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At Southwest Airlines, our Heart represents our identity. It is more than the symbol of our brand. It’s who we are. We’re a company of people – people representing diversity of culture background, experience, and viewpoints. The vision of diversity, equity, and inclusion at Southwest is to cultivate an environment where our people can thrive. That’s why we’ve been proud to support San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation’s (EDC) Inclusive Growth Initiative. EDC is advancing business-led solutions to some of the San Diego region’s biggest challenges – small business stabilization, talent pipeline development, and cost of living factors including housing, childcare, and transportation. EDC organizes an annual leadership trip to share ideas and learn from peer metros grappling with similar challenges. Delegations from San Diego have traveled to Atlanta, Indianapolis, Louisville, Nashville, and Seattle. Southwest is proud to make trips from San Diego so easy. We applaud the organization’s efforts to mobilize business, government, and civic leaders around an inclusive economic development strategy connecting data to decision making to maximize prosperity for all San Diegans.

 

Contrary to the popular quote, the rising tide has never lifted all boats. No one recognized that more than Jim Zortman. The three-star vice admiral knew enlisted men and women transitioning out of military service struggle to make ends meet in San Diego. After retiring from the Navy, he discovered his new employer, Northrop Grumman, was creating workforce programs at area high schools to build talent pipelines for in-demand jobs. In 2017 when Zortman assumed the role as board chair of San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation (EDC), he saw an opportunity to address both problems. EDC had long focused almost exclusively on growing jobs in the region’s innovation economy. Zortman thought EDC could do more. He challenged the 60-year-old nonprofit to approach economic development in a way that would create pathways for more San Diegans to prosper.
In the years that followed, EDC launched the Inclusive Growth Initiative to tackle the region’s most pressing economic threats. The initiative’s core pillars revolve around diversifying the local talent pipeline, equipping small businesses to compete, and addressing the affordability crisis that threatens San Diegans’ quality of life.
The proportion of available workers to open jobs is at its lowest in 15 years, making the need for investing in local talent development imperative. In San Diego’s dynamic economy, post-secondary training is critical. Yet students of color who make up the largest portion of the region’s K-12 population have significantly less access to higher education than their peers.
“Community leaders, social service providers, and philanthropists have long recognized these challenges. Having a private sector-led economic development organization engage in addressing barriers to prosperity is unique – and imperative,” said Mark Cafferty, EDC’s President & CEO.
Zortman is retired now but the EDC leaders who followed him have remained committed to benchmarking the region’s progress to grow support for the initiative. EDC has programs that provide employers ways to tangibly engage in the effort. “The Inclusive Growth Initiative should be the region’s road map,” said Grant Oliphant, CEO of the Conrad Prebys Foundation. “We use EDC’s data and analysis to inform our priorities as we work to create a more inclusive, equitable, and dynamic future for all San Diegans.” Companies like Southwest Airlines, Qualcomm, SDG&E, ResMed and many more have endorsed and adopted this strategy. “
While the region has largely recovered from the pandemic, any economic gains will be stifled by San Diego’s rising costs. If San Diego is to remain competitive, our region’s employer must prioritize economic inclusion – it is a business imperative.

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Esteban Villanueva
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