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U.S. Cities With the Most Economic Growth in 2021

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The U.S. economy has made a remarkable comeback from the deep dive caused by the pandemic. Consumer spending (fueled by savings and government stimulus money) is strong, the economy recently added the most jobs in nearly a year, and the housing market is booming. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nonfarm employment has grown by 1.5% from January to May, and the unemployment rate is now 5.9%, well below the high of 14.8% seen in April 2020.

In the spring of last year, real gross domestic product (GDP)—a measure of economic activity used to track the health of the country—fell by a record annualized rate of 31.4%, the sharpest contraction in modern U.S. history. In comparison, real GDP fell by less than 9% annualized in 2008 during the Great Recession and took several years to recover. Following the initial COVID-19 shutdowns, GDP has been recovering quickly as economic activity resumes, and is projected to return to its pre-pandemic level later this year.

US GDP 2021

Alongside the broader economic contraction were massive job losses: non-farm employment initially dropped by 20.5 million in the early stages of the pandemic. Following this unprecedented decline, employment increased sharply in May of last year, but since then, the recovery has slowed with current employment far below pre-pandemic levels. Some cities and states have been affected more than others depending on local economic factors. As such, current unemployment rates vary widely across the country, ranging from less than 3% to more than 10%.

To find the locations with the most economic growth in 2021, researchers at Stessa analyzed data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. Census Bureau, and Redfin, creating a composite score based on the following factors:

  • Percentage change in total employment from January to May 2021
  • Unemployment rate from May 2021
  • Average monthly building permits per capita (averaged over January to May 2021)
  • Average monthly home sales per capita (averaged over January to May 2021)

Based on these metrics, Utah and Florida are the two states with the most economic growth this year. Both states saw employment grow by 1.5% from January to May and have lower than average unemployment rates (at 2.7% and 5.0%, respectively). At a time when housing is in short supply across much of the country, new residential construction is booming in these states, with 107 and 79 average monthly building permits per 100,000 residents, respectively, far above the national rate of 43.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, Louisiana and Alaska reported the least economic growth so far this year. Louisiana employment actually decreased slightly from January to May while employment in Alaska increased only marginally. Both states have higher than average unemployment rates and lower than average residential construction and home sales per capita.

 


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To find the metropolitan areas with the most economic growth, Stessa ranked metros using the same composite score. To improve relevance, only metropolitan areas with at least 100,000 people were included in the analysis. Additionally, metro areas were grouped based on population size.

Here are the U.S. metros experiencing the most economic growth in 2021.

 

Large Metros With the Most Economic Growth in 2021


15. Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia, NC-SC

  • Composite score: 63.6
  • Percentage change in total employment: 0.4%
  • Unemployment rate: 4.3%
  • Average monthly building permits per 100,000 residents: 83
  • Average monthly home sales per 100,000 residents: 152
  • Population: 2,636,883

 

14. Phoenix-Mesa-Chandler, AZ

  • Composite score: 64.4
  • Percentage change in total employment: 1.3%
  • Unemployment rate: 6.2%
  • Average monthly building permits per 100,000 residents: 88
  • Average monthly home sales per 100,000 residents: 173
  • Population: 4,948,203

 


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13. Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, OR-WA

  • Composite score: 64.6
  • Percentage change in total employment: 2.6%
  • Unemployment rate: 5.3%
  • Average monthly building permits per 100,000 residents: 51
  • Average monthly home sales per 100,000 residents: 133
  • Population: 2,493,221

 

Las Vegas

12. Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise, NV

  • Composite score: 64.7
  • Percentage change in total employment: 3.1%
  • Unemployment rate: 8.9%
  • Average monthly building permits per 100,000 residents: 63
  • Average monthly home sales per 100,000 residents: 181
  • Population: 2,266,715

 

denver

11. Denver-Aurora-Lakewood, CO

  • Composite score: 65.3
  • Percentage change in total employment: 1.6%
  • Unemployment rate: 5.9%
  • Average monthly building permits per 100,000 residents: 77
  • Average monthly home sales per 100,000 residents: 156
  • Population: 2,967,239

 

atlanta

10. Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Alpharetta, GA

  • Composite score: 68.9
  • Percentage change in total employment: 1.1%
  • Unemployment rate: 3.9%
  • Average monthly building permits per 100,000 residents: 55
  • Average monthly home sales per 100,000 residents: 153
  • Population: 6,018,744

