Economic Development, Cluster Growth & Evaluation

As the leading authority on inner city economies and the companies that thrive there, ICIC plays a unique role in urban investment and public policy decisions. We speak the language of business advantage and shared value and have a proven track record of working with city leaders to help them develop custom, data-driven economic growth plans.

At ICIC, we believe that catalyzing cluster growth is key to transforming urban economies. Clusters are sets of related and interconnected industries operating within a specific geography. One can think of the automotive cluster in Detroit or the technology cluster in Silicon Valley. Clusters represent a region’s competitive assets and as such form a solid foundation for economic growth. We partner with the U.S. Cluster Mapping Project at Harvard Business School to support our cluster analysis.

Visit our Cluster Growth Toolkit for Cities page, developed with the support of JPMorgan Chase, to find resources to help your city develop high-impact strategies for driving inclusive cluster growth.

Our proprietary State of the Under-Resourced Economies (SURE) database maps the economic performance and resident prosperity of all American cities with an under-resourced community, which includes 450 cities with a population greater than 50,000 or principal cities of any size. SURE is an indispensable resource to assess local competitive advantages and set strategies for inclusive economic growth. View a full list of the 450 cities in the U.S. with under-resourced communities here.

Our most recent economic development work includes an engagement by the Duluth Seaway Port Authority in Minnesota to analyze the relative strength of the industrial sector in the city and region. The purpose of the analysis is to help the city answer a vital question challenging rust belt cities: is industry part of their economic future or simply a historical legacy? Our study, An Assessment of the Industrial Sector as a Driver of Future Growth in Duluthbuilds off previous ICIC work conducted for the St. Paul Port Authority. In both studies, we find that the industrial sector remains a competitive advantage and continued investment in the sector will catalyze equitable economic growth by providing accessible, well-paying jobs.

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ICIC also was engaged recently to develop an economic development and future land use plan for Malden, Massachusetts’ Commercial Street Corridor, a light industrial and commercial corridor. To identify strategies that create inclusive economic opportunities in the corridor, ICIC conducted a comprehensive cluster analysis coupled with a workforce analysis to identify clusters that match the skill and education levels of local residents. The project was sponsored by the Office of Malden’s Mayor Gary Christenson, the Malden Redevelopment Authority and MassDevelopment, and prepared by Harriman and ICIC.

Read the full Commercial Street Corridor Framework Plan (2018)

ICIC’s Research team also provides professional evaluation services grounded in our deep knowledge of non-profit organizations, small businesses and economic development. We have specific expertise in surveying businesses and entrepreneurs. For 18 years, ICIC has designed and fielded a survey of its Inner City 100 firms to capture insights about urban entrepreneurship, business growth, job creation, access to capital, supplier networks, and workforce development. Our 2014 report A Roadmap for Inner City Business Data Collection highlights strategies for collecting robust data on small businesses. As a partner on JPMorgan Chase’s Small Business Forward initiative, ICIC annually conducts a comprehensive evaluation of the entrepreneurial support organizations the program funds in an effort to measure their performance and impact.

We built on our knowledge of entrepreneurial support organizations in a recent evaluation of the Blackstone Charitable Foundation and ChicagoNEXT’s Blackstone Challenge, a $3 million, three-year initiative launched in 2017 funding a cohort of entrepreneurial support organizations committed to supporting underrepresented entrepreneurs in Chicago. Completed in partnership with Justice Informed, our evaluation identifies the barriers and opportunities for creating a more inclusive entrepreneurial ecosystem in Chicago. Our final report, Driving Inclusive Urban Entrepreneurial Ecosystems: Insights from Year One of the Blackstone Challenge in Chicago, also highlights lessons that can help all cities more effectively support underrepresented entrepreneurs.

ICIC’s evaluation of the Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP) in Texas studied the impact of the program on reducing recidivism and creating economic opportunity for PEP’s graduates, and also analyzed the economic and fiscal impact of the program. ICIC’s evaluation, Impact Analysis of the Prison Entrepreneurship Program: Reducing Recidivism and Creating Economic Opportunity, sponsored by JPMorgan Chase, finds that PEP has demonstrated that entrepreneurship works to reduce recidivism and should be considered as an alternative to traditional ex-offender workforce development and re-entry programs.

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ICIC recently completed an evaluation of the Financial Solutions Lab (FinLab), a program launched in 2014 through a partnership of JPMorgan Chase and the Center for Financial Services Innovation to catalyze the development of innovative, technology-enabled strategies, products and services that improve financial health in America. Our evaluation, Scaling Solutions for a Financially Healthy America: An Evaluation of the Financial Solutions Labpresents new data that measures FinLab’s impact on the performance of companies it supports and how these companies are improving the financial health of their customers. We also explore the broader impact FinLab is having on strengthening and expanding the fintech ecosystem.

The following highlights ICIC’s past engagements with partners across the nation:

Fairmount Indigo Corridor Business and Job Attraction and Retention Strategy (2016)

UMEZ: Channeling Growth and Opportunities to Upper Manhattan Residents (2014)

Increasing Economic Opportunity In Distressed Urban Communities With EB-5 (2014)

A Roadmap for Inner City Business Data Collection (2014)

Building an Inclusive Tech Economy: Internship Programs that Connect Inner City Workers to Jobs in the Technology Sector (2014)

Growing Healthy Economies: Leveraging America’s Urban Food Cluster (2013)

Prosperity NOLA: A Plan to Drive Economic Growth for 2018 (2013)

An Industrial Strategy for the City of St. Paul (2012)

The Promise of Local Clusters (2011)

Realizing the Inner City Retail Opportunity: Progress and New Directions (2007)

Opportunity Newark: Jobs and Community (2007)

Initiative for a Competitive Brooklyn: Seizing Our Moment (2005)

West Louisville Competitive Assessment and Strategy Project (2002)

The Changing Models of Inner City Grocery Retailing (2002)

The Business Case for Pursuing Retail Opportunities in the Inner City (1998)



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ICIC drives inclusive economic prosperity in under-resourced communities though innovative research and programs to create jobs, income, and wealth for local residents.


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