Manuel Pastor discusses the positive effect diversity paired with equality has on business at annual conference.

Manuel Pastor discusses the positive effect diversity paired with equality has on business at annual conference.

Regions looking to grow economically need to increase diversity and improve equality. That was a key message at the national CEOs for Cities annual conference in Columbus, which drew more than 400 attendees from over 80 cities for three days at the end of September.

Dispensing data in sound bites, author and professor Manuel Pastor, a Ph.D. in economics, painted a picture of a browning America in which white people will be the minority by 2050. And increased diversity is good for the economy, according to his closing keynote for the conference, "Just Growth: Inclusion and Prosperity for a Changing America." Pastor is founding director of the Center for Justice, Tolerance and Community at the University of California, Santa Cruz and teaches at USC.

Demographic change is seen first in California, which Pastor calls "America fast forward," foreshadowing what is to come for the rest of the US. "The Valley Girl is now Latina," Pastor says. However, he contends growth in immigration is not the driver and has slowed to the point where net migration for Mexicans is negative. "Which means if we build a wall, we'll just be penning Mexicans in."

Most US immigrants have been in the country more than 10 years, but more of them are at prime family-forming ages, Pastor says, noting the median age of non-Hispanic whites in the US is 43, compared to 28 for Latinos.

As diversity has increased, however, so has income disparity, and that's where work is needed to reverse trends for economic growth, Pastor contends. Communities across the country are becoming more income- and class-segregated, but studies by the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland and the World Bank show areas with less inequality have more resilient and robust economies, he says.

Pastor told conference attendees change is "up to you," since cities are where people meet, build roots and relationships, and can impact a region's economy. "We actually studied Columbus and they really are very collaborative," he says.

CEOs for Cities is a Cleveland-based nonprofit that connects urban leaders with best practices for economic prosperity.