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Commentary: The 2023 Top Metros Show a Stark Shift in Regional Preferences

As employees continue to work remotely post-pandemic, small regions with lower living costs moved up in the rankings.

Q4 2023
The top 50 Leading Metro Locations in 2023 depict an economy that is still feeling the aftershocks of Covid nearly three years after it hit the U.S. shorelines. Giant metropolitan areas such as New York and Los Angeles did not make it in the top 50 and lost a collective 732,065 people from 2020 through 2023, while seven small regions peppered the top 50 metro locations and gained 68,443 population over the same period as individuals took advantage of the opportunity to work remotely and departed from some high cost-of-living areas.

Florida held the top spot for the most attractive locations in 2023 with 16 metros in the top 50. Collectively, the population in those metro areas swelled by 848,527 from the start of the pandemic through 2023.

The top locations in 2023 show a stark shift in preferences compared to the list produced before the pandemic in 2019. The top three locations in 2023 went to Salt Lake City, Utah; Olympia, Washington; and Decatur, Alabama.

A slight change in methodology that brought in more recent data such as job postings created a small shift in regions. However, top ranked Reno, Nevada, in 2019 dropped to a rank of 41 in 2023. Second ranked San Jose, California, in 2019 underwent a seismic shift, plunging to 207 in 2023.

The only California metro in the leading locations was El Centro with a ranking of 43. Unlike most metro areas in California where the cost of living is on average 41 percent higher than in the United States, El Centro’s cost of living is just slightly above that of the nation. The lower cost of living likely helped support growth in the region that saw an annual average 10.2 percent gain in manufacturing employment over the three years ending with the second quarter of 2023.

The South Atlantic region was by far the most attractive location with 20 metros in the top 50 followed by the Mountain region with nine metros scattered across five states. Only two regions were not represented in the top 50 locations. The Mid-Atlantic failed to make the list with Trenton-Princeton, New Jersey, ranking the highest at 73, with a score of 60.3. New England was also absent with Portland, Maine, scoring 58.8 and ranking 91.

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