 

Salt Lake City

9. Salt Lake City, UT

  • Composite score: 69.9
  • Percentage change in total employment: 1.1%
  • Unemployment rate: 2.8%
  • Average monthly building permits per 100,000 residents: 78
  • Average monthly home sales per 100,000 residents: 107
  • Population: 1,232,696

 

Tampa

8. Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL

  • Composite score: 70.4
  • Percentage change in total employment: 1.0%
  • Unemployment rate: 4.6%
  • Average monthly building permits per 100,000 residents: 75
  • Average monthly home sales per 100,000 residents: 193
  • Population: 3,194,831

 

Minneapolis

7. Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI

  • Composite score: 71.4
  • Percentage change in total employment: 1.7%
  • Unemployment rate: 3.8%
  • Average monthly building permits per 100,000 residents: 57
  • Average monthly home sales per 100,000 residents: 122
  • Population: 3,640,043

 

6. Oklahoma City, OK

  • Composite score: 73.0
  • Percentage change in total employment: 1.3%
  • Unemployment rate: 3.6%
  • Average monthly building permits per 100,000 residents: 55
  • Average monthly home sales per 100,000 residents: 139
  • Population: 1,408,950

 

5. Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, FL

  • Composite score: 74.7
  • Percentage change in total employment: 2.8%
  • Unemployment rate: 5.4%
  • Average monthly building permits per 100,000 residents: 84
  • Average monthly home sales per 100,000 residents: 173
  • Population: 2,608,147

 

Jacksonville

4. Jacksonville, FL

  • Composite score: 75.0
  • Percentage change in total employment: 0.8%
  • Unemployment rate: 4.2%
  • Average monthly building permits per 100,000 residents: 127
  • Average monthly home sales per 100,000 residents: 191
  • Population: 1,559,514

 

austin

3. Austin-Round Rock-Georgetown, TX

  • Composite score: 77.9
  • Percentage change in total employment: 1.3%
  • Unemployment rate: 4.2%
  • Average monthly building permits per 100,000 residents: 207
  • Average monthly home sales per 100,000 residents: 138
  • Population: 2,227,083

 


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Raleigh

2.Raleigh-Cary, NC

  • Composite score: 78.6
  • Percentage change in total employment: 1.0%
  • Unemployment rate: 3.8%
  • Average monthly building permits per 100,000 residents: 136
  • Average monthly home sales per 100,000 residents: 168
  • Population: 1,390,785

 

1. Nashville-Davidson–Murfreesboro–Franklin, TN

  • Composite score: 78.9
  • Percentage change in total employment: 1.1%
  • Unemployment rate: 3.9%
  • Average monthly building permits per 100,000 residents: 132
  • Average monthly home sales per 100,000 residents: 174
  • Population: 1,933,860

 

Detailed Findings & Methodology

The metropolitan areas with the most economic growth in 2021 are scattered across the South, Southeast, and West. These metros have fared well in their economic recovery from the pandemic, with good employment growth, low unemployment rates, and strong housing markets. One of the hardest hit metro areas in the U.S. during the pandemic, Las Vegas, had the highest employment growth from January to May, at 3.1%. Florida is home to a number of large metros in the top 15, due to brisk home sales and lower than average unemployment rates.

A significant number of small and midsize metros with the most economic growth in 2021 are located in Florida and Utah. The Naples-Marco Island, FL metro area had an average of 462 monthly home sales per 100,000 residents in the first 5 months of 2021, nearly 3 times the national average. New home construction is also booming in many of these areas—the North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton, FL had an average of 159 monthly building permits per 100,000 residents, 3.7 times the national average of 43.

To find the locations with the most economic growth in 2021, researchers at Stessa analyzed data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. Census Bureau, and Redfin, creating a composite score based on the following factors:

  • Percentage change in total employment from January to May 2021
  • Unemployment rate from May 2021
  • Average monthly building permits per capita (averaged over January to May 2021)
  • Average monthly home sales per capita (averaged over January to May 2021)

Only locations with available data across all metrics were included. Metro areas and states were ranked according to their composite score. In the event of a tie, the location with the larger percentage change in total employment was ranked higher. Additionally, metros were grouped into the following cohorts based on population size:

  • Small metros: 100,000–349,999
  • Midsize metros: 350,000–999,999
  • Large metros: 1,000,000 or more

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