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The New Geography of Opportunity: Case Studies from a Changing Economic Landscape

A diverse range of cities and metropolitan areas have emerged as high-opportunity regional economies in 21st century America. This report examines those cities and towns and outlines their strengths.

Report by J.H. Cullum Clark January 28, 2022

A diverse range of cities and metropolitan areas have emerged as high-opportunity regional economies in 21st century America, sometimes in surprising places. This report explores six geographic patterns into which most of the high-opportunity cities, towns, and neighborhoods of the United States fit naturally. Fifty-six of the 64 “cities of opportunity” we’ve identified from among America’s 250 largest metro areas fit into one of four regional groups:

  • Star metro areas of the Northeast and Pacific coasts (4 metros).
  • Thriving metros of what we call the “Northwest 13” states (32 metros).
  • Booming metros of the Sun Belt (16 metros).
  • Emerging turnaround metros of the Midwest (4 metros).

In addition, two pervasive trends account for most high-opportunity places within America’s larger metropolitan areas:

  • The rise of urbanizing suburban cities as top-performing places of opportunity.
  • Growing bifurcation of large core cities into high-opportunity wealthy areas and low-opportunity struggling areas.

The case studies in this report offer the same takeaways as our companion report, “The Evolving Geography of Opportunity: Leading Cities of the Past, Present, and Future”: High-opportunity cities are places that emphasize education and innovation, offer a relatively good quality of life to residents, sustain a strong sense of community, welcome immigrants and other newcomers, and pursue commerce friendly economic policies.

The regional patterns we explore in this report offer different mixes of strengths and shortcomings in these respects. The star coastal metros perform best on education and innovation, the Northwestern metros on quality of life and social capital, and the Sun Belt metros on economic freedom and affordability. Emerging turnarounds in the Midwest are showing a path to growing prosperity and economic mobility based on strong knowledge generating institutions, social capital, and quality-of-life investments.

Read the full report (PDF) 

Read part one of the New Geography of Opportunity Series