Energy, Tourism and Entrepreneurship Drive Success for Top-Performing Small Cities


This week, Heartland Forward published the newest installment of its annual report, "Most Dynamic Micropolitan Regions," which ranks 515 micropolitans–regions whose populations range from 10,000 to 50,000–by their economic performance. Out of the micropolitans that Heartland Forward analyzed, Pecos, Texas; Jackson, Wyo.-Idaho; and Summit Park, Utah, ranked as the first, second, and third most dynamic micropolitans, respectively. Tourism, energy, and robust entrepreneurship were the most common strengths among the top 30 places. The report offers a view of small cities' economies heading into the COVID-19 pandemic, indicating which locations may be well positioned to capitalize on a potential exodus from large cities, and which may be most vulnerable to the economic impacts of the crisis.

"Understanding how our country's small communities were doing before the pandemic is critical for navigating the economic recovery ahead," said Ross DeVol, president and CEO of Heartland Forward. "Many micropolitans are thriving and rapidly creating new opportunities. If we can understand the factors that drive their success, we can help small regions across the country replicate best practices and successfully steer through these uncertain economic times."

Heartland Forward used eight different metrics to analyze micropolitan economies, drawing data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the Census Bureau. They introduced one new metric since last year's report: the knowledge intensiveness at young firms, which measures the share of employees at young firms with at least a bachelor's degree. This new metric rounds out Heartland Forward's analysis of long-term economic development, while other metrics like job and income growth indicate more recent economic development.

"Using both recent and long-term metrics allows us to paint a holistic picture of the economic conditions of micropolitan regions," said Minoli Ratnatunga, one of the authors of the report and a fellow at Heartland Forward. "With our new data, we can offer more insights into these communities' economies than ever before. Public-policy groups, elected officials, businesses and researchers can use our findings to benchmark cities and better understand whether their development strategies are having the desired effects."

The full report and rankings, including profiles for the top-performing cities, can be found here.