For Global Trade’s seventh annual list of America’s Best Cities, we have crunched the numbers from various public and private sources regarding ports, education, utilities, NAFTA access, export assistance, intermodal access, skilled workforce, transportation, workforce development programs and quality of life.
We ranked the 10 best cities for each related category, awarding points that ultimately put Houston, Texas, over the top as America’s Best City.
Houston is used to topping such lists, as we note with its separate No. 1 ranking on the U.S. Department of Commerce International Trade Administration’s 2018 goods export data for the nation’s 392 Metropolitan Statistical Areas.
Incidentally, that government data showed U.S. metro areas exported a significant $1.5 trillion in merchandise across the world in 2018, a $110.3 billion (or 8.1 percent) increase from the year before. Of the 259 metropolitan areas that reported positive export growth, 94 reached record levels.
“The Trump Administration is committed to addressing trade imbalances, breaking down trade barriers, and providing U.S. companies with new reach in foreign markets,” said Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade Gilbert Kaplan. “With this increase in exports over the last year and the continued work of the Commercial Service, it is a fruitful time for American businesses.”
Charts throughout this section show the top cities and their rankings overall and in key areas, while honorably mentioned are the top 10 cities to watch, any of which could be on the way to leading a future Global Trade list of America’s Best Cities. But first, here are the top 20 cities, with their rankings, overall scores and some details about what made them leaders.
Overall score: 44
Top category: Education and Colleges (No. 1)
The Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land metropolitan area also topped the U.S. Department of Commerce International Trade Administration’s 2018 goods export data for the nation’s 392 Metropolitan Statistical Areas. That Texas metropolitan area had $120.7 billion in goods exports while also showing the highest annual dollar growth in exports, expanding $25 billion from 2017 to ’18.
Overall score: 38
Top category: Skilled/Educated Workforce (No. 4)
Eight miles west of Minneapolis is Minnetonka, which is home to a key player in the region’s beefy export data. Cargill Inc. reported global beef sales helped lead the nation’s largest privately held company to a $915 million profit for the quarter ended Aug. 31. Minnesotans can moo about state exports rising 10 percent to a record $23 billion in 2018, outpacing the nation’s 8 percent jump.
Overall score: 37
Top category: Transportation Infrastructure (No. 5)
Trading defines Chicago’s importance as a major international city, with two of the biggest commodity exchanges based there. With exports of $47.3 billion, the Chicago-Naperville-Elgin (Illinois-Indiana-Wisconsin) Metropolitan Statistical Area was fifth the U.S. Department of Commerce International Trade Administration’s 2018 goods export data for the nation’s 392 MSAs.
4. New York
Overall score: 32
Top category: Capable, Connected and Logistically Viable Ports (No. 1)
“If you want to start a business, create a new product or have a big idea, New York City is the place to be,” then-mayor Michael Bloomberg said in 2012. That remains true today of the world’s epicenter of finance, communication and culture. The New York-Newark-Jersey City (New York-New Jersey-Pennsylvania) Metropolitan Statistical Area came in second in the U.S. Department of Commerce International Trade Administration’s 2018 goods export data for the nation’s 392 MSAs, with exports of $97.7 billion.
Overall score: 29
Top category: Transportation Infrastructure (No. 4)
About 70 percent of the Port of Seattle’s containerized cargo originates in, or is destined for, regions of the country outside the Pacific Northwest, making Seattle a trade gateway of regional, national and international significance. That’s partly due to being closer to Asia and Alaska than any other major U.S. seaport and also to two major U.S. railroads being within two miles of container terminals, and two major interstate highways just minutes from all terminals. With exports of $59.7 billion, the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue MSA came in fourth in the U.S. Department of Commerce International Trade Administration’s 2018 goods export data rankings.
6. Los Angeles
Overall score: 27
Top category: Transportation Infrastructure (No. 3)
Home to Hollywood, Los Angeles means showbiz, with movie studios, TV stations, and more. Its West Coast location also makes it a key hub for trade with Asia. With exports of $64.8 billion, the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim Metropolitan Statistical Area was third in the U.S. Department of Commerce International Trade Administration’s 2018 goods export data for the nation’s 392 MSAs.
7. San Francisco
Overall score: 25
Top category: Education and Colleges (No. 7)
San Francisco has a long history as an international gateway and is one of the major global business centers in the U.S.; its home to international companies such as Kikkomann (Japan), GCL Solar (China), Aegon (Netherlands), Deutsche Bank (Germany) and Globant (Argentina). ‘Frisco has also gained an international reputation as a center for innovation and entrepreneurship, with many global brands having been founded there, including GAP, Levi Strauss, URS Corp., Gensler, Salesforce and Twitter.
Overall score: 20
Top categories: Transportation Infrastructure and Intermodal Access (No. 2)
“Hot-lanta” was the 16th largest exporter in the U.S. in 2016, with a 7 percent increase over the previous year leading to $20.5 billion in the total Atlanta goods export value. What’s more, that represented a whopping 80 percent jump in export growth from 2006.
