Photos courtesy of Hedi Rudd

The Madison Region’s Economic Development and Diversity Summit celebrated 10 years on May 2nd at Monona Terrace Convention Center. The summit, co-hosted by Urban League of Greater Madison (UGLM) and Madison Region Economic Partnership (MadREP) offers strategies to advance talent, opportunity and growth for the region, which includes the Greater Madison area and counties including Dane, Columbia, Dodge, Green, Iowa, Jefferson, Rock, and Sauk. 

Over 500 attendees participated in the event and came from all sectors, including small businesses, non-profits, local government and corporate. Angela Arrington, Corporate Counsel, Manager at Alliant Energy, a presenting sponsor for the summit, came to learn and to share knowledge as a panelist. Arrington took part in a breakout session moderated by Unfinished Business founder, Mark Richardson, who helped the panel explore “What is talent really looking for?” Richardson’s business focuses on helping to connect talented individuals to opportunities to obtain fulfilling employment. Arrington enjoyed the chance to connect in person, in a vibrant space. “People were eager to learn and connect, the sessions were relevant and there were many takeaways that will help bolster the local economy and most importantly, help us to retain people once they make the choice to work in our region.” 

Arrington also noted how important it is for local corporations to not only send their staff to events like the summit, but for their C-Suite staff to also participate. While sponsoring an event is one way to support, being visible sends an important message and provides an opportunity to network and share space, while learning and leaning into the important information being presented. 

The day started with welcoming remarks from Dr. Ruben Anthony, President and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Madison and Jason Fields, President and CEO of MadREP, who were joined by their board chairs Beth Curley-Prestine (ULGM) and Peter Tan (MAdREP.) Laura Dresser, Associate Director of COWS and Clinical Associate Professor at the Sandra Rosenbaum School of Social Work at UW-Madison provided an update on Wisconsin’s economy and what it means for our workforce. Dresser drew on key data on unemployment, wages, racial disparity, and inequality. With our state facing intense racial disparities, Dresser touched on how the pandemic affected the workplace, the status of wage by race, gender, and education and what makes us unique. 

Dresser was followed by Jason R. Thompson, who delivered the morning keynote. A diversity, equity and inclusion author, Thompson co-founded CAPE Inclusion. His book Diversity and Inclusion Matters: Tactics and Tools to Inspire Equity and Game-Changing Performance, provides guidance and step-by-step instruction for building a successful diversity, equity, and inclusion initiative from scratch. 

The afternoon provided an opportunity for attendees to attend breakout sessions, including “What is talent really looking For?”  Which Arrington notes is an important and timely topic as workers want to bring their authentic selves to the workplace and employers want to support that. Arrington was joined by Clara Tavarez (Promega), Erin Hillson (City of Madison) and Grace Fernando (UW Credit Union.) 

Presenting Sponsor, UW Health’s Director of allied Health Education and Career Pathways, moderated a robust discussion “Pathways from Youth to Adult Apprenticeship: Examining UW Health as a Local Model.” Recently gaining national attention, the UW Health and partners announced the nation’s first program designed specifically to support racially, ethnically, and socio-economically diverse health care personnel advance their careers to become registered nurses. The “earn while you learn” model is promising strategy for helping underserved populations access good paying jobs, while also addressing critical workforce shortages. Other breakout sessions focused on embracing neurodiversity in the workplace and how investing in quality of life and place is the best path to Midwestern rejuvenation. 

After lunch, the crowd heard again from the leadership of ULGM and MadREP, as well as Dane County Executive, Joe Parisi and Governor Evers. The afternoon plenary featured Troy Lemaile-Stovall, CEO of TEDCO (Maryland Technology Development Corporation) and Lela Lee, DEI expert, cartoonist, actress, and writer. 

Attendees then celebrated the closing of the 10-year summit with ice cream. Arrington, reflecting on the summit, looks forward to next year and hopes that there will be some reflection on the trends that effect the workplace, noting that DE&I work should be something that employers see as relevant every year and not simply a trend. This is how the region and the people who populate it will be best served and grow and how we will retain talent.