Supporting Growth in Smaller Industrial Cities and Rural Communities

Economic shocks have dramatically changed the lives of people in New England’s once-thriving smaller cities. The decline of manufacturing fundamentally altered the landscape of opportunity, and the Great Recession further hindered low- and moderate-income families’ ability to advance economically. Equally, New England’s rural areas face their own unique challenges to creating economic growth and opportunity for lower-income residents, especially in areas distant from urban hubs. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic and its severe economic impacts have worsened the conditions and outlook in vulnerable small cities and rural communities alike. Strengthening the prospects of these places and their residents is essential to New England’s prosperity, and therefore a priority for the Boston Fed.

What does it take for these cities and communities to reverse their fortunes? According to our research and ongoing learning, resurgence requires more than resources. Local leaders can do a lot to create economic opportunity and include more residents in that opportunity when they’re working and learning together. The Boston Fed believes in the power of collaborative leadership to make local economies stronger and more inclusive. Our strategies improve places by mobilizing leaders to work together in new ways; testing, learning from, and scaling new ideas with those leaders to grow economic opportunity; and integrating learning so that new approaches are informed by and contribute to what we know works.

Through the Working Cities and Working Communities initiatives, the Boston Fed builds on experience to boost collaborative strategies that change systems and the lives of low-income residents. The initiative models are grounded in research, and they are designed to integrate the lessons learned from implementation in different states. This ensures our approach is responsive to what we find in a given community and customizable to its unique needs.

Additionally, the Leaders for Equitable Local Economies, or LELE, is an initiative aimed at supporting and strengthening the leaders taking on the critical work of rebuilding economic systems in Massachusetts’ smaller cities. It’s about making those systems work better for residents who have been excluded.

Merged under the umbrella of Working Places, the Working Cities, Working Communities, and LELE initiatives support New England’s smaller postindustrial and rural areas in strengthening their civic infrastructures—their leaders, organizations, engaged residents, and the networks that link them—in order to make meaningful improvements to human capital, economic development, and quality of life for their low- and moderate-income populations.

The Boston Fed also conducts related research efforts and activities, including:

  • The Capital and Collaboration effort, based on the capital absorption framework developed jointly by the Kresge Foundation and the Initiative for Responsible Investment, was designed to foster capital investment in Working Cities through thoughtful, cross-sector engagement of the local investment community and civic leaders.
  • Research by the Boston Fed and others, upon which the Working Cities Challenge is based, found that economic resurgence in smaller cities results from the ability of leaders to collaborate across sectors around a shared, long-term vision for success. In addition, our researchers are also exploring employment, economic development, and schools in the Working Cities.

Programs & Initiatives

Publications & Data