FRANKLIN COUNTY, FORWARD CITIES
For many cities, a history of red-lining, unequal development, and decisions to build highways through thriving minority communities contributed in significant ways to disparities in wealth and access to opportunities in our neighborhoods. For me, this hits even closer to home. Franklin County, Ohio is home to the city of Columbus—the fifteenth largest city in the U.S., the capital of Ohio, and one of the most economically segregated cities in the country.
One of the unique things about the work of Forward Cities is the placed-based focus of the entrepreneurial ecosystem-building work. Each community has particular strengths and unique challenges for business owners. Our approach to this work is cognizant that it takes different approaches to different situations, for instance when addressing the unique needs of a historically black community recovering from disinvestment versus a neighborhood teeming with New Americans interested in creating new, local ventures.
We began with the goal to better understand our local entrepreneurial ecosystem through this placed-based lens. We utilized a proprietary research tool, the Forward Cities Neighborhood Inclusion Compass, to analyze Census tracts across Franklin County and to determine which areas hold the greatest potential for entrepreneurial capacity-building pilots that support existing and aspiring business owners from resource-poor neighborhoods. In this process, we celebrated the diversity of different neighborhoods and reviewed a comprehensive snapshot of the local business landscapes, factoring in, among others, the number of small business loans, amount of vacant business establishments and the total jobs created by businesses younger than one year.
From a shortlist of eight neighborhoods, a coalition of entrepreneurs, funders and resource providers with strong community ties selected two: King Lincoln, an inner-city neighborhood with deep history and significance to Columbus’ African American community; and Whitehall, a small suburban municipality in Franklin County located east of Columbus, once a hub for WWII veterans and now a growing community with an emerging entrepreneurial focus.