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New research ranks the most economically dynamic cites in America, underscores opportunities and threats brought on by COVID-19


Today, Heartland Forward published a new report, “Most Dynamic Metropolitan Regions,” that ranks 375 U.S. metropolitans by their economic performance. While Midland, Texas, the capital of the oil-rich Permian basin, placed first for the second consecutive year, Northwest Arkansas was ranked No. 21 and third among its medium-sized metro peers (population of 500,000-999,999). The rankings draw upon both pre-pandemic data and recent job momentum data to assess each metropolitan’s economic performance before and during the pandemic. Cities with vibrant tech, tourism and oil & gas industries performed best, but some of these sectors are especially vulnerable to the economic fallout of COVID-19—putting these cities’ future success in jeopardy.

“From Little Rock to the Memphis Delta, Northwest Arkansas, Fort Smith, Texarkana, and Pine Bluff, the leaders in Arkansas’s metropolitan areas innovate, invest in their community, and ignite the entrepreneurial spirit, which is why the Natural State is a great place to do business and call home,” said Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson. “Heartland Forward’s recognition of these communities and its ranking of Northwest Arkansas metro as the third best among medium metros around the nation confirms what Arkansans already know. Thanks to the Most Dynamic Metropolitans report, now the rest of the world knows.”

“We are pleased to see Northwest Arkansas rank 21 in Heartland Forward’s report of top 30 of the nation’s most dynamic metropolitans and third among our “medium” metro peers,” said Nelson Peacock, president and CEO of the Northwest Arkansas Council. “With a vibrant economy and access to unique outdoor, arts and cultural amenities; it’s no surprise our community continues to receive high marks for its incredible quality of life.”

The following metropolitans made the top 10:

  1. Midland, Texas

  2. San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clare, Calif.

  3. Provo-Orem, Utah

  4. Boulder, Colo.

  5. San Francisco-Oakland-Haywood, Calif.

  6. Austin-Round Rock, Texas

  7. Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, Wash.

  8. Greely, Colo.

  9. Naples-Immokalee-Marco Island, Fla.

  10. St. George, Utah

“This research offers insight into how our country’s cities, which account for more than 88% of America’s GDP, can position themselves for economic success,” said Ross DeVol, president and CEO of Heartland Forward. “To help navigate the road to recovery from the pandemic, policymakers in regions across the country can use our report to better understand their communities and adapt their neighbors’ strategies to their own needs. Heartland cities—even those that didn’t make the top 30—are well-positioned to turn the COVID-19 crisis into an opportunity to thrive post-pandemic.”

Heartland Forward constructed an index to rank the metropolitan areas, including metrics such as job growth, job momentum, average annual earnings, GDP gains, total jobs at new businesses and employee educational attainment. The metrics capture both short- and long-term trends, with data on job momentum through this past August and data on employee educational attainment from 2017. Heartland Forward draws data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Just five Heartland cities made the top 30, but the report makes the case that cities in the middle of the country may be in a good position to move up in the rankings post-pandemic as workers seek lower costs of living, greater access to raw materials and lower start-up costs.

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


Special thanks to our major investors for their support of the Northwest Arkansas Council and our work in the region: