Move Over, San Francisco: Dallas Tops Our List Of The Best Cities For Jobs 2017

Joel Kotkin and Michael Shires
Joel Kotkin, Editor of NewGeography.com and Presidential fellow in urban futures at Chapman University, and Michael Shires, Associate Professor of Public Policy, Pepperdine University

Dallas is called the Big D for a reason. Bigger, better, best: that’s the Dallas mindset. From the gigantic Cowboys stadium in Arlington to the burgeoning northern suburbs to the posh arts district downtown, Dallasites are reinventing their metropolis almost daily. The proposed urban park along the Trinity River, my Dallas friends remind me, will be 11 times bigger than New York’s Central Park.

Here’s something else for them to boast about: the Dallas-Plano-Irving metropolitan area ranks first this year on our list of the Best Cities For Jobs.

2017 Best Cities Rankings Lists

It’s a region that in many ways is the polar opposite of the San Francisco and San Jose metropolitan areas, which have dominated our ranking for the last few years. (They still place second and eighth this year, respectively, among the largest 70 metropolitan areas, though San Jose is down sharply from second place last year.)

Unlike the tech-driven Bay Area, Dallas’ economy has multiple points of strength, including aerospace and defense, insurance, financial services, life sciences, data processing and transportation. Employment in the metro area has expanded 20.3% over the past five years and 4.2% last year, with robust job creation in professional and business services, as well as in a host of lower-paid sectors like retail, wholesale trade and hospitality.

According to Southern Methodist University’s Klaus Desmet and Collin Clark, Dallas’s success stems in part from the fact that it isn’t looking to appeal to the elite “creative class,” but to middle-class workers and the companies and executives who employ them. Dallas attracts both foreign and domestic migrants, particularly from places like California, where housing is, on an income-adjusted basis, often three times as expensive. This has had much to do with the relocation to the area of such companies as Jacobs Engineering, Toyota, Liberty Mutual and State Farm.

Methodology

Our rankings are based on short-, medium- and long-term job creation, going back to 2005, and factor in momentum — whether growth is slowing or accelerating. We have compiled separate rankings for America’s 70 largest metropolitan statistical areas (those with nonfarm employment over 450,000), which are our focus this week, as well as medium-size metro areas (between 150,000 and 450,000 nonfarm jobs) and small ones (less than 150,000 nonfarm jobs) in order to make the comparisons more relevant to each category. (For a detailed description of our methodology, click here.)

The Rise of Low-Cost Meccas

Dallas is far bigger (particularly if you add the neighboring 28th-ranked Ft. Worth-Arlington area to the mix) than any of the other metro areas that have prospered by offering cheaper alternatives to coastal cities, with lower taxes and generally more friendly business climates. Among them is No. 3 Nashville-Davidson-Murfreesboro-Franklin, Tenn.

The metro area has seen rapid job growth, nearly 20.6% since 2011. Last year job growth was across the board, including a 4.1% expansion in manufacturing employment, 5.2% in business professional services, and 2.9% in the information sector.

Like Dallas, Nashville has become a mecca for companies looking to relocate operations. Some, like UBS, are fleeing the high cost of places like New York or London. Others, like Lyft, are escaping high costs in coastal California. CKE Restaurants, owner of Carl’s Junior and Hardees, is moving operations from coastal California and St. Louis to set up shop in Nashville. All are bringing a diverse new range of jobs to the Music City.

Other low-cost migration meccas include fourth-place Charlotte-Concord, Gastonia, No. 5 Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, and No. 6 Salt Lake City. All boast growing tech centers with rapidly expanding STEM employment, as well as business and professional service growth.

Boom Towns Get Pricier

Some thriving metro areas on our list are becoming increasingly expensive, but they still don’t pack the tax and housing punch associated with blue state economies. No. 7 Austin-Round Rock, No. 9 Seattle-Bellevue-Everett and No. 11 Denver-Aurora-Lakewood have been big beneficiaries of the tech boom, and continue to attract migrants from areas like the Bay Area, where housing prices are still twice as high.

