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Noah Smith

How America’s Second-Tier Cities Can Catch the Superstars

Low costs, social media and co-working might make life and work in Cleveland as good as anyplace. 

Lookin’ good.

Lookin’ good.

Photographer: John Greim/LightRocket/Getty Images

For the past three decades, one of the central stories in the U.S. economy has been the rise of superstar cities. As the country has shifted from manufacturing to services, high-value knowledge industries such as technology, finance and pharmaceuticals have become more important. These industries tend to cluster because skilled workers, entrepreneurs, big companies and funding sources all want to be in the same area. As a result, these industries have concentrated in cities such as San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York, which have had enormous economic booms and skyrocketing rents while many other areas of the country are left to wither.

So how can the places that missed out ever compete with a San Francisco or a New York? Some had hoped that remote work would ride to the rescue. Thanks to the internet, engineers or traders or project managers might be able to live in Akron, Ohio, while working for a company based on one of the coasts. But while technology is allowing more Americans to work outside of the office, so far this hasn’t been enough to overcome the need to be close to where the action is. Even as online communication improved by leaps and bounds, superstar cities just kept getting more dominant.