Our Work


To create more inclusive, equitable, and resilient economies in cities and their surrounding micropolitans.

About Forward Cities

Forward Cities is a national learning network of cities committed to advancing inclusive innovation and economic development in their communities. Launched in 2014, Forward Cities started in partnership with four cities: Cleveland, Detroit, New Orleans, and Durham. It built on this work with a similar multi-city learning collaborative in North Carolina called InnovateNC and through a recent merger with CEOs for Cities, a seminal U.S. urban leadership network, Forward Cities has grown to a network of over 30 member cities nationally and expanded its capacity-building, convening, and communications support for cities.

The Challenge at Hand:

A critical challenge facing our nation’s mid-sized cities and their surrounding micropolitans is how to foster a growth economy that produces shared prosperity at a time when the future of work is so uncertain and the racial/class wealth gap is widening. Rapid advances in technology, automation and artificial intelligence (AI) have led to significant opportunities for some sectors of our economy while threatening to leave other communities farther behind.

Without new economic growth engines and strategies for broad-based neighborhood revitalization, these communities are at significant economic and social mobility risk. But by taking an intentional, systemic approach to inclusive growth and innovation mid-sized cities and their surrounding micropolitans can lead the way forward.

The Work of Forward Cities

Forward Cities seeks to accelerate inclusive innovation in its member cities, foster shared learning and collaboration between cities, and grow the number of cities committed to this work through the following activities:

Communications: with the support of the Kresge and Case Foundations, Forward Cities is developing a robust national learning platform for community leaders with a toolkit, case studies, stories, and resources focused on fostering inclusive innovation ecosystems. A bi-weekly newsletter is circulated to 15,000 thought leaders and @forwardcities has 23,000 followers allowing us to amplify related stories and promising practices.
Convenings: to foster learning and collaboration between community leaders, Forward Cities hosts two national conferences attracting several hundred participants from over 60 cities.
Capacity Building: Achieving inclusive economic growth within a city requires dedicated effort and sustained commitment. To accelerate and sustain this effort, Forward Cities runs Community Innovation Accelerators in a select number of member cities that includes:

  • Placing a full-time two-year Inclusive Innovation Fellow to serve as a trusted local project manager and facilitator;
  • Creating a local cross-sector, diverse Inclusive Innovation Council;
  • Systems mapping the local inclusive innovation ecosystem and gathering relevant data input from sources such as a community survey, a benchmarking inclusive competitiveness index, and synopses of local/regional data sources and reports;
  • Coordinating and aligning a diverse set of decision-makers and stakeholders on target outcomes and strategies;
  • Identifying and leveraging local assets as well as national best practices to create high-impact results;
  • Investing in high potential, high-impact ventures and initiatives to increase economic growth and inclusion; and
  • Evaluating results and scale what is working.

Where We work

The following interactive map contains markers in cities that are legacy partners, current members, or capacity building engagement centers of activity.

  • Akron, OH
  • Asheville, NC
  • Baltimore, MD
  • Boston, MA
  • Buffalo, NY
  • Cleveland, OH
  • Denver, CO
  • Detroit, MI
  • Durham, NC
  • Franklin County, OH
  • Greensboro, NC
  • High Point, NC
  • Indianapolis, IN
  • Jacksonville, FL
  • Kansas City, MO
  • Long Beach, CA
  • Milwaukee, WI
  • New Mexico
  • New Orleans, LA
  • Pembroke, NC
  • Pittsburgh, PA
  • Richmond, VA
  • Waco, TX
  • Wilmington, NC
  • Wilson, NC

Research & Advocacy:

with a network of research partners, we strive to help cities measure and benchmark their progress against other cities in addition to measuring the efficacy of local interventions. We are also working at the local and state level to help align municipal policy and public funding to support community-based inclusive economic development.


There are three sets of outcomes we are achieving in partnership with our member communities: the impact of being a member of the Forward Cities network; the ensuing short-term outcomes (1-3 years) of our capacity building work through our Community Innovation Accelerators; and the long-term impact of sustained commitment to inclusive innovation and economic development (4+ years).

    Impact of joining the Forward Cities network:

          • Greater coordination and engagement among a diverse, cross-sector group of community stakeholders within the region and partner communities;
          • Increased connection to a national community of practice striving to accelerate inclusive innovation and economic development in their respective cities; and
          • Enhanced visibility for each community’s work nationally and access to tools, resources, and promising practices to help the work locally.

    Short-term impact of the Community Innovation Accelerator (1-3 years):

          • Greater understanding of local assets, community opinion, and base-line data benchmarked against other similar cities;
          • Stronger strategic alignment by community leaders and stakeholders on target outcomes and prioritized actions to achieve outcomes;
          • Improved connectivity of under-connected entrepreneurs and small business owners to resources and relationships contributing to revenue growth and increased employment;
          • Increased public and private procurement commitments for contracting services from locally owned enterprises;
          • Strengthened connection between currently under-connected workforce and emerging employment opportunities – particularly within the innovation economy;
          • Initial improvements to under-developed commercial corridors (i.e. street improvements, retail frontage, site readiness, etc.)
          • Strengthened and aligned municipal policy to city’s inclusive innovation goals; and
          • Increased awareness and support for efforts by the local business community.

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