Community leaders: How can supporting local collaboration promote economic growth in New England? Community leaders: How can supporting local collaboration promote economic growth in New England?

Boston Fed honors Black History Month at fireside chat, panel discussion with The Partnership, Inc. Boston Fed honors Black History Month at fireside chat, panel discussion with The Partnership, Inc.

February 22, 2024

Federal Reserve Bank of Boston President and CEO Susan M. Collins joined members of New England nonprofit The Partnership, Inc., for a fireside chat and panel discussion in honor of Black History Month.

Panelists with expertise in business, finance, and education described the key economic issues they see facing communities of color, including rising college tuition costs, lack of access to capital, and persistent racial wealth gaps.

During a fireside chat with Pratt Wiley, president of The Partnership, Inc., Collins also reflected on her first year at the Boston Fed, her career journey, and the Bank’s key role in supporting collaboration among local leaders across New England.

“Is there work to do? Absolutely. At the same time, how do we solve challenges by working together?” she said.

The networking event took place Wednesday evening at Federal Reserve Plaza, with more than 120 attendees. The Partnership, Inc., which cohosted the event, is a Boston-based group that provides leadership development programs for professionals of color.

Collins highlights the importance of local collaboration, research on labor market disparities

During the fireside chat, Wiley interviewed Collins about her career trajectory, her role at the Bank, and recent research on labor market disparities.

Collins said she was first inspired to join academia by her father, who worked for the United Nations. She counted him as one of her most important mentors, along with her dissertation advisor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“What’s most helpful in a mentor? There’s a couple things in my view,” she said. “One is candor, the second is really knowing they have your best interest at heart, and the third is that they have breadth of interest. … A lot of the people who were very helpful to me were really different from me.”

Collins said one of the most surprising parts of her role at the Boston Fed has been learning more about the wide range of work Bank employees do: from launching the FedNow® Service, a new instant payments system, to working with community leaders through the Working Places initiative.

The initiative supports local collaboration to strengthen the economies of New England’s rural areas and smaller, post-industrial cities. Since joining the Bank, Collins has traveled across the region to meet with a range of business and community leaders about their economic perspectives, including Working Places teams. She said she was inspired by the willingness she sees among residents to work together and tackle complex issues.

“One of the key things I find incredibly valuable is the conversations I have throughout the First District to really understand what people are experiencing, what they see as challenges, (and) what they see as opportunities,” she said.

Collins also discussed a multiyear research effort the Boston Fed recently launched with community partners to explore wealth divides and build upon its 2015 report, “The Color of Wealth in Boston.” She said that better understanding the barriers people face in the labor market is critical to achieving the Federal Reserve’s mandate of maximum employment and price stability, and a vibrant economy that works for all.

Panelists discuss key economic concerns, opportunities to close wealth divides

Boston Fed Community Affairs Officer Prabal Chakrabarti spoke with three colleagues of The Partnership about the economic challenges and opportunities they see in the region. Access to ownership of businesses and homes, low-cost capital, and higher education were among their top concerns.

Nicole Obi, president and CEO of the Black Economic Council of Massachusetts, shared how closing the racial wealth gap in the state could significantly grow its economy. She also discussed how many local business owners will be reaching retirement age in the next few years and looking to sell their companies. This could be a valuable opportunity for entrepreneurs, Obi said.

“What we’re finding is … our businesses are still struggling with access to affordable capital and the ability to scale,” she said. “If everyone is struggling with hiring, you can imagine what our small businesses are facing.”

Glynn Lloyd, executive director of Mill Cities Community Investments in Lawrence, Mass., echoed Obi’s concerns. He spoke about the organization’s role as a community development financial institution in broadening access to capital, as well as potential opportunities for entrepreneurs interested in renewable energy. Lloyd also highlighted the importance of “ownership” in closing wealth gaps.

Dr. Laura Morgan Roberts, an associate professor at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, discussed how the rising costs of higher education are impacting families’ financial stability. She said that initiatives directed at supporting first-generation students are critical, and it’s important to continue to “ask the difficult questions about the cost of higher education.”

Roberts also raised concerns about the long-term consequences of student loans that can take graduates years to pay back after they enter the workforce.

“We need degrees that pay, and we also need to have jobs that don’t require degrees,” she said. “We need to continue opening up pathways for people to have viable careers … to grow and develop as entrepreneurs, as small business owners.”

Boston Fed Senior Vice President and General Counsel Steven Wright thanked the event speakers and attendees.

“(As we were planning to celebrate Black History Month), we realized we could bring this very sector-diverse group together to have a very meaningful discussion, and it’s a discussion we want to continue,” he said. “We need your insights.”

Learn more about the Boston Fed’s Working Places initiative on

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