Internet Explorer 11 is not supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

Podcast: Creating Culturally Specific Strategies to Better Serve Citizens

How the city of Rochester gained a better understanding of its history and demographics to design programs that meet business owners’ and residents’ needs

The City Accelerator initiative is a collaboration between Governing, the City Foundation and Living Cities that aims to speed the adoption of innovative local government projects within and across cities that will have a significant impact on the lives of their residents, especially those with low incomes.

Small businesses, especially those owned by people of color, are threatened by the financial impact of COVID-19. A network of practitioners dedicated to the prosperity of small businesses matters now more than ever. Together, five cities -- Atlanta, El Paso, Long Beach, Newark and Rochester -- partnered with City Accelerator to explore how they can play a role in facilitating the equitable growth of their local businesses. With support from subject-matter expert, Rod Miller, President and CEO of Ascendant Global, cities identified and implemented inclusive strategies to help their local businesses thrive.

Listen to learn how the City of Rochester partnered with City Accelerator to support the growth of an inclusive business ecosystem in its city. For immediate guidance on how Rochester is supporting small businesses during COVID-19, check out the resources on its website.

This podcast series was recorded live from Long Beach in June 2019, where the cities gathered to share lessons learned and successes from their participation in the City Accelerator. In this episode, Rochester shares the City’s role in supporting businesses owned by people of color, and how the Mayor’s Office of Community Wealth Building -- the second of its kind in the nation -- is working to build generational wealth for Rochester’s residents and small businesses.

Guests featured in this episode include:

If you’re interested in learning more or bringing these lessons to your city, sign up to be notified when the City Accelerator Local Business and Job Growth Implementation Guide is released.


Paul Taylor: Live from MADE by Millworks Space for Creatives in Long Beach, California, the home of the original Rosie the Riveter! This is Living for the City!

Five cities on a mission to level up the economic opportunities for entrepreneurs of color -- a mission supported by the nonprofit, Living Cities, and the Citi Foundation. I'm Paul Taylor, from Governing, along with Rod Miller, Founder, President and CEO of Ascendant Global, and the cohort lead for this 18-month journey on local business and job growth.

This time out, Rochester, New York, a city intent on making the pivot from being a company town to a town of companies!

Lomax Campbell: Greetings. My name is Lomax Campbell, and I am the director of the Mayor's Office of Community Wealth Building in the city of Rochester, New York.

Paul: The implementation guide from this cohort harvests key learnings, including how cities get their arms around data about businesses owned by people of color. What is the value of creating these specific databases, such as the Black-owned businesses, the Latinx-owned businesses, and small businesses in general? What is the economic value of that data in the marketplace? What is the value of that data to the city itself as it plans for its own purposes and it plans its services?

Lomax: Rochester is what we call a majority minority city, where 63% of the residents in Rochester are Black and brown folks. Because of that, universal approaches to working with small businesses, particularly Black and brown businesses, won't be as effective. We've learned from the past that existing structures, organizations, and services don't necessarily have the efficacy that we seek. By trying to really understand the demographics of Rochester, as well as the firmographics of the small businesses that our community members hold, we could begin to devise culturally relevant or culturally specific strategies to better serve them and maximize value for them. 

Paul: How are you seeing that happen in real life today? 

Lomax: As we become increasingly multicultural as a society -- which operationally can be defined as multi-ethnic, pluralistic, and linguistically diverse -- you're seeing organizations pop up that specialize in each niche or each facet of the broader population.

For example, in Rochester, an organization called the Rochester Hispanic Business Association sits alongside the fact that we have a Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce, but that particular association is able to zero in on the needs specifically of Latinx-owned businesses. In addition to that, on the residential side, the mayor has done a number of things to really inspire women and girls, or families, with events. We're trying to mirror that on the small business side and trying to create culturally specific strategies to do so. 

Rod: Why would you say that the City should play a leading role in trying to drive these types of programs and strategies? 

Lomax: I appreciate that question. For starters, you have to look at Rochester's history, right? From the thirties to the seventies, you saw a mass migration of folks from the south coming up to Rochester, and you saw what we describe as “white flight” leaving the city and going to the suburbs. With that, you saw more and more depression of the inner city situation. With that, what you have was different service providers coming in and doing different things. 

Rochester, over time, has become a land of nonprofits. We have over 4,000 registered nonprofits in Rochester providing different pieces of services and a lot of them struggle to compete for funds and resources to serve the same population. The role of the City coming into this is really to be a convener and a collaborator. We have nothing to lose and a lot to gain: stable businesses, increased tax base, satisfied residents, building trust, etc. More importantly, it allows us to scale the current impact and results that any individual organization can achieve, so we have to be involved. Historically, government has not been involved, other than helping to create the problem through legislation and other practices.

Rod: How have these nonprofits and businesses responded to your office? I understand your office is new.

Lomax: My office is new. It's the second in the country. The Office for Community Wealth Building in Richmond was the first. The conditions were being cultivated for Rochester to introduce an office like this because, a few years earlier, the region came together, as the state said, ‘Okay, each region of the state needs to say what's important to them.’

Our region came together and said, ‘Poverty is a big issue.’ That led to the formation of what we call the Rochester Monroe Anti-poverty Initiative, which is a joint initiative between the state, the county, the city, and other regional actors. As you do the work of trying to figure out where deep levels of poverty exist in our community and we start trying to find solutions, one of those things is intergenerational wealth building for both residents and small businesses. We looked to fill that space where it currently doesn't have the level of attention that it needs. 

Paul: Really interesting work. Thanks for coming. 

Lomax: No problem. Thanks for having me.

Paul W. Taylor is the Executive Editor at e.Republic and of its flagship titles - Governing and Government Technology. He can be reached at or on Twitter at @pwtaylor.
Special Projects