Special Report

US City Economies That Were Growing the Fastest Before the Pandemic

More than two years have passed since the pandemic hit the U.S. yet COVID-19 continues to have a knock-on effect on consumers, contributing to the highest inflation in 40 years. After plunging by 3.4% in 2020 from pandemic-related lockdowns that crippled consumer activity, real U.S. gross domestic product rebounded in 2021 by 5.7% as the economy heated up from pent-up consumer demand for goods and services.

Prior to the pandemic, the U.S. economy was running hot with the lowest unemployment rate in 50 years. But what parts of the U.S. had been experiencing the fastest economic growth before and during the pandemic?

To identify the 25 fastest growing city economies, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed real gross domestic product figures from the Bureau of Economic Analysis. The 383 metro areas with data were ranked by the change in real GDP from 2001 to 2020. Information about the largest growing industry over that time and the industry’s GDP also came from the BEA. Population figures and unemployment rate are five-year estimates for 2019 from the Census Bureau 2019 American Community Survey.

The 25 metropolitan areas on this list are home to 16.2 million Americans or 5% of the U.S. population. These areas produced $1.34 trillion in goods and services in 2020, or 7.3% of the country’s total real GDP. The average GDP growth from 2001 to 2020 in these metro areas ranges from 76% in the agricultural-focused community in and around Bakersfield, California (population 887,641) to 439% in the oil-rich Midland, Texas, area (population 173,816). (Check out America’s 50 best cities to live.)

Four of these areas have populations greater than 1 million people, led by Seattle-Tacoma, Washington, home to 3.9 million residents. The Seattle metro area’s GDP grew by 91% from 2001 to 2020 to $375 billion, 10th largest economy of the 383 metro areas reviewed. (Looking at counties fastest shrinking local economies in America.)

The 2019 average unemployment rate in these metro areas was 5%, or between 2.5% in the Logan, Utah, metro area to 9.8% in Bakersfield. Five of these metropolitan areas are located in Texas, while there are three each in California and Utah. As the unemployment data shows, a high GDP growth rate does not necessarily correlate with low unemployment, as some products and services require fewer workers than others.

Click here for the US city economies that were growing the fastest before the pandemic

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