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An EDCUtah DEI profile: The Center for Economic Opportunity and Belonging at EDCUtah

July 7, 2021

This is the second in a series of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) profiles on local community organizations and multicultural resource groups. These articles are part of an effort to inform EDCUtah investors about DEI best practices and resources in Utah.

On January 4, 2021, Governor Spencer Cox signed the Utah Compact on Racial Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, making it the first document he signed as the 18th Governor of the State of Utah. The Compact is founded on the principles that all people are created equal and that all Utahns should have an equal opportunity to prosper.

Also signing the Compact were elected officials, and business, faith-based, and community leaders, all pledging to work toward programs and laws that create economic access and foster communities of respect.  

In June 2021, the Economic Development Corporation of Utah (EDCUtah) announced that Ze Min Xiao would serve as director of the Center for Economic Opportunity and Belonging at EDCUtah (CEOB). CEOB is housed under the newly formed EDCUtah Foundation, a 501(c)3 (status just confirmed) with separate funding from EDCUtah’s economic development 501(c)6.

We caught up with “Zee” to learn more about CEOB’s mission and emerging efforts.

What’s your elevator speech about CEOB?
One of six priorities articulated in the Cox administration's One Utah Roadmap is Equity and Opportunity. This includes a goal to lead by example to improve racial and gender disparities in state government. As state leaders formalize these and other strategies, in parallel, the private sector has pledged their commitment by launching CEOB.

Key priorities of CEOB are to ensure that communities of color can be participatory architects of their future and to advance economic equity and strengthen community cohesion through fostering an environment of belonging.

What’s the action plan to accomplish these goals?
It’s really a three-fold strategy that starts with building a community where everyone feels they belong. We’ll do this by generating narratives to influence and inform perspective, perception, and behavior.

The first tangible step in our action plan is to launch what we’re calling the Belonging Campaign in Utah. It’s modeled on some national efforts to explore stories of people experiencing the positive power of belonging. You can see more at https://belongingbeginswithus.org

The second step is to build mutually respectful relationships across racial and ethnic lines that honor andvalue each person's humanity, and build trusting intergenerational and diverse community relationships that better reflect our common humanity. Let’s stick a big ladle in the Utah melting pot, and give it a good stir!

This second step really centers on community engagement. We want to foster an environment where communities of color are active planners in the process to close the racial equity gap for children and families in Utah. This will be grounded in what I call Participatory Asset Mapping, a structured process to gather information from communities about their strengths and resources. And it will be based on coalition building, by which I mean standing up an environment where forming partnerships and bridge-building becomes habitual.

The third step focuses on economic equity. In economic and cultural terms, New Americans, who are immigrants, play a vital role in Utah. The Center will support a statewide task force on New Americans to develop a strategic plan to improve opportunities, advance integration of foreign-born residents, and maximize their potential to succeed.

The task force will include a range of government, political, industry, and, most importantly, New Americanleaders to conduct research to identify paths forward. Based on the findings, analysis, and community input, the task force will develop a roadmap with measurable strategies. This effort is obviously in the early stages, but it has the potential to profoundly enrich the Utah economy.

You mentioned that the Center is a private-sector complement to public-sector efforts. How do you plan to collaborate with the State?
First of all, we have great allies in Nubia Peña, who was appointed as the Director of the Utah Division of Multicultural Affairs in June 2019 and was recently named Senior Advisor of Equity and Opportunity for the Cox administration, and Bryon Russell, who co-chairs the Utah Multicultural Commission.

I’m in almost daily conversation with them both, and they are providing invaluable guidance to CEOB efforts. Together we are seeking ways to make the public and private-sector efforts effective and efficient.

The Compact uses the phrase, “Nothing about us without us.” How would you explain that phrase to our EDCUtah audience?
In the most basic terms, it’s an expression of fairness. The phrase arose in Europe in the 1500s and is related in spirit to “No taxation without representation,” so I hope it’s an accessible concept to us all. The phrase got a boost with the disabilities movement that culminated in the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

It means that decision making shouldn’t happen without full and direct participation and input from the people most impacted. The brain trust that constructs new approaches to solve problems of equity and opportunity will reflect the diversity of our communities. The Compact states it as, “We engage to effect change. Broader engagement, equitable representation, and deeper connection across social, cultural, and racial lines will uphold the principle.”

How does the CEOB’s mission enhance EDCUtah’s corporate recruitment program?
I agree with EDCUtah board chair Tom Morgan of Zions Bank when he says, "Economic Development and DEI are connected at the hip.
It’s imperative that we enable every dynamic in a community. Nobody can be left out if we’re going to reach an economy’s full potential."

Now Tom’s is a macro-level view of our mission. There are also street-level considerations. Site selectors and corporate executives involved in expansion decisions are increasingly asking questions about diversity and demographics. The ability to recruit and retain a diverse workforce has emerged as a decision-making priority, and this is happening across a broad range of industries. CEOB will help EDCUtah identify and articulate the trends, resources, and narratives that promote Utah as a good site selection choice.

How can businesses participate with the Center’s mission and programs?
First, learn about Utah’s changing demographics and the positive impact New Americans have on our economy. You can find the latest data on New Americans in Utah here.  You can find out about the economic impact of New Americans in Salt Lake County and a map showing the top 10 countries of birthplace for Salt Lake County’s immigrant population here. The map is on the last page.

Second, I would encourage the EDCUtah audience to review the findings of the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute’s Diversity Databook.

And finally, when we launch the Belonging campaign, please participate! If you have diverse employees with a story to tell, we want to share that story widely. We’ll provide more details in the coming months.

Feel free to contact Zee directly at zxiao@edcutah.org.

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