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Tech-Oriented Cities Have Thrived During The Pandemic


Austin, Texas

The coronavirus pandemic has been tough on a lot of cities, but even during a major health crisis and recession, some parts of the country have thrived.

Milken Institute, a Santa Monica, California-based nonprofit that focuses on issues related to human, financial and social capital, recently published its Best-Performing Cities 2021 report that detailed the nation's top growth nexuses with Provo-Orem, Utah, ranking as the top-performing large metro area with a population over 100,000. 

The report ranked U.S. metro areas according to 2020 metrics that include job growth, wage and salary growth, short-term job growth, tech GDP growth, number of tech industries, access to broadband and housing affordability.

One well-known trend confirmed by the report: out-migration from denser, tech-industry metros is benefiting smaller metros, especially in the western U.S., but also Texas and Florida. Among established tech-oriented cities, Austin is still holding its own.

Featured first were Milken's ranking for the top three large metros, all over 100,000 people: Provo-Orem; Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville, Florida; and Austin, Texas. Next were the top three small metros, all under 100,000 people: Idaho Falls, Idaho; Logan, Utah; and The Villages, Florida

Population, demographic and apartment rent numbers were from the Census Bureau, while housing price numbers were obtained from the National Association of Realtors.


Provo, Utah

Approximate 2019 population: 116,600, up 3.7% since 2010.

Demographics: White, 87.9%; Hispanic, 16.7%; Asian, 2.7%; Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander, 1.3%; and Black, 0.9%.

Residential costs: February 2021 median list home price $349.8K, up 14.7% year-over-year. Median monthly apartment rent, $877.

The leading metro in the survey, Provo-Orem, is adjacent to the Salt Lake City metro area, and sometimes they are grouped together for statistical purposes. However, they are distinct places.

Among the area's strong metrics, Provo-Orem excelled in job growth over both the last year and five years, and ranks high in tech GDP and the number of tech companies, the Milken Institute reported, attracting firms including Qualtrics, Vivint and SmartCitizen. The area is a strong recipient overall of tech companies and workers from California.


Palm Bay, Fla.

Approximate 2019 population: 115,500, up 11.1% since 2010.

Demographics: White, 73.3%; Black, 17.7%; Hispanic, 17.1%; and Asian, 1.6%.

Residential costs: February 2021 median list home price, $179.9K, up 19.9% year-over-year. Median monthly apartment rent, $1,049.

Palm Bay is north of greater Miami and east of Orlando but isn't quite part of either of those megapolises yet, and it has had seen relatively modest but steady population growth during the 2010s.Palm Bay is north of greater Miami and east of Orlando but isn't quite part of either of those megapolises yet, and it has had seen relatively modest but steady population growth during the 2010s.

Tech has long been part of the Palm Bay area, since NASA launch facilities have been there for more than half a century, and it is still home to a growing tech industry. Aerospace is important, but the local tech base is diversifying, the report says.


Austin, Texas

Approximate 2019 population: 978,000, up 22.1% since 2010.

Demographics: White, 72.6%; Hispanic, 33.9%; Black, 7.8%; and Asian, 7.6%.

Residential costs: February 2021 median list home price, $482.5K, up 13.5% year-over-year. Median monthly apartment rent, $1,280.

Among major tech hubs, Austin remained a growth spot during the pandemic, attracting companies and talent not only from California, but from other parts of the country. Local tech industries grew consistently in the 2010s, but paused somewhat last year because of the pandemic, the report notes. The metro area has also seen persistent housing and other cost of living increases in recent years, and ever-more snarled traffic.


Idaho Falls, Idaho

Approximate 2019 population: 62,800, up 8.7% since 2010.

Demographics: White, 88.1%; Hispanic, 14.8%; Asian, 1.5%; and Black, 0.7% Black.

Residential costs: February 2021 median list home price, $280K, an annual increase of 24.5%. Median monthly apartment rent, $776.

Idaho Falls is a small but growing city in the eastern part of the state. One of its main economic and tech engines is the Idaho National Laboratory, which is operated by the U.S. Department of Energy. Along with its contractors, the lab is at the heart of an energy tech cluster.

Idaho Falls has enjoyed job growth through the pandemic, as well as in earlier years of the 2010s, the report says. Other than the national lab, Battelle Energy Alliance and a number of food processors are major local employers.


Logan, Utah

Approximate 2019 population: 51,500, up 6.9% since 2010.

Demographics: White, 86.6%; Hispanic, 15.3%; Asian, 3.3%; and Black, 1.4%.

Residential costs: January 2021 median list home price, $285K, up 18.8% year-over-year. Median monthly apartment rent, $764.

Yet another boomtown in Utah, Logan has long been a college town north of Salt Lake City and just south of the border with Idaho, set in a wide and mostly agricultural valley. The area features a diversified tech industry, especially pharma and medical manufacturing, the Milken report says.


The Villages, Florida

Approximate 2010 population: 51,400.

Demographics: White, 98%; Hispanic, 1.2%; Asian, 0.9%; Black, 0.4%.

Residential costs: February 2021 median list home price, $289.9K, flat since the same month in 2020. Median monthly apartment rent, $1,683.

The Villages, a high-growth exurban area northwest of Orlando, is a census-designated place in Sumter County as well as a large age-restricted master-planned community that extends into the neighboring counties. The region grew throughout the 2010s and the pandemic.

Unlike the other tops cities in the Milken report, The Villages' economy is largely based on services for its heavily retired population, including a surge in new housing construction in recent years, up to and including 2020. The Villages is one of only four metros in Florida to have experienced positive job growth over the past 12 months.