Cities and Businesses of Color: A Guide to Economic Growth

When we launched the City Accelerator in 2015, our goal was to foster partnerships between philanthropy and local government to drive innovation in cities as a means to help tackle some of their most pressing challenges and improve the lives of low-income residents. Since then, approximately 30 cities across the US have collaborated to address topics ranging from inclusive procurement practices to embedding innovation in local government systems. Even as the City Accelerator has always strived to focus on essential issues, it is perhaps now – in a world grappling with the long-term impacts of COVID-19 and confronting the impacts of systemic racism – that the learnings from the most recent City Accelerator cohort are most timely and needed. The theme of the fifth cohort of the City Accelerator was ‘Local Business and Job Growth’ with an intentional focus on building support for firms owned by people of color.

For over a year, the cities of El Paso, Long Beach, Newark, Rochester, and Atlanta came together to learn how to apply a racial equity lens to municipal economic development systems and refocus their work on developing more inclusive small business ecosystems as a way to meaningfully support entrepreneurs of color in their communities. The learnings shared in this guide from the various initiatives come at a critical moment as small businesses everywhere, but especially those owned by people of color, are struggling to survive due to the economic impacts of COVID-19 while also confronting the very real and lasting consequences of systemic racism.

As communities across the country consider how to make recovery efforts more equitable for residents of color, we hope the lessons learned, case studies, and strategies in the following pages can empower them to create solutions that close racial income gaps and encourage entrepreneurship. It must be noted that this work would have not been as impactful or as successful if the cities worked in a vacuum.

Throughout their time in the City Accelerator, participating cities partnered with local business owners, universities, community-based organizations, financial institutions, and others to ensure the creation of a sustainable small business ecosystem that would be supportive of firms owned by people color. Witnessing the inspiring work built through these cross-sector partnerships, along with the cities of different sizes, geographies and challenges, has been a powerful reminder that when we work together, we can produce real and systemic positive change.

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