By Alex Tanzi | Bloomberg
The largest retirement community in the U.S. now doubles as the country’s second most-dynamic metropolitan area — sandwiched in the rankings between two California technology hubs.
Florida’s The Villages, has attracted early retirees, swelling its population, and also become a magnet for the host of services demanded by its community — from health to entertainment. It surged up to second place in 2021 from 11th the previous year in an annual index of more than 380 metropolitan areas released by Heartland Forward.
San Jose, Silicon Valley’s biggest city, took top spot, while San Francisco — while struggling to recover from the Covid-19 crisis — took third. Heartland, a think tank focused on economic development in the central states of the U.S., said the San Francisco Bay area remains a center of innovation and continues to attract high-tech talent.
The “Most Dynamic Metropolitans” report, in its third annual edition, ranks places based on criteria that include economic, employment and wage growth, as well entrepreneurship metrics like business creation.
Many cities at the top experienced population growth, including St. George, Utah, and Boise, Idaho, where newly remote workers flocked during the pandemic.
Among the sharpest declines in the ranking are metros that are dependent on oil and gas, despite the surge in energy prices last year and into 2022. Midland, Texas — No. 1 in 2019 and 2020 — sank to 38th.
The study reflects the geographic shifts of the past couple of years. Smaller metropolitan areas with outdoor activities and tourist attractions lured remote workers who fled big coastal cities and travelers who might have gone abroad if not for Covid.
Rocky Mountain states claimed a dozen of the top 25 spots in 2021, including five for Utah and three each for Idaho and Colorado.
The ranking also points to the boom in logistics and manufacturing hubs that benefited from the explosive growth in e-commerce, and from businesses seeking to lower their reliance on production overseas. A key example is the Memphis, Tennessee, area — home to the country’s busiest cargo airport thanks to FedEx Corp.
Arkansas appears to be another beneficiary — last year more people moved to the southern state than departed it for the first time since 2003, according to a study of migration patterns by Atlas Van Lines.
The Fayetteville, Arkansas, area, home of the ever-expanding mega-retailer Walmart Inc. in Bentonville, is now competing with the coasts for talent, according to Heartland Forward, which is based there. The region, which combines a big university and outdoor amenities, is also in LinkedIn Corp.’s top 10 “opportunity magnet” metropolitan areas.
Manufacturing centers including Columbus, Ohio — where Intel Corp. plans to open a massive computer-chip hub — and the nearby Cleveland area moved up in the Heartland Forward report. So did several Michigan locations.
While coastal superstar cities and tech centers remain highly ranked, the 2021 index shows that smaller and medium-sized places with a mix of new businesses and established companies or universities are gaining significant ground.
“Covid has taught us that diversification of a community’s economic ecosystem is what provides resilience during uncertainty,” said Ross DeVol, president and chief executive officer of Heartland Forward. “We hope that will be a takeaway from our current report.”
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