Johnathan M. Holifield, Esq.
Co-founder, The America21 Project
Vice President of Inclusive Competitiveness, NorTech
The Running Back for Competitive, Inclusive Communities
A former running back for the Cincinnati Bengals, Mr. Holifield is the architect of Inclusive Competitiveness and is co-founder of The America21 Project, a nationally networked and locally focused social enterprise that uses innovation-based economic development tools and strategies to connect disconnected Americans to the Innovation Economy.
Mr. Holifield is also Vice President of Inclusive Competitiveness at NorTech, a nationally distinguished regional innovation-based economic development organization serving the Cleveland, Ohio, region. In this intrapreneurial role, he is responsible for leveraging and accelerating existing efforts within the Northeast Ohio region and leading new strategic initiatives to increase economic inclusion and competitiveness.
Q & A with Johnathan Holifeld
Why did you join the work of the ACT Foundation and its Aces Research Network?
The ACT Foundation Aces Network is an early—if not the first—mover in looking at working learner talent development from an inclusive, economic competitiveness lens. We have a chance to emerge as a national and global thought and action leader, helping working learners navigate the challenges of the 21st-century economy and workplace.
What do you see as a fundamental challenge we need to address?
Presently, our nation simply does not have enough innovative contributors in our economy. I’m not sure if we can ever have “enough.” If we are to stay globally competitive, we must find ways to improve the economic performance of our deep reservoir of working learners, through an approach that promotes both inclusion and increases competitiveness.
What is Inclusive Competitiveness?
Inclusive Competitiveness is an emerging national movement committed to developing new policies, practices, and metrics to improve the performance of diverse populations within innovation ecosystems, clusters, emerging industry sectors, and other areas critical to economic competitiveness.
Why are you passionate about the architecture of Inclusive Competitiveness?
Reflecting 21st-century challenges and opportunities, this architecture replaces nothing and necessarily complements everything. The level of performance of underserved populations, like low-income working learners, is undermining our nation’s global economic competitiveness. It is not merely a matter of equity, but an acute economic competitiveness imperative that we better engage and support these groups accessing skills and competencies that prepare them for economic success. On this point, the governing Law of Inclusive Competitiveness™ is absolute: The nation cannot sustainably increase economic competitiveness without growing enough of the right people to create and take advantage of that increased economic competitiveness. If our nation’s economic competitiveness goals do not focus on inclusion, we simply will not—indeed, cannot—grow enough of the right people to sustain a resilient, competitive national economy.
So, are you envisioning a new approach to traditional economic development?
Far too many incumbent economic development efforts are focused at the regional level, around new innovations and technologies. They rarely connect at the community level, and few efforts concentrate on disconnected, inner-city populations that disproportionately affect regional economic performance. We need to tear down this wall between local community economic development and “big-time” regional technologies and in order to reach and include populations critical to sustaining and growing our economy.
How will the ACT Foundation and the Aces Research Network support this new vision?
The Aces Network and the ACT Foundation as a whole champion “actionable imagination”—seeing, thinking, and doing things differently. The Foundation is creating an ecosystem that allows for cross-pollination of applied research, programmatic development, and resources, building upon current successes and welcoming new ideas.
Where do you hope to have the most impact?
As Aces, we are uniquely positioned to have meaningful impact on thought, advocacy, and policy formation and adoption, which can lead to new investments in market decisions that support working learners. The real breakthrough will be our ability to impact policy—legislative, corporate, philanthropic, education, and community—that will catalyze future investment in promising programs and strategic initiatives and enable new education, government, and community leadership to scale in their communities ideas that work.