Feb 6, 2024 - News

Salt Lake and Provo ranked among nation's five "Best Performing Cities"

Illustration of a winner's medal shaped like a location pin.

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Salt Lake City and Provo were ranked as the nation's fourth and fifth "Best Performing Cities," according to the Milken Institute's latest annual list, released first to Axios.

  • St. George ranked No. 4 among smaller cities.

The big picture: Utah was the only state with two cities in the top five for larger metros.

How it works: The Milken Institute reviews about 400 metro areas, with two separate rankings for larger and smaller populations. It looks at various measures of the economy, tech development and resilience to severe weather or economic turmoil.

What they're saying: "These rankings really look at growth," Maggie Switek, an author of the Milken report, told Axios. "What we mean by top-performing is that these are the cities that are growing the fastest."

  • "So if we think about New York or San Francisco, those are cities that have grown in the past and now are maintaining the status quo, whereas the cities that are performing at the top are really where jobs, wages and the high-tech sector are growing."

Zoom in: Salt Lake shot back into the top five after the study tracked big recoveries in wage and short-term job growth and high-tech GDP since it ranked at No. 19 in last year's report.

  • For the first time in 12 years, the capital pulled ahead of Provo-Orem, which ranked No. 1 last year but saw slowdowns in wages and job growth due to widespread tech layoffs in 2022, the most recent year studied.
  • "The slowdown in Provo's labor market has extended into mid-2023," the report states.

The latest: Most of Utah's cities were helped by the study's two new criteria: income equality and resilience to disaster.

  • For income equality among large cities, Ogden ranked No. 1, Provo ranked No. 2 and Salt Lake came in 13th.
  • Only St. George ranked poorly — No. 149 of 203 small cities.
  • Income equality helps establish that a metro's economic growth is sustainable, the report states.

Between the lines: Resilience was measured by the share of households that are affected by few vulnerabilities like poverty, overcrowding and disabilities.

  • All four Utah cities ranked extremely high for resilience, with Provo and Ogden at No. 1 and 2, respectively. Salt Lake ranked No. 5; St. George is 18th among smaller cities.
  • Researchers began to assess community resilience in light of disruption from COVID-19 and a projected rise in extreme weather events.

Zoom out: Most of the top-performing metropolitan areas are in landlocked states — significant in an age of rampant coastal flooding.

  • Idaho was the only state to exceed Utah's ubiquity at the top of both lists, claiming three of the top five smaller cities and Boise at No. 2 among larger cities.
  • The lower-ranked cities correlated to "the least resilient metropolitan areas" and also tended to be "highly exposed to extreme heat."

Of note: The Wasatch Front ascended the rankings in housing affordability from 2020 through 2022 as real estate markets began to stabilize.

  • Ogden rose from No. 132 to No. 18 during those years.
  • Provo jumped from No. 162 to No. 28.
  • Salt Lake climbed from No. 148 to No. 66.
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