It could very well be the Horatio Alger of U.S. cities. Just a few years ago, Lawrence, Massachusetts, had an 18 percent unemployment rate. Today, this number-one midsized Northeastern city is movin' on up, with small businesses thriving, thanks to the joint efforts of state and city governments and local organizations.
Because of changing industries and the primarily blue-collar, immigrant population, Lawrence was hit hard during the early-1990s recession. Textile manufacturers, once the major industry in the Merrimack Valley, headed south in search of areas with cheaper business costs, while higher-tech industries such as communication, semiconductor manufacturing and biotechnology moved into the area, leaving many unskilled workers unemployed. But with the state declaring Lawrence an Economic Target Area in 1994 and the city implementing new assistance programs, such as a Small Business Revolving Loan Program, unemployment is down to 5 percent, and small businesses are booming.
Large companies, like New Balance Athletic Shoe, Lucent Technologies and Malden Mills, employ most of Lawrence's citizens, with small businesses providing services for the work force, as well as component and finished-product manufacturing. To encourage entrepreneurial success, the city offers a small-business loan program, a $5,000 facade improvement grant for downtown businesses, and a tax-incentive program. Local banks are friendly to the mostly minority-owned small businesses in Lawrence, as is Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Working Capital, a nonprofit micro-lender. The state also offers tax incentives to businesses that move into the area and create jobs.
While Lawrence battles an above-average unemployment rate and some infrastructure problems, such as a lack of developable land, the city has already taken measures to solve these issues with employee training programs and interstate highway upgrades. Although Lawrence still faces some economic repair, small businesses have more than a few friends in the city and state who realize that to make Lawrence grow, entrepreneurship must also grow.