It is painfully clear that the current U.S. economic recovery has been a meager one, with the benefits highly concentrated among the wealthiest. The notion that “a rising tide” lifts all boats has been sunk, along with the good ship middle class.
Geographically as well, the recovery has been concentrated in a relative handful of regions. Nationwide, real per capita GDP rose a meager 3.8% from 2010 through 2013, according to new Bureau of Economic Analysis numbers. An analysis of the data by urban expert Aaron Renn shows that a handful of metropolitan areas have enjoyed much faster growth. For the most part, these are areas that have cashed in on the current technology or energy booms, and in some cases, both. Also, surprisingly, there have been some very good gains in some of the nation’s long-distressed industrial heartland metro areas, as the combination of energy development and a resurgent automobile industry have boosted regional GDP.
Of the nation’s 52 largest metropolitan statistical areas, many of the top performers have strong tech economies, led by the No. 2 metro area on our list, San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, aka Silicon Valley, where real per capita GDP expanded 11.5% from 2010-13. Perhaps more surprising is the strong, tech-fuelled performance of No. 3 Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, Ore., where real per capita GDP grew 9.2%. The prime contributor has been the robust performance of late of Intel, the state’s largest private employer, which employs about 17,000 in Portland’s western suburbs around the town of Hillsboro, the company’s largest concentration of workers anywhere.
Other less heralded tech centers have also performed well, including No. 4 Columbus, Ohio (8.2% growth), and No. 8 Salt Lake City (7.3%), both of which are also benefiting from the surge in oil and gas production. Among smaller cities with strong tech communities, Fargo, N.D., and Provo-Orem, Utah, have enjoyed better than 10% real per capita GDP growth since 2010.
Per capita growth in the energy states has been even more impressive. Placing first on our big cities list is Houston-the Woodlands-Sugarland, Texas, where per capita GDP rose 13.2% from 2010-13, a major achievement in a region whose population continues to grow rapidly. Zooming out to all 381 U.S. MSAs, no places come close to the two Texas oil towns that rank first and second overall, Midland (sizzling 38.8% growth since 2010) and Odessa (34.1%). Both lie in the Permian basin, an oil-rich geological formation that was first tapped in the 1920s and has seen a marked revival in production recently due to advances in extraction techniques like horizontal drilling and fracking. Also notable, the southern Texas town of Victoria clocked over 21% growth.
Among the largest metro areas, energy hubs also did well, including Oklahoma City (7th, 7.5%) and Dallas-Ft. Worth-Arlington (13th, 6.5%) and the San Antonio area (16th), which is benefiting from a gusher in the Eagle Ford Shale play. Economist estimate its development has pumped $87 billion into the south Texas economy.