Apr 4, 2023 - Business

Tech is king in "Most Dynamic Metros" ranking

Screenshot of the interactive map of the most dynamic metros. Courtesy: Heartland Forward

The most economically dynamic metros in 2022 had robust technology and automotive industries, a recent report by Heartland Forward shows.

State of play: Researchers at the Bentonville "think and do tank" rank 382 U.S. metro areas annually by tracking wages, employment, GDP growth, entrepreneurship and average income.

  • The latest report offers perspective on the first full year of economic recovery as the COVID-19 pandemic faded.

Zoom in: The Northwest Arkansas metro dipped from No. 21 slot in both 2020 and 2021 to No. 34.

  • At least part of that decline can be attributed to slower employment growth (4.2% vs. 6%) and average pay growth (5.7% from 6.5%).
  • Inflation, NWA's high home prices and utility costs contributed, Ross DeVol, CEO of Heartland Forward, told Axios.
Screenshot of the Heartland Forward 2022 report. Courtesy: Heartland Forward

By the numbers: Most cities — 367 — saw positive job growth from 2020 to 2021. Only seven could say the same between 2019 and 2020.

  • Three metros in the 20-state region the organization calls “the heartland” were in the top 10: Elkhart, Indiana (No. 2); Austin, Texas (No. 4); and Midland, Texas (No. 6).
  • Seven heartland metros made the top 50; last year it was four.
  • More than half of the top 25 benefitted from a recovery in tourism and outdoor recreation as the pandemic's impact slowed.

What they found: Several heartland cities saw economic improvement last year as they shifted away from industrial recruiting to tech and quality of life.

  • Springfield, Ohio soared to No. 146 from No. 336 and Columbus, Indiana jumped to No. 184 from No. 360 as auto manufacturing picked up after a steep drop in 2020.

The intrigue: Elkhart, Indiana climbed to the No. 2 spot due to its involvement in the RV industry, which saw record sales in 2021 as people turned to outdoor recreation during the pandemic.

Between the lines: The report highlights three key points economic developers want to improve:

  • Smaller communities are more susceptible to boom-bust cycles because they're likely dependent on narrower industries like oil and gas or auto manufacturing;
  • Cultivating entrepreneurs helps diversify economies in both large and small cities;
  • Metros with natural amenities — like lakes or mountains — to attract recreation and tourism showed stability in 2022, but were down slightly as the pandemic faded.

The bottom line: A diversified economy is the best hedge against the unknown — a common theme in many of Heartland Forward's reports.

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