June marks the 25th anniversary of my joining the team that is Greater Dubuque Development. Our mission is to shape the Greater Dubuque area’s future through continued growth, prosperity and inclusion. Over the past 25 years, we have certainly achieved both growth and prosperity. Record job levels, increased household median wage, slow but steady population growth, and increased investment in our community have fueled an economy we can be proud of.

Yet, I am convinced that what we do together in the next

25 months as we endure and rise from this COVID-19 pandemic will be more critical to our future than what was achieved in the past

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25 years. Because, while we have achieved growth and prosperity as a community, inclusion has not followed. Zippia.com recently rated Iowa the second-worst state for black Americans due to our high income gap, education gap, home ownership disparity and incarceration rate between black and white residents. While the senseless murders of George Floyd and countless others have highlighted renewed attention to years of racial inequality and injustice, we have been observing racial injustice in our community through not only the data at our fingertips, but also through the anecdotal experiences of our friends and neighbors. These experiences range from seemingly innocuous microaggressions to overt acts of racism.

And while our Board of Directors and investors proudly invest resources in organizations and programs doing valuable work to achieve an inclusive economy — the Dubuque Dream Center, the Fountain of Youth, the Multicultural Family Center, Opportunity Dubuque (Northeast Iowa Community College) and Inclusive Dubuque (Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque) to name a few — it is clear that we have to accelerate inclusion efforts in our

region through a unified commitment and strategy if we are to prosper into the future. This strategy needs to include access to education, jobs, quality housing, and efforts to re-design inclusive workplace practices.

When we provide community tours to prospects interviewing at one of our companies or host new employees in our Distinctively Dubuque newcomer program, we hear that the Greater Dubuque area is beautiful, that our community showcases progress and growth, and that we have the quality of life young professionals are seeking. We also hear disappointment at our community’s lack of

racial/ethnic diversity, and even fear from people of color who wonder if they will find inclusion, belonging and prosperity in a community that is 90% white. Sadly, as people choose to move on from our community, too often we learn that their fears were founded.

The next 25 months will test our legacy of resilience that we draw from during difficult economic times. If we simply open the same playbook, and laser focus on job growth, population growth, and community investment, without ensuring inclusion, we do so at our economic peril. We cannot change the demographics of our community overnight, but we can embrace what it means to be a community of choice in how we listen, invest resources, and lead change for a new economic era. Together we will make the Greater Dubuque area the best place on earth to weather any storm.

Rick Dickinson has been executive director of Greater Dubuque Development Corp for 25 years.