Rachel Barker

Rachel Barker

Nonresident Fellow – Brookings Metro

Rachel Barker is a Chicago-based economic development and urban policy strategist blending skill sets across research and policy analysis; program strategy and delivery; and stakeholder engagement to build more innovative and inclusive city-regions. Specific areas of expertise include growth strategies for lagging and distressed regions; state support for regional economic development; and economic and workforce development alignment (i.e. “talent-to-industry exchange.”) 

Over the past four years, Barker has played a leading role in a portfolio of intensive engagements with public-private collaboratives and other partners in California’s midsized and inland regions, helping these regions position to compete in a “winner-take-all” economy favoring coastal, innovation-rich hubs. These efforts have resulted in the launch of new intermediaries, regional industry initiatives, (e.g. aerospace, bio-industrial manufacturing), and workforce strategies connecting residents to quality jobs. Barker also contributed to the establishment of a 2019 framework ultimately informing design of California’s signature $600M Community Economic Resilience Fund supporting regional economic development. 

Over 2021-2022, Barker worked as part of a team engaging with Chicagoland regional stakeholders to determine the potential for greater economic development collaboration emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in formation of a new seven-county regional economic development partnership. 

Barker was previously a Policy Analyst, Engagement Strategist, and Impact Manager at Brookings Metro, focusing on applied research, peer learning networks, and monitoring and evaluation. Barker contributed to a range of projects – the Brookings-Rockefeller Project on State and Metropolitan Innovation, the Global Cities Initiative, the Shared Prosperity Partnership, and an inaugural Inclusive Economic Development Lab – applying Brookings expertise to promote local problem-solving. She has also worked with philanthropy and national intermediaries on a range of strategic projects.  

Barker is magna cum laude graduate of the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University and a native of Springfield, IL. 

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