When it comes to the blending of for-profit businesses and community betterment, Lancaster is ahead of the curve.
For example, Lancaster County is already home to 12 B Corporations, which are companies that have been certified by the nonprofit B Lab as meeting rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency.
Several additional local businesses are in the process of becoming certified, and over 100 have engaged with the B Impact Assessment through Assets’ Measure What Matters program.
Additionally, Lancaster hosts a surprising array of social enterprise — businesses that exist not only to make a profit, but also to solve a social or environmental problem. At the Great Social Enterprise Pitch last October, 30 of those businesses participated in the inaugural Business for Good Summit.
This type of commitment by businesses to intentionally address local problems through their business models is virtually unprecedented in a community of our size.
We have much to be proud of.
However, let us not rest on our laurels. There is still a tremendous amount of work to do.
Kenyatta Brame, vice president at Michigan-based Cascade Engineering, one of the largest B Corps in the world, spoke about the importance of businesses addressing community issues at an event in Lancaster this past December.
Brame highlighted that it is in the enlightened self-interest of businesses to think and act this way, because, as he stated, “the company came to the realization that they could only outperform their community for so long.”
Eventually, if the business kept growing, but the community did not keep the pace, then the business would begin to falter. Employees would be harder to find, civil unrest could upset workflow and productivity, and local customers would not have as many financial resources to continue buying its products.
Similarly, Lancaster, as a community, cannot continue to underperform its business sector. We are already seeing the results of this reality, primarily through a pronounced lack of qualified employees at many local companies. Our community is not keeping pace with the growth of its companies. This has real, hard impacts on the financial bottom line of local companies.
So what can we do about it?
At Assets, we have set a goal of Lancaster County having the highest number of B Corps, per capita, in the world. We’re not there yet, but we might be as soon as the end of 2018.
Similarly, we believe that Lancaster can be a national hub of social innovation in business.
Silicon Valley became a hub for technological innovation because of a startup ecosystem that links bright entrepreneurs, talented employees and willing investors.
Similarly, if the impact business ecosystem continues to develop, Lancaster can become the Silicon Valley of social enterprise.
Consider the outcomes on our local economy if this happens:
— Poverty and inequality would be reduced because it would become culturally unacceptable for businesses to pay employees wages that keep them in poverty and reliant on public assistance.
— Our best and brightest students would stay in the area because meaningful jobs would be plentiful.
— Our air and waterways would be among the cleanest in the country because the primary polluters —businesses — would take active steps to reduce environmental harm.
— Businesses would be actively working alongside government and nonprofits to solve social problems — a solution that is both sustainable and uniquely bipartisan, which would be a welcome change in today’s fractured political landscape.
These results are possible, but only if local businesses begin to compete not only to be the best of Lancaster, but also the best for Lancaster. This would be the basis of an economy that would truly work for all citizens.
• Jonathan Coleman is co-executive director of Assets, a nonprofit that seeks to reduce poverty by promoting entrepreneurship.