Week of October 14, 2002
Snapshot from the Field
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Hunting Elusive Labor
Are You Using Past or Present Work-Force Location Patterns?by RON STARNER, Director of Publications, Site Selection and Conway Data, Inc.
OAKLAND, Calif. When is the last time you looked at the U.S. Census to help your company make an informed site selection?
You could, it turns out, be making a very big mistake if you aren't checking the latest maps of the rapidly changing American labor market. You could, in fact, be building your next plant for the U.S. work force of the past, according to Robert Lang, professor and director of the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech (www.mi.vt.edu) in Alexandria, Va.
Lang, one of the leading Census analysts in the country, spoke recently at the International Economic Development Council's (www.iedconline.org) Annual Conference in Oakland, Calif. One can't really understand the changing demography of America, Lang told the 1,100 conference attendees, without looking at the fastest-growing cities in the United States - communities that Lang calls "boomburbs." And what makes for a boomburb?
A boomburb, Lang explained, is defined as a community that has had double-digit population growth for each decade since 1950; had more than 100,000 people in 2000; is not the largest central city in its region; and is located in one of the 50 largest metropolitan regions in the U.S.
California Leads with 25 BoomburbsBy that definition, America has 53 boomburbs - cities that offer high-tech companies some of the best labor pools in the country. They range from Chandler, Ariz., to Chesapeake, Va., and include many cities in between (see accompanying chart).
California leads all states with 25 boomburbs. Arizona and Texas are next on the list with seven boomburbs each, followed by Florida with four, Colorado with three and Nevada with three. "Companies should understand the kinds of markets they're interested in," said Lang. "Boomburbs are a distinct population category.
"A lot of these communities are already at build-out," he explained. "The question is this: Will they one day be surrounded by yet another ring of boomburbs?"
"One of the great myths of our time was that telecommuting would reduce traffic congestion," Lang said. "In fact, it has only made traffic jams worse. Research consistently shows that telecommuting only extends the commuting sheds farther out into the suburbs. When people realize that they only have to drive to work one or two days a week, they buy a house 50 miles (80.5 kilometers) away from the office, and they spend even more time in their cars." Suburban behemoths with fat job markets share other characteristics, Lang noted.
Boomburbs, for example, are urban in fact but not in feel, he explained. They lack a large downtown skyline relative to their size. They share the hybrid problems of urban sprawl and increasing poverty. And they come in two types: immigrant dominated and traditional suburb. All but one of the fastest-growing U.S. boomburbs is in the West.
The six fastest-growing suburbs of the 1990s, for example, were Gilbert, Ariz. (276 percent population growth); Henderson, Nev. (170 percent); North Las Vegas, Nev. (142 percent); Peoria, Ariz. (114 percent); Pembroke Pines, Fla. (110 percent); and Chandler, Ariz. (95 percent). By the year 2000, the country had four boomburbs with more than 300,000 residents: Mesa, Ariz. (396,375); Santa Ana, Calif. (337,977); Arlington, Texas (332,969); and Anaheim, Calif. (328,014).
37 Million Living in 'Mega Counties'Rapid suburban population growth, however, is not limited to cities alone. Lang points to a growing number of metro counties that are both massively expanding and growth-accelerated - "MEGA counties," he calls.
There are now 23 MEGA counties of more than 800,000 people in the United States, accounting for 37 million people, Lang said. Most are located near the urban core of their metro area, most are in the Sunbelt, and most have booming centers of high-tech employment.
Examples of MEGA counties throughout the country include Maricopa, Ariz.; Contra Costa, Calif.; Broward, Fla.; DuPage, Ill.; Montgomery, Md.; Clark, Nev.; Bexar, Texas; Salt Lake, Utah; and Fairfax, Va.
Lang will further develop many of these trends and concepts in his upcoming book, Edgeless Cities: Exploring the Elusive Metropolis, which will be published by the Brookings Institution Press in spring 2003.
In the meantime, Lang advises high-tech employers to study the demographic map carefully before choosing their next plant location.
"Particularly, if you are a software development company, you should choose to locate your facility in a place with a big network of labor and like-minded companies - places like West Los Angeles, Route 128 in Boston and Silicon Valley," said Lang.
"After all, how much business can you do away from the centers of invention? Intellectual capital," Lang said, "is the most important criterion."
For more information, contact Lang at firstname.lastname@example.org.
©2002 Conway Data, Inc. All rights reserved. Data is from many sources and is not warranted to be accurate or current.