7 min read

Wait, it's all Central Indiana?

This post is a part of my “1,001 Data Visualizations of Indiana” project. See the rest of it here.

A few weeks ago I tweeted out a simple chart showing that overall job growth has been mostly flat in Indiana when the Indianapolis metro area is removed from the equation. In other words, the 81 counties not included in the Central Indiana region created almost no net job growth in 15 years

It generated quite a bit of conversation online and got me thinking about whether this type of dynamic existed in other states? That is, has job growth been driven by the dominant metro in states that have only one major metro area?

To investigate, I pulled together a list of metro areas that I believe are a good comparison group for Indianapolis in this particular scenario. I wanted a group of metros that were 1) wholly contained within one state and 2) were the only major metro in their respective states. What constitutes a major metro is somewhat subjective, but the main idea was to exclude states that have multiple large metro areas. Texas, for example, has Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio–none of which on their own dominate the state so it was excluded from consideration. California also has several major metros, so they were out as well.

Some metro areas like Cincinnati and Louisville could be good comparison points, but they border other states and have population sprawl across those borders. I wanted metros that were completely contained in one state, theoretically restricting the list to areas directly impacted by only one state’s economic policies and demographics.

With those considerations in mind, here’s the list.

Metro Population_2020
Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Alpharetta, GA 6,089,815
Phoenix-Mesa-Chandler, AZ 4,845,832
Detroit-Warren-Dearborn, MI 4,392,041
Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA 4,018,762
Denver-Aurora-Lakewood, CO 2,963,821
Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise, NV 2,265,461
Indianapolis-Carmel-Anderson, IN 2,111,040
Nashville-Davidson--Murfreesboro--Franklin, TN 1,989,519
Milwaukee-Waukesha, WI 1,574,731
Oklahoma City, OK 1,425,695
New Orleans-Metairie, LA 1,271,845
Salt Lake City, UT 1,257,936

I re-created the initial Indiana jobs chart for each of the comparison metro areas (and their corresponding states) and combined the resulting charts into one mega-graphic.


Figure 1.1

Each chart is structured the same way. The green line shows net job growth compared to 2006 in each of our selected metro areas. The purple line shows net job growth in that metro’s home state compared to 2006 if you subtract out jobs from the metro in question. For example, the first chart shows that job growth in the Phoenix area (green line) has been fairly strong while job growth in the rest of the state (purple line) has been mostly flat. This is a somewhat similar pattern to what we observed initially with Indiana.

Figure 1.2

Only three states in this group had non-major metro counties outpace their major metro in job growth: Michigan, Wisconsin, and Utah.

Michigan and Wisconsin make sense to me here. Of the 12 metros in our list, Detroit (+1%) and Milwaukee (+2%) had the smallest population growth rates in the last decade. The Detroit area has struggled to recover from the economic restructing brought on by job losses in the Great Recession in particular.

Figure 1.3

Utah is different. Salt Lake City has seen decent population growth over the last decade (+12%) and Utah had the highest statewide population growth of any state in our group (+18%). Job growth was strong in both the Salt Lake metro (+29%) and the rest of the state (+38%).

Figure 1.4

The experience in Utah was atypical. The average job growth in each of the 12 selected metros was +15% while the average growth in the non-metro counties was +6%. Remove Utah, and the non-metro average drops to just +3%. There are all sorts of caveats you could provide here about what exactly constitutes a “new job” and the quality of said new jobs, but I still think this simple analysis provides some important insights.

Job growth is generally being driven by major metro areas (at least in this group of states). Couldn’t leave you without at least one major caveat, now could I?

Here’s the Indiana chart one more time, just for good measure.

Figure 1.5


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