America’s 20 Strongest Cities: 5 Key Factors They Have in Common

Strong US Cities, San Antonio

The economic crisis in the US hit most of the country pretty darn hard,.. have you heard? But not all places were hit to the same degree. While most of my home state — Florida — was slammed, some other places did alright.

The Metropolitan Policy Program (MPP) at the Brookings Institution regularly lists the 20 strongest major metro areas — one a quarter. It looks at fundamental economic issues such as economic activity, housing and employment.

Derek Thompson of the Atlantic did  good job recently of picking out some key factors the top 5 cities on the MPP’s most recent list had in common.

Before sharing his thoughts on that, though, here are the 20 strongest metro areas, according to the MPP:

  • Albany-Schenectady-Troy, NY
  • Augusta-Richmond County, GA-SC
  • Austin-Round Rock-San Marcos, TX
  • Baton Rouge, LA
  • Buffalo-Niagara Falls, NY
  • Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX
  • El Paso, TX
  • Jackson, MS
  • Kansas City, MO-KS
  • Little Rock-North Little Rock-Conway, AR
  • Madison, WI
  • McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, TX
  • Oklahoma City, OK
  • Omaha-Council Bluffs, NE-IA
  • Rochester, NY
  • San Antonio-New Braunfels, TX
  • Syracuse, NY
  • Tulsa, OK
  • Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News, VA-NC
  • Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV

Now, what did Thompson find they have in common? In his own words:

1. Eds and Meds

When the private sector shrinks and the federal government grows, handmaidens of federal spending, like education and health care, stay alive. Many of the cities on this list specialize in health care (McAllen) education (Austin) or both (Albany, Augusta, San Antonio). The eds and meds have outpaced the private sector in growth through the downturn, into the recovery, and they will continue to cast a long shadow over job creation in the next decade. Six of the top eight jobs with the fastest projected growth are in the health care or medical science industries. Three of the top five jobs with the largest projected growth are in health care.

2. Also: Enlisteds

The rock of federal spending has helped military towns stay steady, too. Look at DC, Virginia Beach, San Antonio, and Augusta. Pentagons and forts, galore. Many of the cities on this list have been buoyed by consistent government spending on military bases and tech contracts.

3. Capitals

In the good times, the strongest cities were close to capital that came from rising home prices and exotic financial products. In the iffy times, the strongest cities are close to capitals, to City Halls, the most dependable arteries to government spending. Count the capitals on Brookings list: Albany, Austin, Baton Rouge, Madison, Little Rock, Jackson, and Oklahoma City.

4. Texas (Or at Least Its Time Zone)

As I’ve written, Texas and the Great Plains have run away with the recovery for a few reasons: (1) They avoided the housing bubble; (2) They’re led by local-based businesses like health and insurance that were insulated from the global meltdown; (3) High energy prices both delayed and cushioned the recession; and finally

5. Cheap labor

Eighteen of Brookings’ 20 “strongest cities” (all except Washington and VA Beach) have average or below average cost-of-living, according to a new Wall Street Journal story. At a time when Washington can’t seem to get employers and employees together, employment has been sticky where wages and living have been cheap.

Interesting analysis of the top 20 cities. As Thompson touched on, but didn’t focus on, I would just add very simply that almost none of these places are vacation towns. Places that are based on people visiting them, that have grown as second-home communities or cities, that have more Mercedes than Fords, are the ones that got slammed the worst. Clearly, this is not a top 20 list of hot vacation spots or places to retire or cities with the best quality of life. While these metro areas may not be glamorous, however, they have apparently held strong (or stronger than most) in their normal, simple routines.

Related Articles:
1. Poverty Rates and Home Foreclosures Soar to New Record Levels
2. Obama Wants to Invest Over $50 Billion in Infrastructure
3. Geography of a Depression
4. Power Shifting from Nations to Cities

Photo Credit: Definitive HDR (On A Small Break) via flickr

  • Las Vegas Foreclosures

    Outstanding post over again. It really helps a lot. Thank you.