Incorporating equity and inclusive economic development [1] into the CEDS strengthens the quality of the process and the integrity of the document and makes regions more economically competitive. Equity, from an economic development planning perspective, is not a plug and play tool or checklist, but rather a set of strategies and targeted approaches to serve populations that may have been underserved by traditional methods to economic development. In the past, some economic development policies have failed to provide economic opportunities equally across all communities exacerbating economic exclusion, with particular discrimination by race, gender, socio-economic status and geography, resulting in geographic inequalities and impeding growth. Regions are now recognizing these impacts and are steadily equipping themselves with the knowledge and resources to take action.

The following serves as a preliminary guide for how EDDs and other regional planning organizations can approach equity and inclusion within their CEDS process and document.  These recommendations serve as a vital step in incorporating processes and building definitive action towards inclusive, equitable growth.  Embedding equity in the CEDS and regional economic strategies in an accessible, adoptable way which resonates with the widest possible portion of applicable shareholders can help enable a region to achieve more robust and durable economic growth by including valuable and untapped assets that may have previously been excluded from economic opportunity.  


EDDs should provide clarity on the approach used to create the CEDS, ensuring equitable principles serve as a foundation for the process. Adding language to the CEDS that lays out the process will help establish relationships early on and increase opportunities for engagement with community groups, diversifying the voices at the table and mirroring the groups most impacted by implemented strategies. When done well, the process enhances a level of transparency that organically calls for collaboration and clearly states a region’s priorities and creates the necessary space for equitable outcomes. A few things must be considered to lead with equity in the process: 

  • Lead with a commitment to transparency. Once there is buy-in, where an EDD or other regional planning organization expresses its commitment to honesty and openness in the CEDS, relationships previously difficult to sustain will solidify.  The strategic planning process will reveal the shortfalls and opportunity gaps that inhibited success in the past and encourage previously left out communities to apply their input and expertise.  
  • Be intentional in your advisory council engagement and selection. It is important that strategic planning committees/advisory councils have not only geographic representation, but also diversity across race, ethnicity, and income. Inviting community-based organizations deeply connected to their community to represent community voices will take time but will yield powerful results when translating analysis into actionable strategies and goals.  
  • Be granular. Be clear how individuals are selected, the consideration criteria, and the timeframe and commitment needed, and if there are any honorariums given for the expertise provided during the process. Provide clarity on how often the advisors will convene.  
  • Clearly state the goal for convening. Centering equity makes starting points clear and identifies blind spots in any gatherings or convenings. The objectives begin to move towards establishing trust, breaking down silos, and reimagining a shared vision for the document.  
  • Make feedback circular. To eliminate the potential for community burnout, make sure to not only collect feedback from the community, but also to incorporate feedback from the community into the plan and share resources and information back to the community as a core action of the planning process. This is also a form of power sharing and addressing power dynamics between decision makers and community groups. 
  • Avoid static documents. Make room for modifications throughout the life-cycle of the CEDS. This will account for changing economic conditions in the community, allowing room for new voices to provide new perspectives on what was previously shared at the start of the planning process. Allow for continual inclusion of previously missing/marginalized voices, perspectives, and viewpoints. Make this part of any resilience-building efforts.  
  • Be clear about equity. Be direct and forthright in any equity conversations.  An equity statement is welcomed but does not drive action. When equity is centered it will be woven throughout the document. The inequities in the region should be clearly identified in pre-research and should inform the planning process. Specificity in who is impacted should be woven throughout the CEDS document, so it is clear what impedes the community from building wealth collectively as a region
  • Ensure access to engagement opportunities. When designing equitable engagement processes, consider the format, location, and scheduling of events that serve audiences who have been historically excluded from engagement in the past. Consider both virtual and in-person engagement formats to align with varying abilities of residents and digital access gaps. Translation of any materials and discussion in languages should reflect the languages spoken by the local community. Ensure any physical locations are safe and convenient to reach for all community members


Recommended Resource

Greater Peoria Economic Development Council (https://greaterpeoriaedc.org/regional-strategy-ceds/) provides a good example of a transparent planning process that results in a CEDS in which equity is woven throughout the document. Diversity, equity, and inclusion are infused throughout the goal areas to address systemic barriers to wealth creation and quality of life in the region.

Summary Background 

The Summary Background section of the CEDS is the reader’s first introduction to the region and describes the geographic area and the people who live and work there. An equitable CEDS will introduce the economic history of the region, creating a shared understanding of the critical questions, “What have we done?” and “Where have we been?” 

Typically, in Indigenous communities, the orator is the archivist, researcher, and knowledge keeper all in one. They educate the community on what has been done to build the community to help inform how one should move forward. An equitable CEDS should similarly include the history of all those who have lived in the region, including Indigenous communities.  This history builds a space for regions to make their case for equity. A shared understanding of any wrongs of the past, legacies of distrust between leaders and communities, and systemic barriers to economic prosperity creates the transparency needed to build a foundation for action. 

