Low-cost tech hubs are emerging as America’s most dynamic cities

Move over, San Francisco: These small cities are becoming economic powerhouses.

Move over, New York, Los Angeles, and Miami—the most dynamic cities in America are smaller, more affordable, and far away from the coasts. 

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Move over, New York, Los Angeles, and Miami—the most dynamic cities in America are smaller, more affordable, and far away from the coasts. 

U.S. cities that are relatively low-cost and boast burgeoning tech centers are soaring toward the top of the list of the country’s most economically dynamic cities, according to a new report by Heartland Forward, an Arkansas-based think tank that researches economic prospects in more than 20 states in the Midwest and Mountain West.

The pandemic created a major rethink of where people can work, and the most dynamic cities are the ones near recreation areas that have been able to take advantage of work-from-home trends.

The top 20 most dynamic cities in the U.S.

Researchers determined “dynamism” by analyzing data on population, job, wages, and city-level GDP growth to track how local economies evolved in 2021. They also looked at the density of young business activity, and the density of well-educated workers. 

  1. San Jose–Sunnyvale–Santa Clara, Calif.
  2. The Villages, Fla.
  3. San Francisco, Calif.
  4. St. George, Utah
  5. Provo-Orem, Utah
  6. Logan, Utah-Idaho
  7. Austin–Round Rock–Georgetown, Texas
  8. Bend, Ore.
  9. Boulder, Colo.
  10. Naples–Marco Island, Fla.
  11. Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue-Washington
  12. Boise City, Idaho
  13. Salt Lake City, Utah
  14. Reno, Nevada
  15. Idaho Falls, Idaho
  16. Ogden-Clearfield, Utah
  17. Coeur d’Alene, Idaho
  18. Fort Collins, Colo.
  19. Durham–Chapel Hill, N.C.
  20. Crestview–Fort Walton Beach-Destin, Fla. 

New tech hubs on the rise

Traditional tech cities like San Francisco and Seattle are still in the top five, but smaller and rural tech centers that started booming during the pandemic have surged in the rankings.

Top performers included Austin, which ranked as the U.S.’s seventh most economically dynamic city, maintaining its top 10 position after finishing sixth last year. In 2021, Austin cemented its status as a blossoming tech hub after recording record-high population growth and becoming the new location for Tesla’s headquarters

Boise, which ranked 12th, and Salt Lake City, which ranked 13th, have become a hub for innovation and startup technology, and have seen their population soar over the pandemic.  

Boise has seen young tech millionaires and promising startups move to the city from Silicon Valley in waves since the pandemic, and was even ranked as one of the five best cities to start a business in 2021 by personal finance website WalletHub. 

Salt Lake City, meanwhile, sits at the center of Utah’s remarkable ascent to being named the best U.S. state for startups. There are so many young tech startups in and around the city that investors have begun referring to the area as Silicon Slopes.

Affordability & recreation are important

The pandemic kicked off a major migration of white collar workers out of the nation’s largest and most expensive cities—first because of a fear of catching the virus, and then because people enjoyed extra space, lower cost of living, and less stressful surroundings. 

Things like walkable urban centers in lower-cost cities were major draws, and the Heartland report noted that many of the country’s most dynamic cities have access to outdoor recreational activities, are affordable, and offer a diverse mix of interesting job opportunities for young workers.  

“Cultural and recreational amenities provide such opportunities in our own backyard, and the most successful metros during the pandemic era have an abundance of these amenities,” the report read.

With employees nationwide clamoring to continue working remotely even after the pandemic, the big yards, spacious homes, and low cost of living of inland cities may be key to sustaining their dynamic growth trajectory.

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