Over 200 city and community leaders from twenty-five cities will in Durham from today (June 4) through Wednesday to discuss strategies for accelerating inclusive economic development at a conference hosted by Forward Cities, a national learning collaborative of cities committed to fostering inclusive growth, and InnovateNC, a similar state-wide learning collaborative in North Carolina.

The conference kicks off Monday afternoon at the Durham Hotel Rooftop with a meeting of North Carolina community leaders to discuss efforts to stimulate the state’s innovation economy in under-connected micropolitan, rural, and metro areas.

Forward Cities CEO Christopher Gergen, a serial entrepreneur who built several education-related tech firms and has focused on co-working spaces the last ten years, including as a founding partner of HQ Raleigh, is a social innovation fellow at Duke. He co-founded Forward Cities in 2014.

“Durham is a case-study for innovation,” Gergen tells WRAL Techwire. “The shift in economic growth has been amazing. Durham represents an interesting story of inclusive economic development, both its success and its challenges.” The city, he notes, “Was the home of Black Wall Street and has a history of African American enterprise.”

The conference will discuss how to make sure the economic renaissance in Durham results in economic equality, he said. ‘There are real concerns about gentrification that are emblematic of what’s happening in many other cities around the country.”

The conference will showcasing efforts in Wilmington, Wilson, Pembroke, Greensboro, and Asheville that were part of the initial InnovateNC cohort (selected from among 18 communities that applied) and discussing the next phase of InnovateNC to help more communities prepare for the future of work.

The InnovateNC meeting will be followed by an opening reception for all attendees including remarks by Gergen, and Durham Mayor, Steve Schewel.

Speakers include Mayor Knox White from Greenville, SC, author Johnathan Holifield who heads up the White House’s initiative on historically black colleges and universities, CEO Maurice Jones from LISC, the president of the Boston Foundation Paul Grogan, Chantel Rush who leads the American Cities Practice at the Kresge Foundation, and Craig Buerstatte from the US Department of Commerce.

This conference is the first since Forward Cities merged with CEOs for Cities in December making it the largest national city network in the country focused on inclusive economic development.

CEO Gergen said in a statement, “This marks an incredible opportunity to bring national leaders to a city with such a rich and diverse history of economic inclusion and discuss what a future needs to look like to realize true shared prosperity in our communities – and cities like Durham across the country.”