Data in the Summary Background section should be used as part of this storytelling effort to paint a more accurate picture of the people and businesses that exist within the region. Data that describes demographics, industry clusters, and income should be disaggregated where possible in order to show how populations have grown in the region. Breaking down metrics, such as income, by race and ethnicity, gender, and geography across the region provides a different lens into how the structure of the local economy contributes to economic disparities.  Data that describes populations should also use an asset-based framework. While it is important to note disparities between races and geographies, language should clearly communicate and celebrate diversity, highlight the assets and economic successes of communities by industry and the opportunities that full access to economic systems can generate for communities. 

Recommended Resources

Below are some tools for EDDs and other regional organizations looking to identify equity data and/or present data equitably.

Mid-Columbia Economic Development District (MCEDD) (https://www.gorgeeconomy.org/) provides a good example of a region introducing shared language in the CEDS with a common framework towards equity. MCEDD recognized the CEDS process as “an opportunity...to consider where there are gaps in economic opportunity, barriers to accessing this benefit that may vary by population or community, and ways to support improving outcomes.” MCEDD held seven public sessions - all virtual - as part of the process to update its five-year CEDS and partnered with a local community-based organization to host focus groups with the region's Native American and Latino/a/Hispanic communities. A summary of the CEDS in Spanish (https:/assets.website-files.com/622e8847cde037798a8d0e62/62436ff0592ced0c064d5b16_MCEDD-CEDS_2022-2027_Resumen-Spanish_web.pdf) (PDF) was also created and is hosted on their CEDS website.

SWOT Analysis

The SWOT analysis is an important tool in the CEDS development process that encourages critical thinking, stakeholder/community feedback and input, and qualitative data collection. The process for developing the SWOT and the stakeholders involved are critical and should be noted in the CEDS as an introduction to the SWOT analysis. Allowing a broad and diverse group of stakeholders and community members to contribute their input to the SWOT analysis ensures that this component of the CEDS is representative of many different views. However, the SWOT analysis may result in particular challenges related to equity. Below are some of these critical pitfalls of the SWOT analysis related to equity and tips to avoid them:

SWOT Pitfalls and Tips for Ensuring an Equitable SWOT
SWOT Pitfalls   Tips for Ensuring an Equitable SWOT
Items in SWOT analysis do not align with other sections of the CEDS, particularly those items related to equity challenges that might rely on qualitative rather than quantitative data.
Graphic of a blue arrow pointing right
  • Connect SWOT to findings from data in the Summary Background
  • Ensure the items identified in the SWOT connect to the Strategic Action/Direction of the plan by highlighting opportunities that are actionable
The resulting SWOT does not accurately reflect the views of diverse populations and stakeholders.
Graphic of a blue arrow pointing right
  • Include broad stakeholder input in the analysis to ensure diverse perspectives are present
  • Identify where community voice is included in the analysis; test findings with a broad group of community members across organizations, institutions, and place-based stakeholders
The SWOT frames resource gaps between communities as a weakness or threat of a particular community rather than a systemic issue that needs to be addressed.
Graphic of a blue arrow pointing right

Here are some potential alternatives to the SWOT analysis that still achieve the result of a SWOT but may work better for your particular community or region:

Potential Alternatives to the SWOT Analysis
Alternative How it functions Examples
Strength, Opportunities, Aspirations, and Risks (SOAR) This analysis utilizes an asset-based framework as discussed above which allows easier access to action and solutions.
Needs, Opportunities, Improvements, Strengths, Exceptions (NOISE) This analysis is more typically been used in business strategic planning, but its focus on assets and action and a recognition of current activity could make it a useful tool for some regions.
WealthWorks: Eight Forms of Capital This approach provides a framework to leverage local assets by exploring and naming multiple forms of capital/wealth that exist in a community or region. These are: Individual, Intellectual, Social, Natural, Built, Financial, Political, and Cultural.

Strategic Direction/Action Plan  

The next step following analysis and community engagement is compiling what changes have occurred across the region that impact equitable growth. This process is typically translated into measurable goals and objectives and should lay the foundation for the strategic direction your region will take to tackle the inequities that inhibit community progress.

Regions are comprised of communities of varying density levels, including a combination of urban cores, small-to-midsize cities, and rural towns. Areas of concentrated economic disadvantage are persistent features of the U.S. landscape. An inclusive CEDS sets the tone for an entire region. Recognizing communities of all sizes and determining when to address specific community need is vital to sustaining equitable growth. 

Common goals and strategies found in the CEDS include small business/entrepreneurial incubation, diversifying industries, creating quality jobs, and preserving natural resources. One common challenge related to equity is that CEDS plans rarely tackle the disparities found during discovery and research. Where poverty is identified, tracks to address it are often misdirected and point to other institutions to solve, without assessing the capacity of the ecosystem to address system issues that may perpetuate inaccessibility to wealth building opportunities.  

