With the election cycle heating up, income inequality is becoming a hot-button topic throughout the country, including here in Washtenaw County.
Now local businesses are aiming to get in on the conversation. This Friday, October 23, the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Regional Chamber of Commerce hosts their annual IMPACT event, with an emphasis this year on inequality in Washtenaw County and its effects on small and local businesses.
The issue of inequality is usually approached from a humanistic standpoint, says Andy LaBarre, Executive Vice President and Director of Government Relations for the A2Y Regional Chamber. The goal of IMPACT, according to LaBarre, is to expand upon, and to an extent reframe, the conversation.
“Ultimately, this is an issue that’s been addressed from sort of a human standpoint: Inequality is bad, or inequality is not good because of it’s effect on this group of people or that group of people,” said LaBarre by phone Wednesday. “What we’re trying to do from a business perspective is take an opportunity to say ‘are there things we’re doing already that can be applied towards this broader issue of economic disparity within the county?’”
Inequality was chosen as this year’s IMPACT topic after a January 2015 study by the Washtenaw County office of Community and Economic Development found that imbalances in income, education, and opportunity will have long-term negative effects on economic growth in the area.
Mary Jo Callan, Director of the University of Michigan’s Ginsberg Center (and former Director of Washtenaw County’s Office of Community and Economic Development) will be on hand Friday to present relevant demographic and economic information in order to properly frame the conversation.
Given the regional diversity in Washtenaw County, tackling the issue of inequality presents a unique set of challenges, though LaBarre says IMPACT isn’t about solving all the issues; it’s about starting to ask the right questions.
“Data itself is benign. What IMPACT is trying to do is present the data; here’s where we’re at. What do you do with that? Do you want to do anything with that? I think the natural response has been from the non-profit and governmental communities and I think that’s valuable,” said LaBarre. “But to make it a durable outcome you ought to get input from the business community and the private sector so that whatever collectively we agree to do or not do, everybody is on the same page.”
A2Y Chamber boasts over 1,300 community members and is dedicated to advocating for and supporting the local business community. IMPACT will feature keynote speakers, audience engagement, and panel discussions going on from 8:30am- to 12:30pm.
Neel Hajra, President & CEO of the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation, will be on hand to serve as moderator.
A full list of panel participants, as well as more information about the event, can be found on A2Y Chamber’s website.