9. New Orleans
Overall score: 19
Top category: Capable, Connected and Logistically Viable Ports (No. 9)
Ports situated along the Mississippi River—from Baton Rouge to Myrtle Grove—are close enough together (some are even adjacent) to act as one large port complex often referred to the New Orleans Port Region. The region brings together all modes of transportation (ocean, barge, rail and truck) to link ports 228 miles upriver from the Gulf of Mexico with the gulf, Caribbean Sea, Atlantic Ocean and Panama Canal. The Port of South Louisiana moves more tonnage than any other North American port.
Overall score: 17
Top category: Skilled/Educated Workforce (No. 8)
You likely know that Austin is the state capital of Texas, home to the University of Texas flagship campus and the site of a thriving art, film, music and cultural scene. What you may not know is, with a population of more than 945,000 people, the Austin-Round Rock area is the 28th largest exporter in the U.S., exporting about $10.1 billion in goods and services annually.
Overall score: 15
Top category: Skilled/Educated Workforce (No. 5)
With M.I.T. and Harvard’s intellectual capital and strong financial markets, Boston possesses a wealth of infrastructure to accommodate global traders. The transportation infrastructure alone, which hubs six New England states, includes a deepwater port, three interstates, Amtrak and Conrail railroads and busy Logan Airport.
12. Omaha and Savannah
Overall score: 14 each
Top Omaha category: Developed Workforce/Development Programs (No. 4)
Top Savannah category: Intermodal Access (No. 6)
Greater Omaha is growing places. Over the past 10 years, exports in that region of Nebraska have increased by $1.9 billion, growing an average of 0.9 percent each year. Despite Savannah’s East Coast location, the historic Georgia city’s top trade lane for both export and import cargo is northeast Asia.
Overall score: 13
Top categories: Skilled/Educated Workforce and Developed Workforce/Development Programs (No. 1)
Colorado exports increased 3.3 percent in 2018 to $8.32 billion, up from $8.06 billion in 2017. Being strategically located between Canada and Mexico allows metropolitan Denver to capitalize on NAFTA opportunities. That explains why Canada, with $1.4 billion in 2018 export value, and Mexico, which was just behind at $1.3 billion, are Colorado’s largest trading partners.
14. Jacksonville and Milwaukee
Overall score: 12 each
Top Jacksonville category: Capable, Connected and Logistically Viable Ports (No. 5)
Top Milwaukee category: Export Assistance (No. 2)
JAXPORT, as the cool kids call the Port of Jacksonville, annually ranks with nearby Brunswick, Georgia, and Baltimore as being among the top three U.S. ports in roll-on, roll-off vehicle shipments. High and heavy shipments are also growing at JAXPORT. With more than 2 million people and 50,000 businesses, the seven-county Milwaukee Region, which is centrally located on the Great Lakes, has a reputation for innovation, quality, ease and choice. In 2018, Wisconsin goods exports were $22.7 billion, an increase of 10 percent ($2.1 billion) from its export level in 2008.
Overall score: 11
Top category: Best City to Live in (No. 4)
Given Idaho’s population of 1.754 million people, its total $4 billion in 2018 exports translates to roughly $2,300 for each Gem State resident. Most of that export activity is centered in Boise, which is experiencing a boom due to its affordability and quality of life.
16. Charleston, Detroit, Washington, D.C.
Overall score: 10 each
Top Charleston category: Capable, Connected and Logistically Viable Ports (No. 4)
Top Detroit category: NAFTA Access (No. 10)
Top Washington, D.C., category: Education and Colleges (No. 4)
Ranking as the country’s fastest-growing mid-sized metro for aircraft manufacturing, Charleston is flying high in the aerospace sector. Already home to aerospace leaders like Boeing and SKF Aero Bearing, Charleston in June was revealed to be French aerospace supplier AHG Fasteners-USA’s U.S. operations hub. AHG is the sixth company to locate in the historic South Carolina region as part of the Charleston Regional Development Alliance and the South Carolina Department of Commerce’s Landing Pad program, which assists global companies entering the U.S. market.
The hub for America’s automotive industry—thanks to three major automobile businesses with headquarters within principal city Detroit’s metropolitan area—Michigan shipped $57.9 billion worth of goods around the globe in 2018. That made Michigan America’s seventh-biggest exporting state behind Texas, California, New York, Washington, Louisiana and Illinois. Washington, D.C., was the top-ranked city on the 2019 Global Talent Competitiveness Index, followed by Copenhagen, Oslo, Vienna and Zurich.
The GTCI report, which includes a special focus on the encouraging, nurturing and developing of entrepreneurial talent, attributed the strong performance of the nation’s capital to its steady economy, dynamic population, outstanding infrastructure and connectivity, highly-skilled workforce and world-class education.