Small cities in Massachusetts and across New England possess unique assets and face a unique set of challenges. These “Working Cities,” first developed as manufacturing centers in the late 19th and early 20th century, now face an uphill battle in rebuilding their economies and civic infrastructure. In 2007, a landmark study by the Brookings Institution and MassINC identified a cohort what they called “Gateway Cities” (because they are often immigrants’ “gateway” to the United States). It highlighted the importance of good governance and coordinated investments in education, workforce development, and economic development to help cities adapt to new economic realities. While these cities have seen modest gains in population and job recovery over the past decade, they are increasingly lagging the state average for income, unemployment, and educational attainment.
Notwithstanding these challenges, research on small cities conducted by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston has found that eight cities out of a peer group of 26 nationwide have been able to either maintain or recover much of their economic stability, as measured by income, reduced poverty rates, population, and economic vitality. Several factors drove the rebound of these “resurgent” cities: collaborative leadership, the role of anchor institutions, investment in infrastructure, and extension of benefits to the community as a whole. Of these, collaborative leadership – the ability to work together across sectors over a sustained period with a comprehensive vision – was most crucial. The findings are strikingly similar to those of the Living Cities Integration Initiative, deployed in five larger cities with substantial inner-city populations. Both sets of findings elevate the importance of collaborative leadership in creating systems-level changes that will enable small cities to reach their full potential as places to live, work, and raise a family.
 Defined as those cities with populations over 35,000 but under 250,000.