Written By: Amanda Maher
ICIC and FORTUNE recently published the list of the 100-fastest growing inner city businesses in the United States. This group of firms grew an average of 336% between 2009 and 2013, a time when economic conditions were especially tough on small businesses. Regardless of the broader economic conditions, these businesses have made a mark on their local economies. So how did they do it?
Inner City 100 winners invest in their workforce and focus on finding and keeping the right talent. Marc Talluto, CEO of #1 on the list, Fruition Partners, notes that young employees are eager; they’re “looking to make a mark, or a big contribution.” Inner City 100 companies harness this potential—they invest in their employees and their employees invest right back. Of the 2014 winners, 79% offer health insurance to all full-time employees.
Meanwhile, #28 Walker Sands Communications ramped up its employee training and mentoring programming, including an active internship program. Now, Walker Sands ultimately offers more than half of its interns full-time positions. Similarly, #57 Showcase Realty strayed from real estate market norms; rather than hiring its employees as independent contractors, which many real estate companies do, Showcase Realty provides its staff with full-time positions, benefits and trains them with specialized skills, which has resulted in devoted employees and a company that’s thriving.
But Inner City 100 firms don’t just find the right talent, they find the right talent locally. For instance, more than 80% of #78 Premier Logitech’s workforce lives in the same Grand Prairie, TX neighborhood as the company is based. Oakland-based Revolution Foods follows the same model: in each inner city in which it operates, Revolution Foods teams up with local job development organizations to find local talent; Revolution Foods hires people from the communities it serves. With more than 1,000 employees in inner cities across the U.S., this inner city firm is having a big impact on local hiring. Moreover, the company also provides sustainable wages, health care benefits, automatic profit-sharing after one year of employment, and numerous promotion opportunities.
As FORTUNE noted, some of these companies are small, but they are fierce competitors. Inner City 100 winners, averaging $7 million in revenues and 54 employees, leveraged their small size in order to be nimble, especially during the economic downturn. During this time period, Fruition Partners capitalized on clients looking for cheaper IT solutions. Marc Talluto stated that the company was “barely hanging on” before the recession hit. But, Fruition quickly tapped into the emerging cloud market to offer end-to-end cloud service management and technology solutions to its clients. As a result, Fruition grew from 10 to 300 employees in 2009, while other large businesses were struggling to stay afloat.
Finally, while Inner City 100 firms look locally to grow their employment base, they look nationally to grow their revenues. These businesses are thinking big, expanding into markets that can support their fast growth. On average, 69% of their customer base is located outside of their city, 4% is international and only 11% is located in the same neighborhood as the company. Solstice Mobile, #58, which institutes several local hiring and training programs in its Chicago home, boats a national footprint and global clients such as Redbox, Discover, Sprint, Kraft, and John Deere.
What’s clear is that firms on this year’s Inner City 100 list continue to pave the way for job growth and business development within the urban core. These firms and their inspiring growth stories are indicative of the market opportunities alive and well in inner city economies.