Archive by Author


20 Dec


Opportunity means being given a seat with decisions makers and being equally valued in that space. It is having room to expand and exercise my capabilities.

“Opportunity never knocks. It hangs thick in the air all around you. You breathe it unthinking, and dissipate it with your sighs.”
― Roy H. Williams


The good economy: why I am an Ally

4 Dec

It is everywhere. We can not turn a page, begin a conversation, or send a tweet without being inundated with articles, mentions, and “likes,” intended to inform us about our economic realities. The chorus of voices and opinions meant to provide perspective or clarity coalesce, creating a narrative of a system that is outside of our influence and control. The economy can determine our fate and our recourse is to respond to its whims.

I spent two years in graduate school studying that economy but I joined Public Allies to participate in another one. Truthfully, they are one in the same. The only difference is perspective. One view is from the top. It is the realm of financial markets and the domain of those who deal in billions. It is the frenzied investment of surplus capital in exotic spaces. It is the employer of thousands and the executive who influences national leaders. In this economy we are small and without influence.

If we alter our viewpoint we can see another side. You have to descend from the top down to the city level and to the state economic development agencies. Really, you have to narrow your perspective even more to the neighborhood and community level. Our economy is here too. Here we are not without influence. We are authors of an untold economic destiny.  Here is the domain of local economic organizations. This space creates connections between community organizations and the small businesses they support. In this space those who come from impoverished backgrounds are not ignored. Here we create jobs from the ground up by talking to businesses to determine their needs. We respond by connecting each individual job-seeker with a job-creator.

Our work is to create a vibrant economy at a local level. It both informs and is informed by economic policy. While our scope may not be national, our work ripples outward from communities, to regions, to the states we labor in.

These are not fanciful notions. The organization I am placed with (LEED Council) helped create the first Planned Manufacturing District in Chicago back in 1988. This district protected industrial and manufacturing businesses from the incursion of residential developers allowing Chicago to maintain a diverse economy, encourage industrial investment, and retain high-wage jobs for lower-skilled workers. Since then, 14 such districts have been created in Chicago. They have become models for industrial and business retention efforts in New York, Seattle, San Francisco, and Milwaukee.

This is one success at one organization in one neighborhood. If you allow your imagination to run wild, just for a second, you can see the economy from the perspective I have been talking about. Indulge me in a small amount of math. You can multiply this work by the number of neighborhood groups, organizations, and supporters. Try to multiply their innumerable successes. Factor in intangible benefits and then multiply all of that by community, then city, and then state. This is where we write our economic destiny, and determine its legacy. This is what I call the participatory economy. We all have a part in it and if we get down in the trenches, every one of us can add our voices to change the narrative. We can speak of an economy where we are at the helm, charting the course, and implementing big ideas in small places. This is why I became a Public Ally.

Brittany VanPutten, Chicago