Panelists at a discussion on diversity Nov. 9 at Trailhead said the stakes couldn't be higher when it comes to making Idaho more welcoming to people from a variety of backgrounds. For Centro de Comunidad y Justicia Director Sam Byrd
, fostering racial, religious, political and economic diversity is about dollars and cents.
"What does it say about us that we don't know how to market to a huge section of the population?" he said.
Byrd came to Idaho as a boy with his family as migrant laborers working in agriculture. He said people still come to Idaho for work and stay because of opportunity, low cost of living and quality of life. Similar strategies, he told the audience, can be used to attract people from out of state to participate in all sectors of Idaho's culture and economy.
Discussion panelists included Byrd, AppDetex Founder Faisal Shah and Operations Director Dr. Krissa Wrigley
, Dr. Harry Lazarte, and Boise State student and organizer Andres Lazarte, who said he hopes to hold similar summits in Boise on a quarterly basis.
In the past few years, Boise has come to be known as one of America's best kept secrets. In 2012, it made Livability.com's list of America's top-10 downtowns
. In 2014, it made a list
of top college football towns. When it comes to Boise, the list of lists
goes on and on; but for the panelists at Trailhead, the glaring exception to Boise's exceptionalism is how white it is. According to 2010 U.S. Census data
, Boise's population is 85-89 percent white, 7.1 percent Hispanic or Latino, 3.2 percent Asian, 1.5 percent African-American and 3 percent claimed two or more ethnicities.
Lazarte, however, was optimistic Idaho can generate a solution other states trying to boost diversity can follow.
"I think Idaho's going to be an example for the rest of the country," he said.
While Idaho's agriculture industry has long brought diversity to the state—for Byrd, an inherent advantage—panelists identified the city's technology sector and Boise State as springboards for the Treasure Valley. Diversity hiring quotas, panelists said, have already brought more women into leadership positions, providing a model for people of color and those from different cultural or religious backgrounds.
"If we're embracing women, we're embracing color as well," Shah said.