As they prepare for Monday’s Economic Development and Diversity Summit, Urban League of Greater Madison (ULGM) CEO Ruben Anthony and Madison Region Economic Partnership (MadREP) President Paul Jadin readily acknowledge events like this one couldn’t happen without strong support from local businesses — especially presenting sponsor Alliant Energy.
“Without the support of our sponsors like Alliant, there’s no way to accomplish what we’re accomplishing,” Anthony says. “Alliant Energy has been a partner in this event from the start.”
That start came in 2013, when the Urban League held its first diversity summit, of which Alliant Energy was a sponsor. That same year, MadREP held its own summit focused solely economic development.
“The summits were a week apart,” Jadin recalls. “We got together and said, ‘Maybe we should stop competing.’” The first combined Economic Development and Diversity Summit was held in 2014, again sponsored by Alliant Energy.
“The message we wanted to get across is that these two things are inextricably linked,” Jadin says. “The first year, it was a little difficult to get that message across. People were saying, ‘well I understand this, but I don’t understand that.’ By the second year, we were getting through to people that economic development is workforce development, and vice versa. And workforce development is all about bringing every community into the workforce as much as possible. I think the third time’s going to be a charm in terms of really honing in on that message.”
“The connection between diversity and economic development is deep,” Anthony says. “When you consider diversity — not just racial diversity but diversity of age, diversity of gender, and those sorts of things — and bring people to the table from the start, I think at the end of the day, as people find jobs and get access to opportunity, you’re starting to see community development.
“A lot of times people don’t see the connection between economic development and diversity, but Alliant has been a presenting sponsor from the start and they haven’t wavered,” Anthony adds. “That has given us the ability to grow this conference.”
It’s a connection Alliant Energy understands deeply.
“I think — I don’t think, I know — that with diversity comes strength,” says Alliant Energy Senior Vice President Jim Gallegos, who was recently named one of the 48 most powerful Latinos in Wisconsin by Madison365. “Diversity of thought is a stronger business position. We’re not just doing it to make the world better. It just makes sense for the business. It’s the right thing to do for the community, but it’s also good for our business.”
That’s why Alliant Energy is committed to supporting the Urban League.
“I think they’re very, very effective,” said Gallegos, who has served on the Urban
League’s Board of Directors for four years. “They focus on the right things. They try to change things for kids, catch it early. They focus on education. They also focus on how do we get to people, how do we train people so they can have a stable life. They focus on starting the conversation, they focus on diversity education in the community.”
Alliant Energy’s commitment to diversity extends to other organizations, too. Gallegos notes that they are strong supporters of both the Latino Chamber of Commerce and Centro Hispano, with a staff member serving on the Centro Board of Directors. It’s also an internal commitment, he said, noting that Alliant Energy’s board of directors is made up of 60 percent women and 20 percent people of color.
The company is also committed to recruiting a diverse workforce.
“We don’t go through the routine, ‘let’s post it and they will come,’” says Gallegos, noting that the company works hard to recruit in minority communities. “We use Urban League programs, especially their job program, to catch that talent pool. The pool of candidates we interview for open positions is very diverse.”
“Alliant has been a very significant player in our whole diversity approach,” Jadin said, adding that Alliant Energy Director of Energy Efficiency Anne Carter has served on MadREP’s diversity workgroup since 2013.
Monday’s conference, which features speakers like USC professor Dr. Manuel Pastor and Assistant Commerce Secretary Jay Williams, is a time and place for “cross-cultural collaboration, in terms of sitting down and sharing ideas and talking. This is a place where Alliant and other companies can come to learn best practices that some of these other companies have tested out.”
Anthony says he expects about 500 people to attend.
In addition to acting as presenting sponsor of the conference, Alliant Energy is an active participant, Anthony says.
“Alliant is always sending people from their team to this conference for professional development,” he says. “A lot of those individuals teach some of the breakouts.”
Gallegos says Alliant Energy’s commitment to diversity runs deep at the company, which serves mostly rural customers in Wisconsin and Iowa — and that its support of diversity and inclusion programs remains a priority.
“Talk is cheap,” he says. “Putting your money where your mouth is important when it comes to really supporting those critical programs.”
The Economic Development and Diversity Summit takes place Monday, May 9 at Monona Terrace Convention Center. More information and registration is available here.