August 20, 2018

Third in the Northeast, 70th in the nation

Earlier this month, the website Magnify Money ranked Greater Worcester 70th out of the nation's 100 largest metro areas in business and population growth. While a cornucopia of rating websites put out questionable rankings all the time – "Best States to Retire", "Best Cities for Basketball Fans" – these growth numbers are legit. For its ranking, Magnify Money used U.S. Census data on population, housing, labor force, unemployment and business establishments from 2010 to 2016 (the Census defines the Worcester metro area as Worcester County and Windham County, Conn.). The results largely mirror WBJ's own study in June of the progress of the Greater Worcester economy, where News Editor Grant Welker found for the last 15 years the region's economic growth lagged behind the averages for the state, the nation, the other major New England cities, and 10 national peer cities of similar population.

Yes, coming in 70th out of 100 in Magnify Money's ranking is bad. Yet, looking strictly at major metro areas in the Northeast, Worcester metro came in third behind Boston and Washington, D.C. Worcester beat out Providence, Springfield, Hartford, New Haven and even New York City, which was dinged for its modest percentage population growth. Communities in the South and West had the best economic growth in the nation – the top three metro areas were Austin, Texas; Provo, Utah; and Raleigh, N.C. – but when looking strictly through the lens of Worcester compared to its neighbors, the region appears to be trending in the right direction.

In the latest attempt to show Worcester is turning around, the city and its major players have been trying to own its status as the second largest city in New England, a cultural hub with the potential to lift up the whole region. No question that Boston is New England's world-class city, but when comparing to region's other large cities like Springfield, Providence, Hartford and Portland, Worcester has the population advantage. Developing another section of the city into vital, urban space would go a long way to helping this marketing effort trying to put Worcester on the map of hot places to live and work.

Much like an optimist's perception of the Magnify Money rankings, this second-largest-city approach is a step in the right direction. It is difficult to fight long-term population and economic trends of people moving to low-cost areas of the country with better climates, but at least Worcester can lead in New England. Worcester is fighting the same fight as other cities in the Northeast, and by achieving status as a regional leader, it can be well-positioned if the national trends shift back in this direction.


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