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Shared Prosperity: A Key to Health and Well-being Across Communities

How do we leverage our balance sheet in a way that it actually accrues to the benefit of the community and still meets our business needs?”  This was the critical question that leadership at BJC Healthcare asked in 2021 when evaluating how to address health disparities in their service area, leading to their depository relationship with Midwest BankCentre. 

Recently, at the national conference for the Society of Public Health Educators held in downtown St. Louis, I had the privilege to share insights on a panel exploring the vital collaboration between financial institutions and public health organizations. The focus was on leveraging these partnerships to positively impact social determinants to health. My message, consistent with my long-standing belief, centered on financial well-being through Shared Prosperity as a crucial factor in improving health outcomes for communities adversely affected by their environment.

Financial Well-Being: The Foundation of Human Capital

The concept of financial well-being has evolved for me over time. I view it as the culmination of three elements: human capital—our formal and informal education; social capital—the depth, breadth, and quality of our networks or relationships; and financial capital—our earnings, ownership, or borrowing capacity to build wealth. Financial well-being is about bringing stability and peace of mind into our homes. Shared Prosperity takes this concept further by ensuring that our investments equip people from all walks of life, representing the diversity of our region, to secure and advance in well-paying jobs without exclusion.

Shared Prosperity also emphasizes providing broader access to business opportunities, encouraging a more diverse group of owners and fostering ownership across various sectors. It's about seeing the value in investing in the region’s infrastructure, making cities like St. Louis not just livable but desirable places for jobs and investment. Prioritizing racially and economically diverse neighborhoods is essential for creating sustainable communities that contribute to a stronger and more inclusive St. Louis.

The Race to the Top: A Collective Effort

The path to Shared Prosperity involves uniting the region in a collective effort to excel. Every individual and organization contributes according to their strengths. A critical aspect of this journey is our continued investment in the foundational elements of prosperous communities: cultural institutions, human services, arts, parks, and educational facilities. By channeling resources through tax dollars, private philanthropy, and business investments into these areas, we not only sustain but enrich the cultural and educational landscape that forms the backbone of our region.

However, there is a compelling need to broaden our investment philosophy, particularly towards transformative projects like the Brickline Greenway orchestrated by Great Rivers Greenway (GRG). It exemplifies a trifecta for the region as a beacon of Shared Prosperity. This project is transformative at its core, aiming to mitigate housing disparities, catalyze asset growth, and bolster population retention. By facilitating job creation and enhancing connectivity, the Brickline Greenway stands as a testament to how intentional investments in our physical spaces can spur community-wide upliftment. In parts of our region, like North St. Louis, economic initiatives like this can significantly enhance the financial well-being of the community.

Moreover, attracting companies specializing in areas such as advanced manufacturing, technology, financial services and beyond and creating a welcoming environment for startups are pivotal steps towards economic growth. These efforts, combined with strategies to grow the population with a diversified skill set, are essential for addressing challenges related to funding amenities and providing a workforce for new and existing businesses. Organizations like the International Institute play a significant role in helping St. Louis attract a fair share of the growing Hispanic and other diverse markets, showcasing the importance of inclusivity in population growth strategies.

Earning Comfortably: The Role of Business Productivity

As we strive to enhance business productivity and population growth, ensuring that individuals earn a comfortable wage is imperative. A reasonable wage supports consumer spending on homes, cars, and other essentials, which, in turn, drives economic growth. Given that consumer spending accounts for approximately 70% of the U.S. GDP, the ability of individuals to earn sufficiently is a cornerstone of economic prosperity.

Shared Prosperity is not just an economic imperative; it's a public health necessity. By focusing on financial well-being, we can address many social determinants to health, improving life outcomes across communities irrespective of race. This approach requires a collective effort, a commitment to equity, and an understanding of the interconnectedness of our economic systems and public health.

In conclusion, the path to Shared Prosperity and its significance in uplifting an entire region transcends racial and economic boundaries. It's about creating a sustainable ecosystem where everyone has the opportunity to thrive. By investing in people, infrastructure, and institutions, and by fostering an environment that encourages economic diversity and innovation, we can achieve a healthier, more prosperous future for all. The discussions at the national conference in St. Louis serve as a reminder of the powerful impact financial institutions and public health organizations can have when they work together towards Shared Prosperity. It's a goal that demands our collective action and unwavering dedication.

It Matters Where You Bank.


Originally published in the St. Louis Business Journals Ask The Expert Column on 4/19/2024 by Orv Kimbrough, Chairman and CEO.