There were other inspirational improvements this year. Sparked by a revival in manufacturing, a host of former sad sacks in parts of the Midwest are showing signs of definite improvement. Niles-Benton Harbor, Mich., a long-time denizen at the bottom of our list, shot up a remarkable 242 places this year to a respectable No. 121. Another old industrial city, Kokomo, Ind., ascended 177 places to No. 215, while Holland-Grand Haven, Mich. improved by 172 places to No. 221 and Grand Rapids, Mich., rose 167 places to No. 183. Milwaukee, a long-time loser among our largest metros, moved up by a healthy 163 places overall to a better-than-average No. 143.The Northeast Corridor has also made strong progress. Here the likely explanation can be found in the fruits of Obamanomics. The stimulus has been particularly good for the vibrant economies surrounding the ever-expanding federal leviathan. Among the large metros, Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, Va., did best of all the cities outside the South, repeating its No. 6 ranking among large metro areas. Right behind, at No. 7 on the large city list, sits the primarily suburban Northern Virginia metro area, while Bethesda-Rockville-Frederick, Md., ranks 12th.The other big East Coast winners are the financial and university-oriented economies, which have reaped huge benefits from the TARP bailout and the Obama Administration’s college-centric stimulus plan. After the Texas cities and the imperial center, most of the best performing big metros are located in financial and university centers, including No. 9 New York City, No. 10 Philadelphia, No. 11 Pittsburgh, No. 13 Boston and No. 15 Raleigh-Cary, N.C.
There's Pittsburgh, on the verge of cracking the top 10 (moving up two slots from 2010). Joel Kotkin's rationale for the growth is, to be kind, a stretch. After all, the population is still in decline. How else to account for the Pittsburgh paradox?
Whatever the cause, Pittsburgh isn't muddling out of this recession. I'm at a loss to anticipate how the trend might change, at least in relative terms to the national economy. What shoe could drop? Unlike Kotkin, I see sound fundamentals informing the strengthening position.