What Role Can Economic Developers Play in Reducing Childhood Poverty?

What Role Can Economic Developers Play in Reducing Childhood Poverty? Main Photo

17 Sep 2018

Bernard Baah-Kumi, a doctoral student at New Mexico State University and intern at the Greater Gallup Economic Development Corporation, is seeking to understand how economic development activities can reduce childhood poverty. His objective is to find out the structural factors militating against child poverty and recommend policies for dealing with these structural factors.

Childhood poverty is a critical issue locally, nationally, and globally.

Addressing this pressing issue is critical for the health and wellbeing of children today, and for the future of the economy. Children who grow up in poverty are at an increased risk for dropping out of school, delinquency, drug abuse, and incarceration – outcomes that harm children while also costing the community as a whole. Throughout his internship with GGEDC, Bernard realized that child poverty and well-being is a big problem in New Mexico, but one that can be tackled. He said, “Communities can leverage their local assets or resources to improve the economic well-being and quality of life for its residents.  When communities maximize their comparative advantages, there is improvement in the efficient use of scarce resources.” Children’s lives can be improved by maximizing these resources. Research must be conducted to determine how.

Bernard’s research is ongoing, involving data analysis and practical research.

He is actively researching the interaction between social structure and child poverty in New Mexico, using county level data. This is part of his Doctor of Economic Development (DED) degree path at New Mexico State University. He is completing his doctoral project on this issue, looking for practical ways of solving the problem. Additionally, as an intern with GGEDC, “I hope to get a holistic hands-on experience on what I have been taught in the classroom on economic development topics such as, Business Recruitment and Attraction (BRA), Business Retention and Expansion (BRE), Workforce Development, neighborhood development strategies and economic development financing.” By combining his classroom education, research abilities, and knowledge gained through his work at the GGEDC, Bernard will develop actionable strategies for economic development activities that can reduce childhood poverty in McKinley County.

What is being done thus far.

At the GGEDC, Bernard works on grant writing to support GGEDC’s operational activities in Economic Development, Marketing and Attraction and Workforce Development with the objective of increasing employment, household incomes and reducing poverty in McKinley County. Additionally, he is the lead researcher and author of the McKinley County Career Pathways program, an innovative initiative linking economic development and workforce development to bring vocational and industrial training and curriculum into Gallup-McKinley County. The goal of this initiative is to increase the talent of labor pool for local employers while tackling poverty by targeting households with children in poverty for vocational and technical training. As a lead researcher, he interviewed project stakeholders and resource providers, participated in onsite tours of local manufacturing operations and compiled and analyzed local, state and national data. He then presented the findings before GGEDC Board of Directors and his efforts culminated in a grant application with the initiative set to comprise a 3-year effort with a project budget of $1.5 million.

The goal.

We asked Bernard what his goals were for his time with GGEDC. “I hope to contribute my quota to the development of a comprehensive workforce development program that will increase access to higher-skilled, higher-paying jobs to families with children living below the poverty level in McKinley County.”

About Bernard Baah-Kumi

Bernard Baah-Kumi is a native of Akim Manso, a small town in the eastern region of Ghana, West Africa. He grew up, had his basic and high school education in his hometown. He holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in economics from the University of Cape Coast, Ghana. He is currently a doctoral student in economic development and a research assistant and instructor at Department Economics, Applied Statistics and International Business, College of Business, New Mexico State University. He has also worked as a research assistant at Department of Economics and the Department of Agricultural Economics and Extension, University of Cape Coast, Ghana.

We asked him a few questions about his experiences with GGEDC and what his future goals are.

Why did you choose this community?

McKinley County has peculiar characteristics that interest me as an economic developer. The county has enormous potential in terms of its physical and human resources but ranks very low in indicators such as unemployment, education and child poverty compared to the State of New Mexico and other counties. I decided to come to McKinley County and learn about homegrown economic development strategies that can improve the economic conditions in the county.

How has being in Gallup benefited you?

Being in Gallup has afforded me the opportunity to learn different cultures and met many different wonderful people that I think I would not have been able to if I had not come to Gallup.

What are your future goals?

Following the completion of my doctoral program, I would like gain some more practical experience on the dynamics of the economic development field for about a year and go back to my home country, Ghana to practice economic development. I would like to get involved in local development struggles in poverty ridden communities in Ghana, which I consider as empowering and inherently community – centred experience. Working as a grassroots practitioner in a local context in Ghana would be very fulfilling.

Is there anything the community can do to support you and to help you achieve them?

I have applied for an Optional Practical Training (OPT) form the USCIS to get work permit to work for one year after graduation, I would be happy if a community agency can offer me the work opportunity that GGEDC has offered me to gain more practical economic development experience.