The Secret to Midsize City Success May Surprise You

In the new November/December 2015 issue of the magazine, our editor in chief Paul Glastris has a feature article that seeks to understand why some of our midsize cities are thriving while others are stuck in the doldrums. As a starting point, he looks at Forbes magazine’s list of fastest growing cities and notes that more than a third of them are state capitals. He then delves a little deeper and discovers that seventeen of eighteen mid-to-large population state capitals are thriving economically.

Table 2. (Nearly) All Big State Capitals Are Booming (click to view larger chart)

Could it be that being the seat of state government is a great economic stimulus? If so, why would that be? And are the answers of potential use to struggling cities that can’t exactly declare themselves the new state capital?

You’ll want to read the whole thing to find out, but here’s a teaser:

Whenever a discussion arises about federal money being used to help spur specific areas of economic growth, a cry goes up from politicians and commentators across the land that Washington shouldn’t be “picking winners and losers.” But in effect that’s what’s happening with our cities. Some, by virtue of being the seats of state government, have a pipeline to federal dollars that other cities can only dream of. And that pipeline may determine which American cities thrive and which don’t.

Should leveling the playing field be a goal of public policy? If so, how might that be achieved? The obvious conservative answer would be to cut federal spending across the board—though how that would lead to more thriving cities is hard to see. The obvious liberal answer would be to spend more federal money on the cities that are not state capitals. But spending for what?

I think having a way to tap into federal spending is going to be the key here, but, as I said, read the whole thing.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.