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Wednesday December 7th

Here's how the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School is tackling wealth inequity

<p>The Kenan-Flagler Business School ranked 19th overall, including a ranking of 11th in accounting and 12th in Masters in Business Administration.&nbsp;</p>
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The Kenan-Flagler Business School ranked 19th overall, including a ranking of 11th in accounting and 12th in Masters in Business Administration. 

Experts will convene for a conference surrounding the growing issue of American wealth inequality on Wednesday and Thursday at UNC's Kenan-Flagler Business School.

The conference, titled "Closing the Wealth Gap," will work to address a widening divide of wealth between the top 10 percent of American households and the rest of the country. The speakers planning to attend will offer an interdisciplinary approach with a wide variety of perspectives on different factors of the growing problem.

"Nearly a dozen presentations and panel discussions will explore closing the wealth gap through place-based strategies, corporate and financial institution support, technological innovation and inclusive economic development, among other means," a press release for the event said.

The conference is a result of a coordinated effort by hosts, UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School Alliance of Minority Business Students, CREATE — a center affiliated with Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise — and UNC School of Law's Institute for Innovation.

Presenting experts at the event include Amy Goldstein of The Washington Post, Chief Impact Officer of Advantage Capital Sandra Moore and Winslow Sargeant, former chief counsel of advocacy for the United States Small Business Administration, among others. 

UNC professor of economics Patrick Conway was invited to speak at the conference because of his research in the early 2000s on textile closures and their impact on the surrounding communities in rural North Carolina.

Conway is speaking about how the American Dream relates to specific economic indicators. Conway has discussed how issues of wealth inequality have become such a prevalent issue in a variety of academic disciplines.

"Every discipline on campus, I think, has a different take on it, and all the takes are very valuable," Conway said.

Conway said his role in the conference is to provide context for more specific examples of plant closures. He said these examples will be provided by Goldstein, who wrote a book after observing the effects of a plant closure in Janesville, Wisconsin, and Susan Helper, a professor at Case Western University and former chief economist at the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Paige Ouimet is another UNC professor speaking at the conference. Ouimet's research is on income inequality and the role that firms play in a diverse job economy. She focuses on employee sharing ownership plans and how those impact income and productivity.

"I want to touch on issues of income inequality, which I know the conference is about wealth inequality officially, but if you think about the level of income inequality today, it's really infeasible for people at the bottom end of the income spectrum to be accumulating wealth," Ouimet said.

She also discussed the origins of her research as a way to combine her passion for finance with a more positive social impact.

"I think finance is this beautiful way to create a value for things that we can then compare across groups," Ouimet said. "But I think finance has a bad reputation because there has been a lot of unethical behavior in finance. But finance can also be used for good, I think of it sort of like any tool out there. So, a lot of my research really is thinking about finance but how we can use it to improve lives of rank and file workers."

Alyse Polly, one of the organizers of the conference, emphasized the importance of the event as a way to prepare the future generation of workers — including current UNC students — for the job economy by equipping them with strategies to attack wealth inequality.

"We have about 25 incredibly smart people who have worked hard to understand the wealth gap, including some of the factors that have contributed to it and some ideas for trying to solve it," Polly said. "I cannot wait to learn from them and hear the engaging panel discussions they have on our stage."

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