Why the middleweight cities matter

Chris Farrell Apr 20, 2012

Jeremy Hobson: Well here in this country, there has been some not-so-great economic news lately: Corporate earnings are down, and more people are applying for unemployment benefits.

But Marketplace economics correspondent Chris Farrell says forget all the news from Wall Street and Washington — what we really need to focus on is what’s going on in America’s middleweight cities. Chris, good morning.

Chris Farrell: Good morning Jeremy.

Hobson: Chris, when you talk about “middleweight cities,” what are you talking about?

Farrell: So these are the 255, 260 cities that have been identified by, McKinsey & Company’s come out with this report about urban America — U.S. cities in the global economy. And what’s fascinating, Jeremy, is that we know where you live — L.A. — mega-city, right? Very, very important. And where you used to live — New York — OK, very important. And New Yorkers and people in L.A., they do think that they’re the center of the universe.

However, when you look at the dynamism of the U.S. economy, it’s really these middleweight cities — places like where I live, in the Twin Cities here in Minnesota, or Portland, Ore., being another classic example. Almost 85 percent of U.S. GDP is generated by these middleweight cities, compared to about 65 percent in Europe.

Hobson: What is so different about these middleweight cities than the big cities?

Farrell: Partly what these middleweight cities have is a certain dynamism, and a classic example in my mind is Pittsburgh. If you think smokestack America, industrial America — Pittsburgh was the epitome of that. And then went into a long-term decline, but today, Pittsburgh is thriving. But it’s thriving as an education center, as a health care center. It’s reinvented itself. So these cities have the ability to reinvent themselves, and that’s very dynamic. And remember — our economy is dynamic.

Hobson: What’s so important about these middleweights? Why are you spending so much time worried about them, Chris?

Farrell: Well, because we talk a lot about the competitiveness of the U.S. economy, with the rise of China. Here’s the thing, Jeremy: We talk about companies, we talk about individuals — do they have skills? But what we should really be talking about is how healthy are our cities and what could help those cities, because then we’ll be really competitive.

Hobson: Marketplace economics correspondent Chris Farrell, thanks a lot.

Farrell: Thank you.

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