready to seize the jobs of the future, but needs assist

COLUMBUS – All of Greater Columbus is excited for the wealth building opportunities that derive from becoming the “Silicon Heartland,” but everyone must be included for there to be true prosperity.

That was the message from Columbus Urban League (CUL) President & CEO Stephanie Hightower and Columbus Partnership President & CEO Kenny McDonald, who hosted a briefing on how to make tomorrow’s jobs today’s opportunities for underserved communities – with data to back them up.

A survey commissioned by CUL showed that a majority of the 3,500+ respondents were very interested in a career that pays more and has opportunities to advance, even in cases where certification for such jobs can take a year to complete. Further, 84% said that if CUL helped them secure a better-paying job, they would participate in other programming for things like buying a home, managing money or other life skills.

“People in underrepresented communities, people of color, those who are underemployed, they want these new opportunities,” said Hightower. “Our survey provides proof. They will do the work to seize the jobs of the future. And when they do, ALL of US will gain from their success. Businesses will gain more customers and governments will appreciate more taxpayers and fewer people needing financial assistance. More stockholders, pension-payers, charitable donors – it’s not a zero sum when the pie itself gets bigger.”

Hightower noted the latest Brookings Institute data on economic growth and prosperity among 54 large metropolitan areas, which was shared with her by McDonald, was quite sobering. “The data shows that, even as we added jobs and unemployment rates fell, the Columbus Metropolitan area ranked among the worst for racial inclusion – 51st for poverty rate gap, 52nd for employment gap.”

McDonald said the Columbus region is no stranger to setting ambitious goals in both the public and private sectors and it will take such determination to make sure that any growth extends to all communities.

“The Columbus Region’s economy is evolving, with new opportunities in life sciences, electric vehicles, and advanced manufacturing that are promising thousands of jobs and billions in new investments,” McDonald said. “The innovations and technologies we perfect here will be essential to America’s economic future and international security. Essential to their success are prospective employees from underrepresented communities who share in our collective optimism. They’re interested, willing, and ready to gain the skills and support they need to secure and succeed in the jobs of the future.”

CUL’s Vice President of Programs, Jeaneen Hooks, outlined four evidenced-based strategies the organization envisions for a Career Connect workforce hub, which include Explain, Explore, Educate/Train, and Employ. The latter of these, Hooks said, would incorporate partners like Columbus State Community College, Franklin County and others.

“The question is: What do we need to do to Bridge the Opportunity Gap?” Hooks asked. “The barriers people face seem like a game of Whack-A-Mole. The second you knock down one, like training or education, another pops up like childcare or transportation. It’s really no wonder why many people feel trapped by their circumstances.”

“We do know that there is no one-size-fits-all solution,” Hooks added. “So we want to collaborate with the community to develop a set of mutually agreeable outcomes so we can be transparent and accountable for our shared results.”

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