The action plan is your opportunity to step beyond just identifying disparities and inequities in your region and plan concrete steps to address them. As you look to prioritize, ensure that your activities and objectives are addressing systemic changes rather than symptoms of the larger problem for long-term sustainability and impact. In setting these goals, include as much information as possible about the intended audience for the goal, including race, gender, age, geography, and other critical factors within your region.

Actionable strategies and goals should:  

  • Clearly identify an equity advantage found during the strategic planning and engagement process
  • Identify what institutions to convene to activate a collective approach to elevating opportunity  
  • Outline what is being measured or the desired outcome 
  • Identify the length of time needed to address an approach which builds shared prosperity  
  • Name who is responsible or best equipped to drive a new approach  

Recommended Resource

Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (SEWRPC) (https://www.sewrpc.org/SEWRPCFiles/EconDev/CEDSReport-June2021.pdf) (PDF)) is a region in which its CEDS recognizes the importance and urgency of confronting the region’s equity issues throughout the document. It also includes an “Equity Analysis of Action Plan” that applies an equity lens to all of the CEDS strategies in an effort to evaluate the extent that they would benefit people of color and low-income residents.

Evaluation Framework 

One of the commonly asked questions when applying equitable strategies in regions is how to measure efforts and the timeline for results. Applying equitable strategies may not immediately remedy longstanding marginalization across communities and racial groups. Economic development staff should track indicators linked to their long-term strategies. This approach allows for methodological approach to the CEDS which helps each update build upon the other, providing direction for future stakeholders in the region.

There are three broad categories regions can use to measure progress: 

Economic Resilience 

The economic resilience section aims to better prepare regions to anticipate, withstand, and bounce back from any type of shock, disruption, or stress it may experience. Regions that prioritize equity and economic inclusion are well-positioned to be more resilient and respond to an unpredictable economic and climate future. They are effective at amplifying the talents, expertise, and potential of all residents, while at the same time seek to minimize socioeconomic disparities that can lead to regional instability and decline. A regional commitment to equity and inclusion is a regional commitment to becoming more resilient.    
Make an effort to be intentional about incorporating equity and inclusion when crafting these strategies. For example, steady-state initiatives, designed to withstand an economic shock, may include building and strengthening networks with community groups, non-profits, and other organizations led by communities of color; enhancing inclusive workforce development initiatives; and building regional capacity to address the needs of communities at risk. Responsive initiatives require a solidified stakeholder network capable of providing assistance and resources to meet the needs of all communities within a region.  

The negative effects of economic shocks, climate change, and planning decisions made without authentic community engagement most severely impact communities of color and low-income communities. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines [2] environmental justice (EJ) as “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.”  Consider incorporating the principles of EJ into the CEDS planning and implementation process, including through deeper engagement with local community groups and organizations, incorporating more voices and perspectives into decision making processes, and researching/presenting data on the environmental and health impacts of planning decisions.

Recommended Resources

  • EPA’s EJ Screen (https://www.epa.gov/ejscreen) is a mapping and data tool designed to provide users with access to a dataset that combines environmental indictors (including air toxics risk, Superfund proximity, wastewater discharge, and more) and demographic indicators (including the percentage of people of color in a community, income levels, unemployment rates, age, and more).
  • The Council on Environmental Quality’s (CEQ) Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool (https://screeningtool.geoplatform.gov/en/#3/33.47/-97.5) was created to help Federal agencies identify communities that are “marginalized, underserved, and overburdened by pollution,” and it can also be useful to reference in regional planning and development effort.

Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) has developed a CEDS (https://www.mapc.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/Final-CEDS-022521.pdf) (PDF)) that focuses on the issues of equity and inclusion by defining terms, explaining their importance, and framing goals around these issues. The process and plan have three major themes: racial equity, economic resilience, and climate resilience.

[1] EDA defines equity as providing support to traditionally underserved populations or underserved communities. (See EDA’s definition of underserved at https://www.eda.gov/sites/default/files/2022-06/EDA-FY21-Investment-Priorities-Definitions.pdf) (PDF). New Growth Innovation Network (NGIN) defines inclusive economic development as a model for long-term regional prosperity, which equitably engages all individuals and assets in the community. It ensures that diverse talent and diverse business owners participate in the strategies that drive economic development in their region. This section grew out of a project EDA undertook with NGIN and its partners focused on inclusive economic recovery from COVID-19 economic impacts. Over the course of the project, the team worked with a group of EDDs to capture insights as they embedded economic inclusion and equitable economic strategies into their CEDS COVID-19 economic recovery plans. For more information, please view the award announcement ( https://www.eda.gov/news/blog/2021/03/08/eda-partners-new-growth-innovation-network-and-nado-research-foundation) and the website (https://newgrowth.org/resources/eda_project/).

[2]. United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2022, September 6). Learn About Environmental Justice. EPA. Retrieved March 23, 2023, from https://www.epa.gov/environmentaljustice/learn-about-environmental-justice.