It’s possible for older large cities with strongholds in key industries to generate strong job growth. New York’s population growth in 2016 may be half of what was in 2010, but financial sector job growth and associated professional service firms enable the Big Apple to rank a respectable 25th. Another high-cost area, Boston-Cambridge-Quincy, with its unparalleled concentration of elite colleges, ranks 30th.

The picture is not so pretty in Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale, a region whose housing costs are almost as high as the Bay Area, with the same onerous state regulatory and tax burdens. It ranks 40th this year, with anemic 1.2% job growth in professional and business services over the past three years and 4% in financial services. The L.A. area continues to bleed manufacturing jobs, down 2.1% in the last year and 4.6% since 2013. Even retail and wholesale trade showed weakness in 2016, growing at a lowly 0.7% and 1.7% rate, respectively. The Information sector, highlighted by Snapchat’s splashy IPO, made the best showing for Tinseltown, with employment rising 4.2% in the last year. The sector, which includes entertainment, has seen employment expand an impressive 20.9% since the bottom of the recession in 2011.

As has been the case almost every year in this millennium, the super-sized metro area doing worst is Chicago. It ranks 51st this year, down four places. Since the Great Recession, Chicago has managed modest job growth of 8.3%, and only a weak 0.7% expansion in 2016. Despite an uptick in financial services jobs over the past two years, and some ballyhooed relocations of corporate headquarters, the metro area has been losing jobs in information, manufacturing, and wholesale trade. Business services was up a scant 0.5% in the last year.

Demographic Change and Changing Momentum

The resurgence of expensive areas — notably New York and the San Francisco area — has been propelled largely by demographic trends, notably the movement of highly educated millennials to these areas. Yet as millennials begin to enter their 30s, and seek to buy homes and raise families, the momentum may be turning decisively to regions that are both less expensive but still have considerable appeal to educated workers. Most of the big gainers this year – Dallas, Orlando, Salt Lake, Raleigh, and No. 24 Indianapolis – have developed better inner-city amenities in recent years while keeping housing costs low.

This shift is being driven in large part by unsustainable housing costs. In the Bay Area, techies are increasingly looking for jobs outside the tech hub, and some companies are even offering cash bonuses for those willing to leave. A recent poll indicated that 46% of Millennials want to leave the San Francisco Bay Area.

It seems that some areas located in pro-business, low-tax states are increasingly attracting the educated millennials that we usually associate with places like San Francisco, Brooklyn or West L.A. Since 2010, among educated millennials, the fastest growth in migration has been to such lower-cost regions as Atlanta, Orlando, New Orleans, Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth.

Over time, this migration could restructure the geography of job growth. As the middle class, particularly those of child-bearing age, continue moving out of states like California and into states like Texas. Utah or The Carolinas, the geography of skills changes. New families, a critical engine of job growth, are far more likely to form in Salt Lake City, the four large Texas metropolitan areas, or Atlanta, than in the bluest metropolitan areas like New York, Seattle, Los Angeles or San Francisco, where the number of school-age children trend well below the national average.

Ultimately, we may be on the cusp of a new economic era in which the cost of housing and living becomes once again a key determinant in regional growth. This trend has been developing for years, but both demographics, notably the aging of millennials, and out of control costs could accelerate it. Many areas may wish to somehow emerge as “the new Silicon Valley,” just as they wished once to be the next “Wall Street” or “Hollywood.” Yet these iconic economies are difficult, to impossible, to duplicate. It might make more sense instead to look the success of places like Dallas — where lower costs are luring companies and talent at a level unrivaled in the nation.

This piece originally appeared on Forbes.

Cross-posted at New Geography.

Share this article: Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInPin on PinterestEmail this to someone

Comment on this article


Please note, statements and opinions expressed on the Fox&Hounds Blog are solely those of their respective authors and may not represent the views of Fox&Hounds Daily or its employees thereof. Fox&Hounds Daily is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the site's bloggers.