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The Best Small and Medium-Size Cities for Jobs 2017

The Best Small and Medium-Size Cities for Jobs 2017

May 26, 2017
Joel Kotkin and Michael Shires

Much of the U.S. media tends to see smaller cities as backwaters, inevitably left behind as the “best and brightest” head to the country’s mega-regions. The new economy, insists the Washington Post, favors large cities for start-ups and new businesses. Richard Florida has posited the emergence of a “winner take all urbanism” that tends to favor the richest cities, such as New York and San Francisco.

However this paradigm may reflect cosmopolitan attitudes and rivalries between large cities more than reality, with its complications and nuances. Smaller cities have long been disadvantaged in their ability to attract the most elite companies and Americans on the move, but that may well be changing. Following a post-financial crisis period in which many domestic migrants headed to the big cities, the latest Census data suggests that the flow is now going the other way, with the native born moving to smaller places with between 500,000 and a million people. The new trend in migration, notes the Atlantic’s Derek Thompson, a confirmed big city booster, has been a “great hollowing out,” with Americans leaving places like New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco for the suburbs and less costly, usually smaller cities. (Note that at least in New York’s case, foreign immigrants have been taking their places.)


Charleston-North Charleston, which ranked 4th on our list with a 3.2% job growth rate last year and 17.6% since 2011, epitomizes the new dynamic small cities. Not only does the area boast a charming ante-bellum urban core, and some of the country’s best food, it has also become attractive to companies seeking to lower costs. The city is home to Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner assembly plant and to Mercedes-Benz’s $500 million Charleston plant, which will add 1,300 jobs over the next few years. It is also about to house Volvo’s first North American manufacturing plant – a $500 million investment that could add up to 4,000 jobs home. Charleston has also emerged as something of a millennial draw as well, with the largest percentage of residents aged 25 to 34 of any midsized city.

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