By John Rees, Research Director

During the past decade, talent has become the most important driver of economic vibrancy. Regions such as Austin and Seattle are rock star metros thanks in part to their ability to provide employers with seemingly endless pools of smart young professionals. Having a growing pool of talent is especially important in an era when labor is scarce and more difficult to attract. The US unemployment rate remains near a historic low, and the proportion of Americans who move each year has fallen by approximately 50% over the past 40 years.

In recent years, however, the success of several of the country’s most economically dynamic regions has been undermined by quality of life challenges. In San Francisco, the median sales price of a single-family home now tops $1 million. In one Metro Los Angeles county, 35% of residents commute more than two-hours round trip each day. In Boston, only 13% of residents have a commute that is less than 30 minutes. Soaring home prices and increased traffic congestion in these and other big population centers are pushing a growing number of highly educated workers out to more affordable locales.

Data released by the US Census Bureau last week further underscores the reason why affordability matters. In 2018, with few exceptions, the country’s most expensive metropolitans experienced a net out-migration of young professionals (age 25-34). This list includes San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, New York City, and Boston. At the same time, regions such as Columbus, Charlotte, Charleston, Greensboro, and Nashville saw notable attraction of talent.

This highlights a distinct opportunity for mid-sized, affordable communities with a high quality of life to become destinations for in-demand talent. By delivering a compelling combination of career opportunities, affordable housing, and reasonable commute times, these communities are taking the stage as the rock stars of years to come.