Rays of sunshine
In a lump of coal you sometimes find a diamond. In an oil slick, you find patches of clear water. And in a recession, there are success stories that can change how we think about our country in the modern era. The United States is a vast country whose different regions vary so much in terms of climate, population, and business environment that it can be hard to determine exactly what one city is doing to achieve success that another is not.
But while conditions are difficult in every part of the country, there are reasons to be optimistic about the future of some of our large and medium-sized cities. With a population as diverse and dynamic as we have in the U.S., innovations in striking the right balance between quality of life and economic opportunity will ensure that at the very least, Americans will always experiment with making their cities the most desirable as they can.
Photo Credit: Ellenm1
Putting a number on progress
To put together this list, we looked at U.S. Census data on a handful of metrics, broken down by metropolitan area, looking for indicators of progress in an otherwise bleak economic environment.
First we look at unemployment data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, focusing on the three places with the most significant increases in employed persons, to find that the biggest gainer in the year up to last December improved their employment rate by only half a percentage point. In this day and age, however, any positive change is a positive sign.
We also looked at economic indicators like the change in wages and the change in personal income for different parts of the country based on Census data to see who has been doing well economically, and we took two measures of population growth to determine where people are going as they look to go where the living is good. Looking at both population growth and migration gives a more general picture of where our most up-and-coming cities are.
By looking at the leaders in these various indicators, we get an idea of what’s working in the U.S., and what places we should watch for perhaps the first signs of economic recovery after a recession that has made most people in most parts of the country suffer.
Photo Credit: Adria.Richards
3rd Biggest increase in employment: Brooklyn, N.Y.
Increase in employment, December 2008 – December 2009: 0.2%
It’s a bleak situation when the city with the third-highest increase in employment only experienced 0.2% of growth. While a borough of New York City, Brooklyn has long had its own life and character, and has become increasingly popular with the up-and-coming young professionals in the greater metropolitan area.
Photo Credit: Randy Lemoine
2nd Biggest increase in employment: Bronx, N.Y.
Increase in employment, December 2008 – December 2009: 0.2%
North of Manhattan, the borough of the Bronx in New York takes second spot on the list, having seen an increase in employment of 0.2% in the last year. If the Bronx, home to a large immigrant population that has historically thrived in the city that never sleeps, is posting positive numbers during the depth of recession, it bodes well for the area’s recovery during more positive economic times.
Photo Credit: William F. Yurasko
Biggest increase in employment: Arlington, Va.
Increase in employment, December 2008 – December 2009: 0.5%
During the past several years of recession, government bailouts of failing corporations and increased financial aid to the country’s poorest have helped keep the nation out of a full-blown depression. In the suburbs of Washington, D.C., do we find the city with the largest increase in employment from the year to last December.
With only a half-percent increase in employment in Arlington, the community is more staying afloat than showing vigorous growth, and it might be all thanks to Uncle Sam for a town that feeds off of the federal government infrastructure across the Potomac river.
Photo Credit: Jeffrey Johnson
3rd Fastest-Growing City: Austin, Texas
Change in population, 2000-2008: 32.2%
The capital of Texas, also known as the “live music capital of the world” for events such as the Austin City Limits annual music festival, Austin ranks as the third fastest growing city in the nation by population. Increasing in population by almost a third from 2000-2008, the city is home to a number of major corporations such as Dell and Whole Foods, and a recent deal inked with Facebook promises to bring even more attention to this up-and-coming city.
Photo Credit: Andi Narvaez
2nd Fastest-Growing City: Las Vegas
Change in population, 2000-2008: 35.6%
We’ve all heard the expression “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,” but it would appear that some are taking it literally, as more and more people decided to stay and live in the city of sin. Its population increased by more than 35% in the first eight years of this decade. While they may have been feeling lucky then, only time will tell if Las Vegas can continue to build on that momentum and build even more, bigger casinos to keep the crowds coming. Right now, the situation doesn't look very promising.
Photo Credit: Matthias Ott
Fastest-Growing City: Raleigh, N.C.
Change in population, 2000-2008: 36.6%
The “research triangle” of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill has long given some vigor to the economy of North Carolina, with Duke and the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill leading employment in the area. As student populations grow and more choose to stay in the area after graduation, the city has risen to first place by increase in population from 2000-2008. All of this is good news for Democrats, as the city of Durham has voted for the democratic candidate in every presidential election since the town’s founding in 1869.
Photo Credit: joanna8555
3rd Biggest increase in wages: Durham, N.C.
Change in average weekly wage, December 2008 – December 2009: 9.5%
Comparing cities by the increase in wages they experienced between December of 2008 and 2009 sees Durham (part of the same broader community of Raleigh and Chapel Hill, N.C.) also doing well. With almost a 10% increase in the average weekly wage from December of 2008 to the same time a year earlier, Durham has seen a population increase occur along with rising wages.
Good news for any city struggling with providing for its residents during a recession, Durham has seen a significant increase in unemployment recently, which will surely dampen the city’s rapid growth in recent years.
