Nov 21, 2019

Madison Named to List of Top Ten Booming Midwest Cities

America has many cities that are booming and others that are in severe distress. These two groups get the most public attention.

But what about cities between those two extremes—cities that are doing above average economically and demographically but not yet at the superstar level? This paper focuses on 10 such cities in the greater Midwest.

While the “Rust Belt” accounts for the lion’s share of America’s highly distressed cities, the image that this entire region is uniformly failing is not the whole story. There are well-performing cities in the Midwest that are growing in population and jobs faster than the U.S. average and have high-value economic sectors, civic assets, and amenities. They could potentially raise their performance to be more comparable with Sunbelt boomtowns.

These cities have succeeded by becoming economic centers of their state or immediate region. But to get to the next level, their challenge is to expand their appeal beyond their backyard to the nation at large. Moreover, if they fail to do this, their robust performance may degrade in the future as the population of their hinterlands declines.

While burdened with some factors beyond their control, such as cold winters, the cities in America’s older industrial heartland that have significantly reinvented themselves can find a way to grow, especially if they avoid repeating the housing-policy mistakes of coastal cities.

On the Threshold of the Major Leagues

Let us define cities as “superstars” if their metro areas exhibit real GDP per capita greater than 120% of the national average and per-capita income greater than 130% of the national average.[1] Another class of cities may be called “boomtowns”—growing both population and jobs at 1.5 times the national average.[2] Profiling urban America this way shows approximately 60 cities at the top of the performance spectrum.

At the low-performing end are about 50 deeply challenged urban regions[3] that I have characterized as “stagnating.”[4] These cities are in metro areas of fewer than 1 million people with a central city that has lost 20% of population or more from its peak. The best- and worst-performing metro areas total a bit more than a quarter of all U.S. metro areas.

What about the large number of cities in the middle? They are very diverse and cannot be lumped together in a single group. There is, however, a subgroup of cities, located in the Midwest, that perform above the U.S. average on metrics including population growth, job growth, GDP per capita, and college-degree attainment. To use a baseball metaphor, these cities are successful AAA players looking for a way to move up to the major leagues.

They are:

  • Cincinnati, Ohio
  • Columbus, Ohio
  • Des Moines, Iowa
  • Fargo, North Dakota
  • Grand Rapids, Michigan
  • Indianapolis, Indiana
  • Kansas City, Missouri-Kansas
  • Lexington, Kentucky
  • Madison, Wisconsin
  • Minneapolis–St. Paul, Minnesota

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For Further Information:

Aaron Renn