Heartland Forward’s annual report reveals top U.S. metros for economic vitality

by Paul Gatling ([email protected]) 992 views 

A Heartland Forward study released Wednesday (April 3) showed that the country’s most dynamic metro regions have robust manufacturing, energy assets and investment in information technology (IT).

Heartland Forward’s 2024 edition of its annual “Most Dynamic Metros” (MDM) report provides a benchmark for growth areas in the country using key indicators of where Americans are thriving and highlighting communities where education, business and government are working well together.

Jackson Li, Rodrigo Ramirez-Perez and Dave Shideler are the report’s authors. To read a PDF of the findings, click here.

It’s the fifth year for Heartland Forward, a “think-and-do” tank in Bentonville, to produce the annual report. It ranks 382 U.S. metros — metros are groups of counties that contain and surround a central city having a population of 50,000 or more — by 10 metrics that collectively summarize a region’s vitality against its recent past to create a snapshot of economic standing. Heartland Forward researchers analyzed the entire country, not just the Heartland states.

Elected officials and other stakeholders in these metros can use the data to evaluate their policies and examine other regions for best practices in growth, development, and community health.

President and CEO Ross DeVol said collaboration and cooperation are key takeaways from this year’s edition.

“Building sustainable businesses with the encouragement of local and state governments demonstrates the power of community,” he said. “Providing training opportunities for the next generation of workers helps all of us build stronger communities. The MDM report gives our leaders data they can use to make smart, long-term decisions around economic growth.

“We applaud the mayors and their development teams who work to build these healthy communities and encourage sustainable growth. Their efforts are reflected in their rankings in this year’s edition of the index.”

These are the top 25 U.S. metros in this year’s MDM report:

  1. The Villages, Florida
  2. Midland, Texas
  3. Austin-Round Rock-Georgetown, Texas
  4. Naples-Marco Island, Florida
  5. Provo-Orem, Utah
  6. Boulder, Colorado
  7. St. George, Utah
  8. Sebastian-Vero Beach, Florida
  9. Nashville-Davidson-Murfreesboro-Franklin, Tennessee
  10. Coeur d’Alene, Idaho
  11. Boise City, Idaho
  12. Port St. Lucie, Florida
  13. Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise, Nevada
  14. Odessa, Texas
  15. North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton, Florida
  16. Punta Gorda, Florida
  17. Raleigh-Cary, North Carolina
  18. Trenton-Princeton, New Jersey
  19. Denver-Aurora-Lakewood, Colorado
  20. College Station-Bryan, Texas
  21. Daphne-Fairhope-Foley, Alabama
  22. Salt Lake City, Utah
  23. Missoula, Montana
  24. Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, Florida
  25. Idaho Falls, Idaho

Northwest Arkansas ranked No. 28, up from No. 34 last year.

Arkansas is a key player in supply chain logistics, supported by its robust transportation infrastructure, including roads, railroads, and waterways. The University of Arkansas also boasts a top-ranked supply chain management program, recognized as industry-leading in the U.S. News 2024 rankings.

By analyzing data trends in that sector, the researchers analyzed how Fortune 500 companies like Walmart, Tyson Foods, and J.B. Hunt prioritized resilience against various risks like geopolitical conflicts and natural disasters. Walmart, in particular, is investing in advanced automation and robotics to enhance supply chain efficiency, with plans for 65% of its stores and 55% of its warehouses to become automated. Additionally, Walmart’s construction of a new headquarters campus in Bentonville aims to attract top talent by offering amenities like child-care centers and fitness facilities.

Tyson Foods is collaborating with Gatik AI to implement self-driving refrigerated trucks, aiming to tackle the national truck driver shortage while optimizing logistics. The researchers indicate those initiatives demonstrate a commitment to innovation and adaptation in the face of evolving challenges, contributing to the economic prosperity of their communities.

Not surprisingly, the research finds that Northwest Arkansas benefits from the Fortune 500 companies’ presence, sustaining strong employment and real GDP growth.

Central Arkansas (Little Rock), the state’s largest metro, ranked No. 113, a significant improvement from last year’s rank of No. 251. The report attributes the significant jump to a steady rate of more than 2% growth across all three employment categories, as well as growth across all economic indicators like GDP and average salary.

The researchers also highlighted a $120 million supply chain investment by home-improvement retail giant Lowe’s, which had its grand opening this past October of a 1.2 million-square-foot distribution center in North Little Rock,

The Fort Smith metro, the state’s third largest, ranked No. 227. Hot Springs ranked No. 220, and Jonesboro ranked No. 246.