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Next American Hotspot

In general, people move from places of high unemployment to low unemployment. Also, relocation tends to be a short distance. As a rule, we are risk averse. We go where we know.
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Downtown Durango, Colorado. (PHOTO: SASCHA BRUCK)

Downtown Durango, Colorado. (PHOTO: SASCHA BRUCK)

Outside magazine asks, "Where is the next big thing?" "Thing" in this case refers to Durango, Colorado, circa 2011 or Hardwick, Vermont. Rating places is big business for publications. But metrics measure past performance. If you wait until Richard Florida celebrates a city, then you are too late to the party. Kudos to Outside magazine for trying to find a diamond in the rough and make a prediction. In that very vein, geographic mobility in the United States is picking up:

Americans are once again setting their sights on their favorite Sun Belt places, like Florida, Arizona and Nevada, said demographer Kenneth Johnson of the University of New Hampshire, who crunched the interstate migration numbers.

In a sense, Johnson said, the recession had the effect of "freezing people in place" as they waited for the economy to improve and their homes to recover value. The 2012 figures may not represent an actual recovery, but it's "at least a thawing" as conditions begin to improve again, he said.

In a few states such as New York and Massachusetts, Johnson found, the thaw has begun in earnest. New York state lost about 136,000 people in 2012. In Massachusetts, the net loss was about 15,600 people. ...

... Before the recession, Johnson noted, about 50,000 New Yorkers moved to Florida each year. During the worst of the recession, only about half as many did. Actually, Johnson noted, in many Northeast cities, those losses most years had been offset by international immigration from Europe and Asia — but the recession took a bite out of that, too.

Now that the thaw is upon us, places like metropolitan New York, Buffalo and Rochester are starting to see more people leave again, according to a USA TODAY analysis of Census data: In 2009, the Baltimore metro area, which includes the city and surrounding counties, gained 25 people per 10,000 residents from other states. Last year, it lost 36 per 10,000.

Meanwhile, places like the Miami-Fort Lauderdale metro area, which had a net loss of migrants in 2009, added them in 2012. Likewise in Las Vegas, Jacksonville and San Jose, among a few others.

Emphasis added. Domestically, we're back at the same pattern. The winners and losers from prior to the recession are the winners and losers now. What about the next big thing?

In general, people move from places of high unemployment to low unemployment. Also, relocation tends to be a short distance. As a rule, we are risk averse. We go where we know. Pittsburgh is relatively close to Cleveland. Pittsburgh's employment situation is relatively better than Cleveland's. Traditionally, lots of people move between Pittsburgh and Cleveland. As migration accelerates (see article above), predicting an increase in flow from Cleveland to Pittsburgh is a good bet.

Counter to that model are mesofacts. Buckeyes love South Carolina. Charleston is doing well. Screw dreary Pittsburgh, home of the hated Steelers. The rest of your life could be spring break Myrtle Beach. That said, I still expect Pittsburgh to stand out among the Rust Belt cursed.

Another kind of crystal ball frames the financial crisis as a break that separates one economic epoch from another. New times call for new migration patterns. Example San Antonio:

Using 2000 as a baseline, San Antonio’s brain gain is accelerating in recent years (2008-2011). From 2000-2007, San Antonio ranked 13th out of the 51 largest metros (population over 1 million) in percent increase for residents 25-years old and older with at least a bachelor’s degree. From 2008-2011, San Antonio is ranked 2nd. Only Jacksonville, Florida did better. The influx of talent is relatively new and suggests a different economic geography on either side of the last recession. For San Antonio, the last downturn was a game changer for the better.

Just a hunch, much of the brain drain returned home to weather the economic downturn. Even during the worst of times, the news out of Texas was good. Why not move back where the jobs are? You can stay with your parents or friends until the right opportunity comes along. Even if San Antonio doesn't pan out, Austin is just up the road.

San Antonio is a great option for gentrifying Austin. Pittsburgh will capture many of the creatives priced out of New York City. Those are two cities I see as the next big thing.