From Under Armour in Baltimore to Quicken Loans in Detroit, Businesses Lead Urban Revitalization Efforts Across the U.S.

Aug 25, 2014

Under Armour founder Kevin Plank has led a revitalization effort in Baltimore, Maryland, where the company is headquartered. Photo credit: Jin Lee/Bloomberg

Businesses play a fundamentally important role in the economic health and vitality of cities across the United States, employing millions of people and contributing billions of dollars in tax revenue, according to the Small Business Administration. In many cities, they also help fuel revitalization efforts in formerly neglected neighborhoods.

Companies ranging in size and operating across the full spectrum of industries have long spurred development. Such was the case in New York City, where the Time Warner Center sparked Columbus Circle’s resurgence, and San Francisco’s Tenderloin District, which is undergoing a stunning transformation thanks in large part to Twitter’s decision to set up its headquarters there.

Yet these are just two of many examples of businesses helping improve the economic health of their local communities. We’ve compiled a list of cities across the U.S. where businesses have led or are spearheading economic revivals by injecting capital and resources into their adopted hometowns.

1. Cleveland, Ohio

Cleveland had fallen on hard times during the recession that hit in the early 2000s.  It has since bounced back, however, with businesses and the city working in conjunction to effect change. The city has seen a steady recovering since 2010, as capital has flowed into formerly vacant lots and neglected buildings. Among other initiatives, the Flats East Bank project and the new Ernst Young Tower have helped draw people back to Cleveland, the Los Angeles Times reports. What’s more, the real estate developer K&D Group has also fueled this wave of development, converting a number of buildings into residential complexes, according to Crain’s Cleveland Business. This has, in turn, driven job growth in the city, as the Bureau of Labor Statistics (B.L.S.) estimates the Cleveland metropolitan area’s unemployment rate fell from 8.7% in January 2014 to 7.5% in June.

2. Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Thanks to a mixture of constructive government policies and a robust business climate, Oklahoma City boasts one of the strongest labor markets in the U.S., with its June unemployment rate hitting only 4.7%, according to B.L.S. data. Oklahoma City has been able to continually evolve over the past few decades thanks to the oil and gas industry, which has propped up the local economy, creating thousands of high-paying jobs, a report from the Steven C. Agee Economic Research and Policy Institute concluded. Besides bolstering employment, these energy companies, the study determined, have provided billions in tax revenue and have positively impacted other industries, generating jobs spurring investment.

3. Detroit, Michigan

Though Detroit has fallen on hard times, the Motor City is making a comeback thanks to a major commitment from local businesses, most notably Quicken Loans. Company founder Dan Gilbert has bought up scores of formerly abandoned buildings and is spearheading an initiative that aims to drastically overhaul Detroit and remake it into the center of commerce and innovation that it once was. Though still in its infancy, these revitalization efforts appear to be working, as the city slowly rebounds from an economic crisis whose nadir came in 2013, when it declared bankruptcy

4. Seattle, Washington

Seattle’s highly educated workforce is among the many reasons its economy has flourished over the past few years, with its unemployment rate falling to only 5% in June. Yet businesses have played a pivotal role in helping revive previously blighted neighborhoods. Amazon has led the way, as the e-commerce giant has effectively presided over the restoration of the city’s South Lake Union district. Once characterized by its many abandoned warehouses, the neighborhood has since reversed course thanks to Amazon, which established its headquarters there, KPLU News reports. This move was especially welcome, The New York Times notes, because Amazon did not ask for a single tax break from the city for its major development project, opting instead to fund it independently. The development initiative has had a major impact on the city, John Schoettler, Amazon’s director of global real estate and facilities, told the Times. “South Lake Union was a place that people drove through, not to,” Schoettler said in an interview with the newspaper. “Once we started development there, everything started to spring up around us.” 

5. Baltimore, Maryland

Though it’s been a well-documented example of urban decline, Baltimore is making a comeback thanks to revitalized business landscape. Leading the way is the sporting goods and apparel maker Under Armour, the multi-billion dollar conglomerate that is headquartered in Charm City. Founded by Kevin Plank, Under Armour has contributed mightily to the city’s economy, investing millions of dollars in its gleaming headquarters and helping finance public initiatives like a public water taxi, Baltimore Magazine reports. The company plans to continue expanding in Baltimore, the Baltimore Business Journal reports, as Plank has already moved to add 400,000 square feet of additional space to its sprawling campus. 

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