Photo Credit: Matt Phillips
2nd Biggest increase in wages: Alachua, Fla.
Change in average weekly wage, December 2008 – December 2009: 10.1%
Alachua, a suburb to the northwest of Gainesville, Fla., has done well to engage in interesting projects to promote itself. Pushing solar energy via special tariffs and education in a city that has a high proportion of college graduates (the University of Florida is nearby), residents have a number of reasons besides the 10% increase in wages to be proud of where they live. This increase, occurring as it did during some of the worst months of recession so far, bodes well for the city’s resilience as the economy struggles to revive itself nationwide.
Photo Credit: Cliff
Biggest increase in wages: Douglas, Colo.
Change in average weekly wage, December 2008 – December 2009: 26.1%
For a city that came of age thanks to a vibrant ranching economy, Douglas County, Colorado has become a vibrant suburb of Colorado’s two largest cities, Denver and Colorado Springs, both less than an hour away in either direction. Perhaps because of the city’s makeup of people who go to the city nearby to earn a living, Douglas tops the list of American cities by change in average wages last year, posting a 26% increase.
Photo Credit: Greg Younger
3rd Highest Migration City: Dallas - Ft. Worth
Increase in population from migration, 2000-2008: 573,584
When looking at the popularity of different cities, migration is an excellent metric, since migrants tend to go where the living and opportunities show most promise. Texas’s largest urban hub in Dallas - Ft. Worth saw more than half a million people move there up to 2008. Perhaps that can be attributed to the large number of major companies in operation there, including Texas Instruments, Exxon Mobil, AT&T, Southwest Airlines and of course American Airlines, the largest employer in the city.
Photo Credit: pcxHB
2nd Highest Migration City: Atlanta
Increase in population from migration, 2000-2008: 599,183
The city that experienced the second highest total migration from 2000-2008 saw its numbers grow by almost 600,000, making Atlanta, the home of Coca-Cola, one of the major up-and-coming cities of the present era.
With the headquarters of other major corporations such as Turner Broadcasting, CNN, Delta Airlines and Georgia Pacific, Atlanta boasts the fourth highest concentration of Fortune 500 companies in the U.S., its airport is one of the busiest in the world and its businesses account for more than two-thirds of the state’s economy. It’s little wonder that it has attracted the attention it has, both from internal migrants from other parts of the U.S. and from abroad.
Photo Credit: Betsy Weber
Highest Migration City: Phoenix
Increase in population from migration, 2000-2008: 717,353
A huge influx of more than 700,000 people over eight years put Phoenix as the top city in the U.S. by migration to cement its place as one of the most up-and-coming cities in the nation.
Located in the Sonora desert, Phoenix records the highest average summer temperatures in the U.S., experiencing an average of 110 days where the thermostat climbs above 100 degrees, but this Baghdad-like climate has not been enough to dissuade people from coming to live in the city of the sun. As the first stop for many migrant workers coming from Mexico and Latin America, Phoenix has seen its non-white population claim a collective majority over white Phoenicians, though a controversial new immigration law in Arizona may prove to close Phoenix off for migrants looking to settle there without the proper work permits.
Photo Credit: John Morgan
3rd Largest increase in income: Manhattan, Kan.
Change in personal income, 2006-2007: 13.7%
Looking at change in personal income for the most recent years available, we find Manhattan, Kan., at number three for its 13% increase in that measure.
Home to Kansas State University and not much else, Manhattan has won accolades for its desirability as one of the best places to retire young. An abundance of golf courses and cultural activities related to Kansas State have made it a popular choice for those looking for a taste of the good life in rural Kansas. It may only be the eighth largest city in Kansas, but the city’s positive numbers for income are sure to attract even more within its borders.
Photo Credit: Darren Blackburn
2nd Largest increase in income: New Orleans
Change in personal income, 2006-2007: 16.9%
It has been a difficult decade for the Gulf coast. Hurricane Katrina hit with devastating effect in 2005, and the BP oil spill was soon to follow with environmental troubles.
Its impressive 16.9% increase in personal income likely has a lot to do with the city’s post-Katrina recovery, coming around the time that life was just getting back to normal in the Big Easy. For a city that has already come back from one disaster, the economic slowdown that the city is sure to feel as a result of losses in the fishing industry in the wake of the oil spill should not do too much damage to the city’s position as one of the up-and-coming places to be in the U.S.
Photo Credit: Ray Devlin
Largest increase in income: Biloxi, Miss.
Change in personal income, 2006-2007: 17.5%
Biloxi’s fortunes in the past decade match those of New Orleans, with much of the city devastated by 2005’s Hurricane Katrina.
With a thriving casino industry, Biloxi recovered from Katrina as well as could be expected, though it did not happen overnight. For those residents who stuck it out and got back on their feet, Biloxi represents a city on the rise, posting a 17.5% increase in personal income for the period. With some good luck, Biloxi will be able to keep the growth positive and may achieve its goal of coming back even stronger than it was before the disaster.
Photo Credit: Chris Metcalf