By Michelle Xiarhos Curran
ECCF Communications Writer
In Essex County, cross-sector collaboration is helping residents secure living-wage advanced manufacturing jobs so they can support themselves and their families. It’s empowering people to navigate the digital world by boosting access to tools, technology and training. And it’s the “secret” ingredient amplifying arts and culture as central to the quality of life here.
Cross-sector collaboration – grounded in solid data – is what will continue to move this work forward and help our communities leverage additional opportunities to create an Essex County that is equitable for all.
“When we collaborate in thoughtful, intentional ways, we can achieve sustainable, positive change – together,” Beth Francis, president and CEO of Essex County Community Foundation (ECCF), told a packed Cleary Hall on the campus of Endicott College on June 1.
More than 400 leaders representing the philanthropic, business and nonprofit communities – and nearly two dozen public officials – gathered for ECCF’s State of Essex County: Elevating Community and Collaboration, the first event of its kind for ECCF. During the event, ECCF presented new Impact Essex County data on local demographic, economic, workforce and education trends that paint a picture of a region with many evolving strengths, and plenty of opportunities for improvement and growth.
“But before I dig into some of the highlights,” said Stratton Lloyd, ECCF’s executive vice president and COO, “I want to acknowledge that while we’ll be talking about things in numbers and percentages, the data on this website represents the stories of real people, our friends and neighbors with lived experiences that serve as the motivation for our collective work.”
On the positive side, the region’s high school graduation rates are up; teen birth rates are down; unemployment is low and more Massachusetts residents than ever have health insurance. On the other hand, the cost of living here is prohibitive for so many (the living wage for a family of four with two earners in Essex County is $133,300); poverty rates are up; educational declines, exacerbated by COVID, are severely impacting students; and more workforce training programs are needed to support local workers seeking living-wage jobs.
“This data, these 100 indicators, serve as a call to action for all of us,” Lloyd said.
Data presented at the event supports trends across the state and aligns with many of the priorities of the Healey-Driscoll administration, according to Lieutenant Governor Kim Driscoll, who was the keynote speaker of the night.
Driscoll, the former mayor of Salem and longtime advisor and advocate of ECCF’s work, spoke about an unprecedented housing crisis driving up the cost of living, citing a current shortage of 200,000 housing units. She also spoke about proposed state investments in education, including funding for mental health support for students.
“It does feel like we’re at an inflection time coming out of this pandemic,” she said.
At the event, ECCF outlined its systems philanthropy approach to problem-solving, which culminates in the creation of a flywheel effect.
“When we collaborate and think systemically on issues impacting our community, we create the invaluable social capital and trust that is vital to a thriving Essex County, one that is agile and resilient, no matter what comes our way,” said Lloyd. “This trust is then able to grow exponentially over time.”
This framework has been brought to life through ECCF’s systems-change efforts, which are making real differences in the lives of Essex County residents. The stories behind Advancing Digital Equity, the Advanced Manufacturing Training Expansion Program and Creative County were told through inspirational videos that illustrated just how effective cross-sector collaboration can be in creating sustainable change.
“It’s a powerful thing when community and collaboration come together,” said Francis. “It opens opportunity for all, and it shows that we’re so much greater than the sum of the individual roles we all play.”
And ECCF believes there is a seat at the table for anyone interested in this work.
As the program wound down and attendees made their way to the lobby of Cleary Hall for refreshments, community-building and a collaborative arts project led by artist Maya Erdelyi, there was a lot of positive energy in the air. New connections were being made; former relationships renewed and business, nonprofit and community leaders were enthusiastically sharing thoughts and ideas.
“It was so great to hear the data, updates, keynote address, and sharing of ECCF’s progress on target areas,” said Felicia Pierce, deputy chief executive officer of the North Shore CDC. “It was truly what I needed as a nonprofit leader to help me fill my cup for the road ahead.”
To learn more about the data discussed at the event, and to explore more than 100 indicators surrounding the health and well-being of Essex County, please visit ImpactEssexCounty.org.