These days it's big-city mayors and big blue-state governors who are looking for financial support from Obama. Northeast boosters are convinced more money on mass transit, inter-city rail lines and scientific research will rev up their economies. Boston -- No. 16 on the list of large cities and a leading medical and scientific research center -- could be a beneficiary of the new federal spending.
The most obvious winner from the recent power shift should be Washington, D.C. The Obama-led stimulus, including the massive Treasury bailout, has transformed the town from merely the political capital into the de facto center of regular capital as well. Watch for D.C. and its environs to move up our list over the next year or two. Already the area boasts one of the few strong apartment markets among the big metropolitan areas in the country, which will only improve as job-seekers flock to the new Rome.
Yet Washington is an anomaly, because most of the places that stand to benefit from this unforgiving economy are ones that are affordable and therefore friendly to business, reinforcing a key trend of the last decade. It also helps regions to have ties to core industries like energy and agriculture, a sector that has remained relatively strong and will strengthen again when global demand for food increases.
Some areas have attracted new residents readily and continue to do so, albeit at a somewhat slower pace. Over time this migration could be good news for a handful of metropolitan areas like Salt Lake City, which ranks seventh among the big cities for job growth, and Raleigh-Cary, N.C., which was No. 1 among large cities last year and No. 8 this year. Over the last few years, these places have consistently appeared at the top of our rankings and are emerging as preferred sites for cutting-edge technology and manufacturing firms.
Below these winners are a cluster of other promising places that have already managed to withstand the current downturn in decent shape and seem certain to rebound along with the overall economy. These include the largely suburban area around Kansas City, Kan., perennial high-flyer Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, and Greeley, Colo. -- in part due to their ability to attract workers and businesses from bigger metropolitan centers nearby -- as well as Huntsville, Ala., which has a strong concentration of workers in the government and high-tech sectors.
In the end, most of the cities at the top of the lists--whether they are small, medium or large--have shown they have what it takes to survive in tough times. Less-stressed local governments will be able to construct needed infrastructure and attract new investors so that job growth can rise to the levels of past years. If better days are in the offing, these areas seem best positioned to be the next drivers of the economic expansion this nation sorely needs.