Greater Cincinnati business leaders look for ways to boost region's racial, ethnic diversity

Recommendations target immigrants, business owners

CINCINNATI – A 2012 report found Greater Cincinnati had fallen way behind its competitors in terms of the region's racial and ethnic diversity.

So local business leaders have spent the past year trying to figure out how to catch up.

An event held downtown Wednesday outlined some of the ideas that nearly 200 volunteers have come up with to make the region a more diverse and welcoming place.

Those ideas include:

• A smart phone app called “Passport to Live Your Dream Here” designed so high school and college students experience the region’s culture, history, architecture and sports in hopes that they will want to attend college and start their careers here. Students who participate could win prizes, such as concert tickets or even scholarships.

• A website that would allow young professionals to network and connect with each other and lists opportunities for them to get more involved in the community.

• Marketing and public relations materials that minority business owners could get at a reduced cost to help grow their companies locally.

• Helping companies who want to hire foreign-born companies navigate the paperwork and processes required to do that.

The ideas impressed Alfonso Cornejo, president of the Hispanic Chamber Cincinnati USA, who attended Wednesday’s event.

“This is the only diversity initiative that’s regional,” Cornejo said. “It’s our only hope.”

Not Just Right, But Smart

The initiative is called “Diverse by Design,” and it’s a joint project of Agenda 360 and Vision 2015. The two planning organizations are working with dozens of corporate leaders in the region who argue that making Greater Cincinnati a more diverse and welcoming place is good for business.

Maria Gracia Di Pasquale, global services director for the Procter & Gamble Co., said, for example, that 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants. And more than 80 percent of the market growth expected by P&G will come from Hispanics, she told those gathered at the Duke Energy Center for the symposium.

“When I heard for the first time ‘Diverse by Design,’ I thought, ‘What a smart idea,’” said Di Pasquale, who has been working full-time on the initiative as a loaned executive from P&G since April. “Not because it’s just the right thing to do, but because it’s the smart thing to do.”

The 2012 Diverse by Design report showed just how far behind the region has fallen.

The report compared the Greater Cincinnati region to 11th competitors based on 2010 Census data.

In looking at racial and ethnic diversity, Cincinnati ranked 11th out of 12. Only Pittsburgh had a more homogenous regional population.

The region also ranked 11th in the number of minority-owned businesses per 1,000 people. And it ranked 11th in the percent of the population that was born abroad. Pittsburgh was 12th in both those measures, too.

Other regions in the study, listed in order of their ethnic and racial diversity, were Austin, Charlotte, Raleigh, Denver, Cleveland, Indianapolis, St. Louis, Columbus, Minneapolis and Louisville.

Business leaders who believe the region’s future prosperity is closely linked to its diversity believe their recommendations could help the region become more diverse and inclusive.

With those recommendations issued, 2014 will be the year the volunteer groups figure out which recommendations can be implemented right away and which need time and money to full develop, said Mary Stagaman, executive director of Agenda 360.

“This is not a sprint, it’s a marathon,” Stagaman said.

She added that nobody should look at last year’s report or the ongoing work as a criticism of the region.

“It’s just a clear-eyed view of some of the challenges we have,” she said. “And what we’re asking people to do is to take a good look at it and help us figure out how to get better.”

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