Nov 13, 2019

The U.S. cities that are thriving under the radar

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Data: Emsi; Table: Axios Visuals 

In an age of superstar cities, in which 25 bustling metros account for half the country's economy, some under-the-radar cities and rural areas are thriving.

Why it matters: Much of the country is in search of a playbook that can bring in even a fraction of the riches that have rained on the economic frontrunners.

The big picture: The rift between superstars and laggards is in danger of widening, worsening political polarization as it goes.

  • It's a bleak outlook for the areas left behind — but it's not that great for the superstars, either.
  • These cities — notably San Francisco and Seattle — have been buried under homelessness and traffic as they exploded uncontrollably in recent years.

Driving the news: A report released Wednesday by Emsi, an economic analysis firm, charts the cities the company deemed most attractive to talent, with some unexpected results.

"There's a lot of talk out there about the superstar cities on the coastal metros that are taking all the jobs," says Josh Wright, an EVP at Emsi. But, he says, "there are places all over that are doing a lot better than people think."

  • Emsi ranked every county in the U.S. based on six variables it says contribute to attracting talent. They include job growth, migration flows, education and job openings for skilled work.
  • Among big cities, Jacksonville, Fla., Phoenix and Las Vegas came out on top.
  • The top smaller metros — cities with fewer than 100,000 people — were Lake Charles, La., Macon and Waynesboro, Ga.

Unlike traditional tech hubs, the front-running Jacksonville isn't built around a single industry or company. The top jobs, Emsi says, are in the ubiquitous restaurant and hospital sectors — but the area has been boosted by new Amazon and Wayfair distribution centers.

For smaller cities, an anchoring corporate headquarters or university can be a boon. But there's hope even for those without a flagship institution.

  • Cities are finding success with "placemaking," says Kristin Sharp, a partner at Entangled Solutions, an education consulting company. That means they're figuring out a brand that convinces people to move there — or, often, move back home after a stint in a bigger city.
  • Much of this is built around quality-of-life factors. Think Boulder's outdoorsy beer scene, or Detroit's mansions that are cheaper than a Brooklyn studio.

What's next: Automation threatens to throw the balance even further off kilter. New jobs are likely to accrue to already advantaged super-cities, while the losers stand to lose even more.

Go deeper: The cities where low-wage workers are being left behind

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Kick-starting tech hubs beyond the usual-suspect cities

Reproduced from Brookings and ITIF analysis of Emsi data; Chart: Axios Visuals

Tech-based economic growth has become so concentrated in the top 5% of metro areas that experts are proposing a federal push to jump-start new tech hubs in the heartland.

Why it matters: This divergence of economic realities between the top "superstar metros" and almost everywhere else shows how powerful clusters of skilled workers, jobs and investment have compounded the success of booming cities and left widening gaps among regions.

Go deeperArrowDec 9, 2019

Where low-wage workers are being left behind

Adapted from Brookings; Map: Axios Visuals 

Today's low-wage workers are concentrated in southern and western states and are often locked out of moving up economically because they can't afford to live in cities that offer better-paying jobs.

Why it matters: Low-wage and entry-level workers are more likely to be negatively affected by automation in the workforce and less equipped to weather an economic downturn, research suggests.

Go deeperArrowNov 13, 2019

The new Detroit

Photo illustration: gangliu10; Aïda Amer/Axios

For decades, the world has pointed to Detroit as a symbol of the entire Rust Belt and the decay of American manufacturing. But the city is attempting to change that narrative — and succeeding.

Why it matters: Detroit may be the starkest example, but its story is mirrored in dozens of U.S. cities — Columbus, Pittsburgh and Toledo among them — that have shared its challenges and are embarking on comebacks of their own.

Go deeperArrowNov 20, 2019