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Expand chart
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

Go deeper

Why made-for-TV moments matter during the pandemic

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photos: Erin Schaff-Pool, Biden Inaugural Committee via Getty Images

In a world where most Americans are isolated and forced to laugh, cry and mourn without friends or family by their side, viral moments can offer critical opportunities to unite the country or divide it.

Driving the news: President Biden's inauguration was produced to create several made-for-social viral moments, a tactic similar to what the Democratic National Committee and the Biden campaign pulled off during the Democratic National Convention.

Updated 8 hours ago - World

Over 3,000 detained in protests across Russia demanding Navalny's release

Russian police officers beat protestesters at a rally against of jailing of oppositon leader Alexei Navalny in Moscow on Saturday. Photo: Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

Police in Russia on Saturday arrested more than 3,300 people as protesters nationwide demanded that opposition leader Alexey Navalny be released from jail.

Details: Demonstrations began in the eastern regions of Russia and spread west to more than 60 cities.

Updated 10 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Arizona Republicans censure Cindy McCain and GOP governor

Combination images of Cindy McCain and Gov. Doug Ducey. Photo: FilmMagic/FilmMagic for U.S.VETS/Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Arizona Republican Party members voted on Saturday to censure prominent GOP figures Cindy McCain, Gov. Doug Ducey and former Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who've all faced clashes with former President Trump.

Why it matters: Although the resolution is symbolic, this move plus the re-election of the Trump-endorsed Kelli Ward as state GOP chair shows the strong hold the former president has on the party in Arizona, despite President Biden winning the state in the 2020 election.

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