Kara Amedeo came to Thursday’s Greater Akron Inclusion Summit to educate herself.
She ended up surprised as well. Amedeo, a corporate trainer at FirstEnergy Corp., was among hundreds of people attending the three-hour morning event in Quaker Station in downtown Akron.
In particular, she said, two numbers stood out: 57 and 5.
Those national figures reveal major gaps between white and black families.
In the first case, for every $100 a white family earns, a black family earns $57. And for every $100 in wealth a white family has, a black family has $5.
“I took notes,” Amedeo said. “Those two numbers blew my mind.”
That data and more presented to the audience speak to the urgency of local employers needing to fix the stagnant regional economy, speakers said during the summit.
And while national black and white economic differences are bad enough, the income disparity in Akron is worse, said Robert DeJournett, vice president of opportunity and inclusion at the Greater Akron Chamber, one of the speakers and presenters.
For every $100 a white family earns here, a black family earns $39, DeJournett said.
The program, part of the Elevate Greater Akron initiative, was convened by the Greater Akron Chamber to make the business case that employers need to take action now to improve their inclusiveness and diversity in order for the businesses and region to grow and thrive.
“We want to make you think,” said Steve Millard, the chamber’s president and chief executive officer. “We also want maybe to make you a little bit uncomfortable. … We think the Greater Akron region can lead on inclusion. This doesn’t work if we don’t take action.”
Research done by the Brookings Institution and others on behalf of Elevate Greater Akron makes a compelling case for action, he and others said.
“Talk is not enough,” Millard said. “It’s really about the economic case.”
DeJournett said research shows the Akron area’s black population has long been excluded from economic opportunity. The goal now is to reverse that and also help other excluded people, he said.
“The good news is, we have underutilized talent,” he said. “We’re here to talk about opportunities for Akron.”
Right now, the region has a growth problem, DeJournett and others said. The area cannot grow economically by focusing on recruiting outside businesses but needs to foster its own resources, they said.
Employers who say they cannot find qualified workers — the region has about 20,000 unfilled jobs — need to rethink their hiring practices, they said. That includes employing some 13,000 local unemployed black residents who want jobs, most of whom have at least some college education, they said.
Employers also need to begin using minority-owned businesses in their supply chain and also sponsor, not just mentor, minorities, DeJournett and others said.
“We are losing out on people who can bring great ideas,” Millard said.
Transportation remains a problem for residents who don’t have cars, the Elevate Greater Akron research shows.
Someone who lives in Akron and has a job in Twinsburg will have a 1½-hour public transportation commute, meaning they have to leave home at 6 a.m. to get to work for an 8 a.m. start time, Millard said. Employers should think about changing their shift times to better accommodate those workers, he said.
Amy Liu, vice president and director of the metropolitan policy program at the Washington, D.C.-based Brookings Institute, moderated a panel on perspectives on inclusion.
“People are tired of talking. They want action,” she said.
Keynote speaker Luke Visconti, founder and recently retired chairman of DiversityInc., which advocates on the business benefits of diversity, talked about business inclusion and diversity efforts while interspersing personal stories.
Akron has to be accountable on diversity and inclusion, he said. “You can’t punt it.”
At one point Visconti talked about President Donald Trump’s candidacy and election. He said he has noticed white people saying more “racist, bigoted, horrible language.” He said white people have felt more comfortable saying those things to him because he is white.
“If you support Trump, you hate who I am,” Visconti said. “You can do better than that.”
Visconti said that Akron’s police force is 91% white, a significantly higher percentage than the city's population. (Other recent figures have put Akron's police force at 80% white, with the city population about 60% white and 30% black.)
“I’m not saying you have bad police here,” he said. “Ninety-one percent tells me things could be better.”
Attendee Tonya Shelton, who works in FirstEnergy’s human resources department, said she was surprised by some of the summit's information.
“This was good,” she said. “You create solutions by having this kind of dialogue."
Jim Mackinnon covers business. He can be reached at 330-996-3544 or email@example.com. Follow him @JimMackinnonABJ on Twitter or www.facebook.com/JimMackinnonABJ