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Podcast: Building a Narrative in Cities Throughout the Country

Lessons Learned in How to Empower Businesses of Color

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. 

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, our guests highlight key take-aways from the City Accelerator cohort for Local Business and Jobs Growth and what their vision is for this work going forward.

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. 

Ladies and gentleman, what have we learned? Brian Charles, Staff Writer from Governing.

Brian Charles: This would be my second one of these, and one of the things that I see that runs through all of this is this idea about experimentation and trying. The one thing that I've seen is that nobody's actually come up and said, ‘Hey, this is the one-size-fits-all solution.’ This is like, we're going to try this and see what it's going to happen and see how it works out. Atlanta is a great example of this, with shipping containers. We're gonna figure out how to address this issue, and then we'll run into roadblocks and continue trying to push through this. None of this is easy because you're trying to undo very traditional business practices that have been in place for decades. One of the things that we have learned is that the power of this is the power of reinvention. 

Paul: Rod Miller, being the cohort lead, you've been on the ground with these cities and you've seen them individually and you've seen them working together and stealing ideas from each other and in collaborative environments, such as these convenings. What have we learned?

Rod: One of the things that we've learned is that there is not one organization that can do this work alone. This work actually requires working in partnership. The public sector can't do it. The private sector can't do it. The nonprofit sector can't do it. It takes efforts from all of the sectors working together. But cities are uniquely positioned because of their bully pulpit; because of their competing convening power; because of the tools that they have and the policy levers that they have to drive this discussion. When cities have the framework around racial equity and the desire to actually impact these types of communities, they can be a driving force in implementing change.

Paul: Where does this work need to go in the next five to 10 years? 

Rod: A lot of the practices -- and ‘practices’ is probably too bold of a statement -- a lot of the things that have been experimented within the City Accelerator process are yielding results, whether it was previous cohorts or this cohort, and they're going to continue to yield results. What I think we're going to see is these implementation guides and the experiences of these cities are going to be shared much more broadly and other communities are going to look to Living Cities, and look at the work that these groups have done to figure out their models for long-term growth for inclusion of businesses of color.

We're already starting to see that a lot of the questions that this City Accelerator faced -- the questions of gentrification and how to make sure that there's access to property ownership for businesses of color; issues around how to map ecosystems and actually get groups to play together and work together for common good that haven't historically; issues of how cities can use their spend most effectively, not only in the procurement area but also in the development area to grow businesses of color. Those sorts of issues really represent a microcosm of what communities across the country will be facing over the next five to 10 years. So, over the next five to 10 years, we're going to see others looking to Living Cities and the City Accelerator process for solutions.

Paul: Brian, it's relatively easy to put a headline on something. Magazines and newspapers do it every day. What is the sleeper story that comes out of this? 

Brian: I'm glad you asked that because I think you all have an opportunity here. For better or for worse, we are at a particular point in which people that do what I do for a living are very much interested in telling a story about equity and a story about racial inequity. Let's use equity as the aspiration here. I think that what you want to do -- to try to get a lot of buy-in on this -- is look to some of your local media outlets, whether they’re newspapers or radio or whoever, to try to tell that story. One of the things that's a challenge is you have to acknowledge that there is a huge problem.

I think the reason why you need to tell that story is you need to signal to the folks in your community that you're saying that, ‘This is a serious thing, and we're going to take this on, and we're going to do something about that.’ The thing is that many folks in my industry are very much engaged right now, because we're at a particular moment -- and a moment that I haven't seen in my more than 10 years doing this -- in which this is a story. 

What the story's going to be down the line, I can't tell you what that headline looks like. The thing is that you have to put yourself in a position to try to get that narrative out there as early and as often as you can so that you can signal to your communities that this is serious.


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