FORTUNE -- When Stephen Hindy opened a beer brewery in Brooklyn's then-scruffy Williamsburg neighborhood more than a dozen years ago, he was on the front edge of a wave of smaller businesses that were returning to inner cities to tap the benefits of low rent, convenient locations, and ready labor.
He set up shop in a 1890s factory called Hecla Ironworks. In the era when Hecla was making railings and other ornamental iron for buildings, Williamsburg also boasted dozens of breweries. But as traditional manufacturing began to shrink, many companies folded or left the city, and, by the time Brooklyn Brewery arrived, the area was strewn with empty buildings and warehouses.
Today, Brooklyn has a completely different, largely revitalized face, but many cities are still contending with swaths of vacant industrial space. Over the next decade, in fact, more than one billion feet of industrial space in urban areas will be available, according to estimates from the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City, a non-profit group which highlights 100 fast-growing inner city businesses every year as part of its Inner City 100 ranking.