Q&A with Danya Perry: Exploring Equitable Economic Development

Wake County Economic Development launched its equitable economic development program in January 2018, after leaders throughout Wake County started looking at projects on a map and identified a huge concentration of projects in some areas, and not in others. The program was created to help ensure every resident has the ability to be a full participant in the economic ecosystem, with an overarching goal of moving toward inclusive prosperity.

“Equity is either removing a barrier or building a bridge,” said Danya Perry, Wake County Economic Development’s Director of Equitable Economic Development. “What we’re saying is, how can we build a bridge to ensure every resident can fully participate in prosperity? How do we create a welcoming structure of inclusion?”

We caught up with Danya recently to learn more about the equitable economic development (EED) program.

Q: What’s your elevator speech on the EED program?

Whenever I talk to someone about the work we’re doing, I always ask the question, “Do you believe that everybody has the opportunity to be successful, and how do you measure success?”

We want to make sure that the infrastructure is positioned so that regardless of who you ask, the opportunity is there. To us, that construct is really based on two simple words: inclusive prosperity.

Q: What are the top three benefits of the EED initiative?

  • Inclusive equitable economic development breeds empathy and compassion because you’re looking at the holistic community. We use data points to justify why we want to work in one community over another, but we also want to highlight the stories behind those numbers - it allows everyone in the community to be seen, and that’s what’s going to help drive a sustained change.
  • The opportunity for participation for small businesses and entrepreneurs. The EED program creates pathways to make sure that we understand that while we are pushing to attract big box companies, and we want to bring in those companies that are going to have splash impacts, the majority of our economic development ecosystems are made up of small businesses and entrepreneurs.
  • The program allows us to really interrogate what upward mobility is. The system only becomes as robust as the people that can engage in it. Raj Chetty, an economist out of Harvard University, did a study that quantified upward mobility, the findings of which basically said that your zip code can essentially predestine how you’ll go up the ladder. So, is that something that we can dismantle? 

Q: What part of this initiative are you most proud of?

To be honest with you, I think it’s more than an initiative, it’s a moment and this moment has really turned into a movement. I’m proud of the leaders that are willing to step out into a space that is truly uncomfortable and recognize that there are barriers to prosperity, as well as gaps in accessibility. Overall, I think that being comfortable being uncomfortable is the thing I’m most proud of.

Q: How is your EED program similar to, or different from other metros your size? Do other programs like this exist elsewhere?

The notion of talking equity has become a new part of our lexicon, and I think that the program’s scope of work is unique in our community. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the conversation about equity hasn’t been happening other places … but I think we had an opportunity to accelerate because our economic development shop, community leaders and commissioners took the lead [on embracing] the idea that every resident should have an opportunity to benefit from the rise and tide that’s raising all ships, and the fact that they recognize that not every ship was seaworthy speaks volumes.

Q: If you could give advice to an executive considering starting or locating a company in Raleigh-Wake, what would you say?

Although our community isn’t perfect, we’re attempting to be transformative in all lives. What we are trying to do is make sure everyone in this community can be successful. There’s a community vision to be one of the most diverse, equitable and inclusive regions in the country. That narrative, from a southern state in a community with a history of inequity, we want to that that story. We’re moving forward. If you want to be a part of this beautiful struggle, then come on. It speaks to the struggle in itself to be better.

Click here to learn more about Equitable Economic Development in Wake County.



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