Will Winston-Salem, Greensboro and High Point Punch Above Their Weight?

An interesting piece in Foreign Policy makes the case that "middleweight" cities, those with populations between 150,000 and 10 million people, will drive the economic recovery in the U.S.:

It is America's large cities, and particularly the broad swath of middleweights, that will be the key to the U.S. recovery and a key contributor to global growth in the next 15 years. Large cities in the United States will contribute more to global growth than the large cities of all other developed countries combined. We expect the collective GDP of these large U.S. cities to rise by almost $5.7 trillion — generating more than 10 percent of global GDP growth — by 2025. While New York and Los Angeles together are expected to grow at a compound annual rate of 2.1 percent between 2010 and 2025, the top 30 middleweights (measured by GDP) are expected to outpace them with a growth rate of 2.6 percent.

What is behind the clout of middleweights in the United States? For a start, there are simply more of them than in other developed regions. Of more than 600 middleweight cities around the developed world, the United States is home to 257 of them…

For cities like our three here in the Triad, there's no magic formula for reinvention or reinvigoration:

While slowing population growth and mobility will make it harder for U.S. cities to sustain rapid population growth rates, cities that want to grow their GDP will need to pay attention to attracting and supporting expanding populations. Many observers argue that it is the mix of local industries in a city that determines its ability to grow. This is true — but to a much lesser extent than often assumed. Our analysis suggests that the mix of sectors explains only about one-third of the above-average growth of America's most rapidly growing cities. (Emphasis mine).

Even when narrowing our focus to the strongest performing cities, again there is no single path to success — no unique blueprint that all urban leaders should pursue. The cities that outperform their peers simply find ways to make the most of the economic opportunities they face, get lucky, or both. Some cities have been able to reinvent themselves; many others make the most of their endowments or their location.

This is sobering news for those folks working in economic development. The Triad's cities have been forced to reinvent themselves thanks to the rapid decline of their traditional industries – tobacco, textiles and furniture – and they seem to have started to find their footing with industries like biotech, nanotech, logistics, etc. That's the good news, but this study makes the point that the effect of the growth in these sectors will be muted if they aren't accompanied by an influx of people. It seems like a bit of a "chicken and egg" thing to me – you need good jobs to attract people, and you need good people to attract good jobs – but as the authors point out there's also a need for a bit of good luck to be in the mix and maybe that's what turns the egg into a chicken.

The Triad's good fortune might be found at the end of the article:

But the landscape is moving. For example, the shift in the global economic balance to rising emerging nations favors urban centers that are well connected to global growth hubs. Cities with airport hubs and ports, business connections (such as electronics value chains), or personal connections (with universities that attract foreign students) will be in a better position to take advantage of the growing emerging market opportunity.

Granted PTI is not an airport hub, but we're right next door to one and our other transportation infrastructure is critical to the east coast. We're also home to lots of universities and large corporations that draw people from around the world. All things considered I like the Triad's chances.

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