by Melisa Baez, Former Chief Program Officer at Assets, Current CEO of ELUME
Imagine this: Lancaster has just been recognized as the most entrepreneurial city in the United States. Our business community, driven by the spirit of young, diverse entrepreneurial startups, is known as the hub for sustainable businesses. The local economy has been strengthened and elevated by the thriving benefits of our successful business community and the infrastructure that has been created to allow such growth.
The people that are driving this change represent the future of business: Lancaster County’s young, diverse, and talented entrepreneurs leading us confidently forward with their convictions and values.
If we can harness the rising workforce and their shared values, advance collaborations among Lancaster’s stakeholders, and nurture our environment for startups, this can be our future.
The next generation of business leaders
By 2025, over 70% of the workforce will be made up of millennials and Gen Z. If living through this pandemic hasn’t already made this abundantly clear, these generations are demanding shifts in every system that forms our communities. The hope is for new systems and structures that allow diverse individuals to thrive in an economy that is inclusive and equitable, all while not accepting oppressive behaviors and mindsets.
The ‘great resignation’ is telling the business community that this workforce has options. The rising generations are leading with a collective shared value system. The future’s business leaders must listen deeply and adapt to those values in order to attract and retain talent. What we are seeing today, in addition to the “great resignation,” is an increase in entrepreneurial startups embodying values for change. Entrepreneurship is an option where individuals are able to tackle our society’s toughest challenges through innovative business models. Entrepreneurship provides these young people the freedom to design solutions that will benefit their future in a way that works for them.
Collaborative effort of Lancaster’s stakeholders
In the past two decades, Lancaster’s economic growth has been driven by the collaborative efforts of various stakeholders. I want to recognize that our rich heritage of generational business ownership served as a foundation for that growth, yet the future demands that more people participate in strengthening our economy.
With the increase in tourism and economic growth, we have witnessed another type of growth: inequity. Since 2012, poverty rates continued to grow until about 2017, until we saw a decline to our current city poverty rate of 23.9%. That population living in poverty continues to be predominantly communities of color. We also witnessed a lack of diverse representation of the businesses that were launching in the city. The Mayor’s Coalition to Combat Poverty showed us that in order to reach gender equity in business ownership, we would need an increase of 73% of women-owned businesses and a 115% increase in businesses owned by people of color. We need stakeholders across Lancaster County to advance equity in the business landscape to reach a vibrant future.
Nurturing environment for startups
The key ingredients that are setting Lancaster up to be nationally recognized for its entrepreneurial ecosystem are the works of existing campaigns and collaborations specifically designed to ignite startups and the support to nurture a diversity of established businesses. These include:
- Promoting platforms that nurture our existing diverse startups: Dollars that are spent with local startups and businesses, especially those owned by people of color, increase the investing power of these owners and families. This creates long-term positive effects and hope of building generational wealth in communities of color. ASSETS’ business directory and initiatives like the Black Business Expo help amplify the exposure of diverse businesses.
- Creating a prepared work force and making entrepreneurship a priority: Organizations such as ASSETS, SCORE, Lancaster City Alliance, and additional partners of the Entrepreneurship Coalition running Cultivate Lancaster are working to simplify access to entrepreneurial resources. Their expertise and ability to provide accessible quality resources to local startups and businesses is what will help close the educational and access gaps for our rising leaders.
- Investing in the leaders of tomorrow: Our leaders in Lancaster must continue to advance policies and long-term investments in making entrepreneurship accessible, moving from providing short-term relief during the COVID pandemic to robust continued support.
What makes Lancaster unique and capable of achieving an ambitious vision is what stands at the heart of the County: its community. Organizations, such as the Lancaster Country Community Foundation, have helped amplify how generous and philanthropic our citizens are. Our community continues to be values-driven. We know who we are as we stand today, and now it is time to amplify the diverse voices of our rising workforce to shape our future and empower them to create a future that benefits us all.
The Lancaster Chamber is proud to be celebrating its 150th Anniversary this year, alongside our business community. In the month of March, our content theme is Women’s History Month – raising the voices and stories of our Women business owners and leaders. This article was first printed in our 150th Commemorative Edition of Thriving Magazine, you can read more here: 150th Commemorative Edition of Thriving Magazine