The Anti-Detroits

08.19.13

America’s Thriving Cities, From Seattle to Boston

With low unemployment, growing populations, and burgeoning economies, these are the top 20 urban capitals of American progress.

Since Detroit declared bankruptcy last month, economists and journalists have been rushing to predict which city will be the next to fall. Chicken Littles have rushed to point out the “next Detroits,” complete with maps with circles hovering ominously over the nation’s cities.

But tempting as it may be to look at Detroit’s story as a harbinger of things to come for other struggling cities, research indicates that local economies are actually improving. In fact, it’s perhaps more illustrative of the state of the nation to find places that are thriving post-recession.

The Daily Beast wanted to find the cities with growing populations, with more job prospects, and a better chance to climb the income ladder. Once we found where people were going, we looked at the environment they would find. These are cities with a thriving housing market and the intellectual capital to innovate and improve. Finally, we considered municipal bond ratings.

To come up with our list, we looked at the 100 largest cities in the U.S. and compared them in categories of population growth (20 percent), employment and earnings (30 percent), market strength (20 percent), infrastructure (15 percent), and intellectual capital (15 percent) and weighted them accordingly. We used data from the U.S. Census, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Equality of Opportunity Project, Moody’s Credit Services, Zillow, and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

With four of its cities in the top five, California is the big winner of our search, followed closely by Texas and Arizona with three each. Due to their size, these three states had a better chance of making the list, as more of their cities were in the original pool, compared with a state like Massachusetts, which only had one city (Boston, No. 16) in the 100 most populated. Even so, cities in these Southern and Western regions scored consistently high marks across each metric. The Arizona cities have very little poverty. As for California, Irvine gained about 18,000 residents since 2010, making it the eighth fastest-growing city in the entire country. And cities in the Golden State were generally better for upward mobility, meaning people were more often able to earn more than the income class into which they were born.

Austin, Texas, and Seattle, Washington, coming in at four and six on our list, are not only two of the coolest in the country, their population boom, low unemployment rates, and perfect Aaa-rating from Moody’s place them among the most thriving.