The Untapped Urban Market:
Attracting Business to the Inner City

Conference Summary

On May 1, 2001 the Buffalo Branch, Federal Reserve Bank of New York, in partnership with the University at Buffalo Department of Planning, presented the "Untapped Urban Market: Attracting Business to the Inner City." Held at the university's Center for Tomorrow, the conference brought together a number of national experts to discuss the economic challenges faced by inner-city communities and map effective strategies for business development. The over 130 attendees came from throughout New York State and represented a wide-range of organizations concerned about inner-city redevelopment, including housing agencies, banks, economic development agencies, community development corporations, and grassroots coalitions.

The conference explored the important issue of inner-city economic development from a variety of perspectives. Much of the discussion focused on the notion that America's inner cities harbor significant yet unrecognized business opportunities, including untapped retail markets and underutilized labor markets. However presenters offered differing approaches to urban business development, with some promoting private-sector led initiatives based primarily on economic self-interest and others encouraging larger roles for government and community organizations. At the same time, there was general agreement that if cities are to attract new investment, they must provide the basics: good schools, safe streets, modern infrastructure, qualified workers and competitive taxes and services. Other key points from the event include:

  • Cities must know their context, understanding such factors as demographic makeup, economic structure and performance, and overall strengths and weaknesses.
  • Cities and suburbs are inextricably linked and must plan together to promote the economic well being of the metropolitan area as a whole.
  • Inner cities have competitive advantages that can allow businesses to prosper, such as central locations and extensive transportation and telecommunications infrastructure.
  • Inner-city redevelopment requires strong leadership, vision and a long-term plan.
  • Inner-city redevelopment requires a sustained partnership between business, government, and the community.
  • Business development must involve input from neighborhood residents. Community development corporations can be a conduit for community participation.
  • Workforce development must be linked to the job market.
  • Local entrepreneurship is an important component of inner-city business development.
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