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A new study gauges the relative contribution of U.S. metros to population, innovation, and economic growth.

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Growth is a mantra that cities, as well as nations and states, everywhere quest after. A growing number of economists caution that growth for growth’s sake does not necessarily equate to higher living standards or increased happiness. A blue-ribbon international commission headed by Nobel Prize-winning economists Joseph Stiglitz and Amartya Sen has called for new, broader measures of economic performance and social progress. Plus, not all "growth" is the same. I've previously called attention to "growth without growth," the misguided notion that adding population equals economic growth. 

A new report [PDF] from my colleagues at the Martin Prosperity Institute provides a fresh take on this issue. It looks at how regions contribute to four key categories of regional economic development — population, innovation, creativity, and economic output. Basically, the study calculated a metro's share of the U.S. total for each of the four categories. The table below, from the study, charts the metros that top the list in each of the four categories. It lists the category that each metro does best in.

Table from the report

San Jose (Silicon Valley) leads in innovation; Washington, D.C., leads in its contribution to the creative class (Pittsburgh is fifth); New York leads in its contribution to GDP, while Miami leads in its contribution to population.*

The map below by MPI’s Zara Matheson, also from the study, charts all U.S. metros across these four categories.

Map by MPI’s Zara Matheson

Large metros not surprisingly exhibit the highest contributions to GDP, while Sun Belt metros contribute most to population. Innovation is highest in the Bay Area and other high-tech hot spots. One of the most promising trends shows substantial creative class contributions occurring not just in Washington, D.C., but in nearby Baltimore as well as Atlanta and Rust Belt metros of St. Louis and Pittsburgh. These four metros are home to leading research universities.

The report also notes a phenomenon of "peripheral clustering," which may encourage specialization in complimentary types of growth.

The map shows that these small populated metros (grey) in many cases are clustered around the peripheries of the patent metros (blue). There is also the peripheral clustering of metros that contribute their greatest share to patents surrounding those with the highest GDP’s. This is seen in parts of California, Colorado, Illinois and New York in which tech centers have been created outside of largely populated, large GDP generating metros.

* Correction: This post was edited slightly to clarify the study's findings.

Photo credit: Jose AS Reyes /Shutterstock

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