Saturday, September 13th, 2008

Milken Institute: 2008 Best Performing Cities

The Milken Institute (yes, run by that Milken) just published its 2008 Best Performing Cities Report. Subtitled, “Where America’s jobs are created and sustained”, this report considers just that. It’s rankings are based entirely on figures in three categories: job growth (short and long term), wage growth, and the amount of high tech jobs.

This report really hits home for the Midwest, which did, well, pretty awful. Here is how the cities I track stack up:

2008 Rank City 2007 Rank
77 Kansas City 116
81 Indianapolis 120
131 Louisville 169
135 Columbus 154
137 Minneapolis 151
152 St. Louis 125
157 Milwaukee 162
160 Chicago 152
173 Cincinnati 167
193 Cleveland 193
200 Detroit 197

The rank is out of the top 200 areas by population. Milken does do one unusual thing in that for those metro areas that have what are called “Metropolitan Divisions”, it treated all of them as separate cities. I picked the core county MD to rank. For example, Chicago has three MD’s, and the 160 rank is for the core Chicago MD, not the Gary one or the Lake County one.

The big ah-ah is that even the Midwest’s shining lights have nothing to write home about on the jobs front. There was one MSA, Des Moines, which appears to be rocking and rolling, which came in at #25, but since it is smaller than one million in population, I usually don’t cover it here. (Peoria also put in a solid showing at #43).

These stats also confirm the success trends indicated by the Census estimates. The top five places here are the top five in population, showing the virtuous circle between jobs and population. I had previously mentioned how Louisville appeared to hit a population inflection point and had started joining the traditional Midwest top four, and the jobs numbers back that story up.

Indy and KC do particularly well, with a 50 rank gap between them and the next group. Still, they badly trail peer cities around the country like Austin (#4), San Antonio (#15), Nashville (#22), and Portland (#28).

There is a huge gap between the top five and the rest. Note, for example, that the top five all boosted their scores this year, sometimes significantly. The rest of the metros either stagnated or declined. There really are two Midwests going on when it comes to these large cities.

Chicago continues to show data that belies the common story of its success. While the city of Chicago, especially the central core, is indisputably prosperous and booming, the metro region as a whole is trailing the Midwest leaders. It has high levels of domestic outmigration and, as this report indicates, is lagging badly on the jobs front.

Cleveland and Detroit bringing up the rear should come as no surprise to anyone.

This report should be another bucket of cold water in the face to the Midwest’s cities. Other than Des Moines, even the best of them are far from top performers. Significant improvement is needed.

Topics: Economic Development

5 Responses to “Milken Institute: 2008 Best Performing Cities”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Des Moines has John Deere. Peoria has Catepillar. Connection?

  2. David says:

    Isn’t John Deere in Moline?

  3. thundermutt says:

    Columbus, Indiana is also rocking and rolling. The connection is “cheap dollar makes heavy capital exports viable”. Thus old-line industrial capital equipment manufacturers like Cummins, Deere, and Cat are currently in an upswing.

    A global recession might cool things off, especially if interest rates in the US rise. Sooner or later, we’re going to have to take the medicine…cheap money simply encourages the credit follies that are now unwinding.

  4. Deuteronomy says:

    If it’s any consolation, the metros in my current region of the Northeast are doing a fair amount worse than the Midwest. Only one metro, that of Washington DC, made it into the top 50. A smattering of smaller cities made it into the top 100, as well at New York, but generally the Northeast ranks dead last for new job creation.

  5. Anonymous says:

    81 isn’t great, but there is cause for optimism. Indy ranked #22 in the Biggest Gainers category. A +39 spot jump is impressive. And Indy is on top (or second) of large Midwestern cities. We face the same challenge as neighboring cities (high percentage of manufacturing – especially automotive – jobs, cold winters, less than awe-inspiring geographic features), but have managed to pull ahead of most of them in job growth.

    Having lived in two geographies that I consider very ‘opposite,’ the Wasatch Front and the Puget Sound area, I have a couple observations. Whereas the Puget Sound is very liberal, has pretty high taxes (though no state corporate income taxes), high union membership, high salaries, and mild winters, the Wasatch Front is conservative, has a very pro-business climate, and has low union rates, lower salaries, and cold winters. Yet both have multiple cities in the top 20 (Provo, SLC, Olympia, Tacoma, Seattle). So solid economic growth is achievable regardless of policial ideology, union strength in a state, tax rates (to a degree), and coldness.

    Here’s what I think the areas have in common:

    a. Great universities where a lot of money is invested in medical research, engineering, hard math and sciences, and other graduate programs. If you want certain industries to thrive in your area, invest in those industries at your local universities.
    b. Beautiful geography. Here Indy simply can not compete. That is why I believe it is imperitive we build a beautiful urban environment – it is the only environment we have to show off.
    c. Horrible traffic AND excellent public transportation systems (the two always go together).
    d. Ethusiastic denizens. Not always, of course, but for the most part the people in those regions love their cities.
    e. Educated denizens and good public schools (though certainly both areas have problems).
    f. Lots of tourism. People who visit SLC to ski or the Northwest love it! We need to give outsiders a reason to come here and then impress them once they arrive.

The Urban State of Mind: Meditations on the City is the first Urbanophile e-book, featuring provocative essays on the key issues facing our cities, including innovation, talent attraction and brain drain, global soft power, sustainability, economic development, and localism. Included are 28 carefully curated essays out of nearly 1,200 posts in the first seven years of the Urbanophile, plus 9 original pieces. It's great for anyone who cares about our cities.

About the Urbanophile


Aaron M. Renn is an opinion-leading urban analyst, consultant, speaker, and writer on a mission to help America’s cities thrive and find sustainable success in the 21st century.

Full Bio


Please email before connecting with me on LinkedIn if we don't already know each other.



Copyright © 2006-2014 Urbanophile, LLC, All Rights Reserved - Click here for copyright information and disclosures