America's best-kept secret

Some of the fastest-growing entrepreneurial companies are where you might least expect to find them. The secret of their success? Location, location, location

A $4.3-million internet-access provider. A $101-million computer-accessories manufacturer. An $8.5-million recruitment company. A $24-million food distributor. Each of them growing rapidly over the past five years. Do they sound like businesses you would expect to find in this country's inner cities? If not, fasten your seat belts. Our first annual Inner City 100, a ranking of America's fastest-growing privately held inner-city companies, is full of surprises.

The 100 companies that we have identified here, in partnership with Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter's nonprofit Initiative for a Competitive Inner City (ICIC), have made their location a true business advantage--whether because of proximity to customers and suppliers, the ready availability of an untapped local labor pool, or the cost advantages of the real estate. "We started from zero. Our product went through several evolutions, and the early years were very labor-intensive," says Y.C. Chang, cofounder of International Power Devices Inc., a $26-million Boston-based electronics manufacturer, which was recently acquired by Power-One Inc., in Camarillo, Calif. "If we had tried to set something up in the suburbs, where we didn't have a labor pool to draw from and where we would have paid high wages, we would have been out of business long ago."

This inaugural Inner City 100 is not about feel-good efforts to revitalize the inner city. It's about business: real revenue growth over a five-year period, measured by the same stringent criteria as those used for our annual Inc. 500 list. Together with a team from the ICIC, our staff spent more than six months identifying candidates and learning firsthand about their strategies, strengths, and weaknesses. As a result, we offer you an exclusive snapshot of some of the most creative entrepreneurs in one of the country's least-recognized places to grow a business: the inner city.

The Inner City 100 Stories