New Orleans native Kenneth Purcell and his wife have called 911 about 20 times in the past year to report break-ins and other crimes near their home and his business, located just three blocks apart in the city's Warehouse District. But that hasn't driven him from the inner city. His 25-employee software firm, iSeatz, is thriving, with sales last year of $38 million, up from $28 million in 2008. That success has been helped by what Purcell calls the "social capital" gained by creating local jobs when he moved back from Manhattan two years after Katrina. "In the midst of hearing about all these big businesses that were abandoning the state in which they were founded, I said, to hell with that," the 35-year-old founder and chief executive says. "I wanted to go home and do the opposite of everyone else."
His company landed second place in this year's Inner City 100 ranking of the fastest-growing inner-city businesses in the U.S. The list—based on five-year compound annual growth rate—is a Who's Who of high-potential private ventures in downtrodden urban areas.(Bloomberg Businessweek is the media partner.) Think multimillion-dollar manufacturers and construction companies (these industries make up 31 percent of the 2010 ranking), not mom-and-pop bodegas.The annual roundup is compiled by the Boston-based not-for-profit Initiative for a Competitive Inner City, founded in 1994 by Harvard Business School competitiveness guru Michael Porter. The ICIC's goal is to show that not only can companies thrive in the inner city, but there are also competitive advantages to locating there. Over the past 12 years, winners have created 71,000 new jobs and employed 40,000 inner-city residents.
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Author: Nick Leiber