Increasing Economic Equality One City at a Time: Portland’s Story

Increasing Economic Equality One City at a Time: Portland’s Story

We asked Erin Flynn, Associate Vice President for Strategic Partnerships at Portland State University to speak with us about what Portland is doing to become more economically inclusive. //


The Challenge:

Historically, Portland has been a predominantly white city with limited racial and ethnic diversity. But the city’s demographics are changing dramatically and business and civic leaders are grappling with the challenges and opportunities presented by growing diversity. While 80 percent of the population between the ages of 50 and 64 are white only 56% of the population between the ages of 5 and 19 are white. The majority of the non-white, youth population is Latino. While Portland has been a magnet for young, educated millenials, it faces a considerable challenge to educate and skill up its own minority, youth population. Forty-two percent of PSU’s freshman class this year is minority and/or first generation students.

The Question:

How does Portland “skill up” its next generation to ensure that they have the opportunity to move into the middle-class?

The Plan:

City leaders are working to increase income, education and access to city services for low-income and people of color in Portland. In fact, nearly every strategic plan coming out of the region focuses on social and economic equity right now. There is growing awareness among civic and business leaders that tackling issues of social and economic disparity are of paramount importance to regional health and prosperity. Part of the challenge is connecting strategy across jurisdictions to insure a coordinated and systematic approach.

There are multiple initiatives underway including:

  • The collective impact effort All Hands Raised is working on improving graduation rates in high schools in the county.
  • The Cradle to Career initiative, a partnership between the City of Portland, Portland State University, Community Colleges, and public schools, are working together to invest at key intervention points in youth education.
  • The Portland Development Commission has several initiatives, including a mini-micro revolving loan and PDX Challenge that are working to support minority owned small businesses. The organization also recently created a Neighborhood Prosperity Plan, looking to bring technical services into lower income neighborhoods.
  • Through the Portland Metro STEM Partnership, employers such as Intel are working to engage minority students in STEM fields, encouraging careers through hands-on tech and science learning.

Putting it All Together:

Because of her background designing and advancing complex, metropolitan agendas and building bridges between the public sector, private sector and higher education, Erin Flynn has been tapped to ensure economic inclusion initiatives are coordinated at a regional level through Greater Portland Inc., Portland’s regional economic development organization.

Working with colleagues across the region and in conjunction with CEOs for Cities, Portland business and civic leaders are building a “Business Case for Equity.” Erin has been working to bring together a diverse group of community and business leaders to define key metrics for moving the needle on economic inclusion through a unified framework

Much More to Come:

The regional effort to build an economic inclusion framework and agreed upon set of metrics will be included in Portland Metro 20/20, the region’s comprehensive economic development plan. We will check back in with Erin as the work progresses.

In the meantime, we hope that you will join us in Pittsburgh June 10-12, to talk with Erin and other community leaders working across the country to address issues of economic inclusion.


About Erin Flynn: Erin Flynn is Associate Vice President for Strategic Partnerships at Portland State University, Oregon’s largest and only urban-serving university. She leads university-wide community engagement and economic development initiatives to deliver on shared regional priorities including economic growth and inclusion, innovation and entrepreneurship, urban sustainability and cradle-to-career education reform. She is currently working with Greater Portland Inc. and municipal agencies across the region to synchronize myriad efforts that address social and economic equity.

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