BALTIMORE — The first Economic Inclusion Conference and Business Showcase held at Coppin State University proved a hit with organizers and stakeholders alike.
It also promises to lead to more such conferences and hopefully, a stronger West Baltimore, said Dr. Ronald C. Williams, the interim dean at the Coppin State University College of Business.
“It was a positive step in the right direction,” Williams said about the April 27 conference. “It exceeded our expectations. We thought it would be a success but it also brought together various groups into the room including the governor’s office, the mayor’s office, the banking sector, the legislature, private sector and young people.”
The conference began with the theme “Economic Inclusion: Entrepreneurial Progress through Meaningful Participation,” which was aimed to provide community members with important information related to banking and small business access. The morning group session was sponsored by the FDIC.
“Economic inclusion is a term used to describe a variety of public and private efforts aimed at bringing underserved consumers into the financial mainstream,” Williams said.
In one of the April 27 sessions, discussion centered on the number of partnerships and initiatives focused not only on expanding the availability of safe, affordable financial products and services, but also on education consumers about ways to become fully integrated into the banking system.
“One of the issues we can help solve is the financial institution, the banking institution which have trust issues not just with urban communities, but in general,” Williams said.
“A trusted institution like Coppin State is closer to the community and can help bridge the relationship between the traditional financial community and the community such as the one in West Baltimore.”
The conference pulled together stakeholders from the community, community development corporation and neighborhood associations as well as the financial services industry acted as prime sponsors with PNC Bank, the FDIC’s 60 member banks in the region, Innovative Advisory Group, HireElexis, and others.
Among the speakers were Scott Lilly, the vice president of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund; Herbert Jordan, the deputy secretary of the Maryland Governor’s Office of Minority Affairs; and Stephen Auvil, the senior vice president for technology transfer and commercialization at the Maryland Technology Development Corporation.
“We also had participation from Carver High School and our students here had their own session that they attended,” Williams said. “I believe the students should take away from this that they have a role in revitalization and the economic future and their pathway is through education. Entrepreneurial education in particular.”
As interim dean of the business school, Williams entered the conference with three objectives. First, he has been working to get specialized accreditation and second, he is trying to grow enrollment at Coppin State. His third objective was to reach out to the external community, something he says the business school hadn’t previously done.
“People need to know that we have a business school at Coppin and in light of the unrest that we had last year, we need to play a real role in West Baltimore’s revitalization efforts,” he said. “We can be a space where stakeholder groups can come and have the kind of conversations like we had at the conference. We’ve been identified by the mayor’s office as an anchor institution, so we need to provide a space to have dialogue.”
The conference will be followed by smaller sessions later this year, Williams said.
“We’ll also be holding the conference annually,” he said.