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The time has come once again for our team to identify which cities are leading the way in providing businesses the tools needed to operate successfully and navigate economic disruptions. Cities listed in this year’s cover story represent the level of resilience that keeps Americans moving forward in the hardest of times.

However, in 2020, we decided to do things a little differently. After all, 2020 was a different year for everyone, as it will more than likely go down in history as the “year of COVID.” Thus, for businesses in the U.S. and around the world, we looked at the data for cities leading the way in “soft infrastructure” rather than primarily focusing on the leaders in “hard infrastructure.” 

Resources from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and more supported the development of this list. Our goal is to identify the things that help support businesses beyond rail, port and transportation options. According to the economic development leaders we spoke with, the elements of soft infrastructure are often overlooked. 

“Not all cities have the same caliber of export and trade support systems,” explains Linda DiMario, an economic development consultant. “If there is not trade ecosystem in place to help build capacity and nurture the transition of export ideas to the act of exporting, that gets in the way for companies. Those companies do not always know where to go for assistance.”

DiMario continues, “Very often, the attention goes to what I like to refer to as ‘hard infrastructure’ rather than understanding exports and trade capacity from a more holistic perspective. Airports, port access, etc. are the more obvious components of hard infrastructure, and although they are important, they’re not the only components. There is an ecosystem that exists that supports companies and their ability to explore markets and provides the ‘soft infrastructure’ to help develop export readiness. Those are crucial elements in any city and deserve recognition.”

On that note, here are the cities that made our list.

Best Cities for Exports by Metropolitan Area

Source: Foreign Trade Report

The report highlights leading areas based on “millions of U.S. dollars, not seasonally adjusted” and compares the 2019 final numbers to 2018’s numbers, preceding each yearly period with “Annual.” This report was published on June 16, 2020.

Northeast: New York-Newark-Jersey City, (NY-NJ-PA)

Out of a total of 10 metropolitan areas in the Northeast, the New-York-Newark-Jersey City metro region led by a longshot with just shy of $87 million for Annual 2019. Each quarter recorded by the metro region also led by more than double compared to competing metros in the Northeast. The overall numbers were slightly lower compared to the Annual 2018 breakdown but contributed to a total of 185,492,000 for the region in ’19. 

Midwest: Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI

It was not a surprise to see The Windy City leading the way for the Midwest for top export dollars in Annual 2019. The Chicago-Naperville-Elgin metro region represented a total of $42,493,000 in exports, with the Detroit-Warren-Dearborn area right behind it. Chicago-Naperville-Elgin beat Detroit-Warren-Dearborn by $1,056,000 for the Annual 2019 final numbers. 

South: Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX

As we saw in last year’s Best Cities feature, Houston ranked among the top, representing robust numbers for the South with a whopping $128,032,000 in total exports for the Annual 2019 report. Overall, the southern region recorded $367,003,000 in ’19. This confirms the South as the top dog for highest number of exports in dollars throughout the nation. 

West: Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA

Heading west, exports were nothing short of abundant; however, the metro regions tallied in fairly close with Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA, coming in first at $61,859,000 and Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA, coming in second at $41,334,000 for Annual 2019. The West represents the second-highest in export dollars for the year. 

Best Cities for Fastest-Growing Large Cities


When it is time for businesses to expand or relocate, location is critical. For this list, we looked at the fastest-growing large cities over the past decade detailed by the U.S. Census report revised on May 21, 2020. According to this report, the cities researched had a population of at least 50,000 as of April 1, 2010. This is the list of the top 10 fastest-growing cities between April 1, 2010, and July 1, 2019, in order. Not surprisingly, the South and West lead the way in this category as well. Be warned: Texas dominates once again. 

Frisco, TX

Coming in at No. 1 on the list, Frisco was reported to have a 71.1 percent increase in population, with a total of 200,490 people. Frisco is one of six Texas cities listed among the top 10 nationally for population growth. 

Buckeye, AZ

Buckeye finished No. 2 by reporting a total population of 79,620 people at the end of 2019, increasing by 56.6 percent in a decade. Buckeye, AZ, is one of four Western states to make it on the list and is the only Arizona city represented in this report. 

New Braunfels, TX

Just behind Buckeye is the second Texas city represented for the fastest-growing large cities report. New Braunfels experienced a 56.4 percent increase, with a total population of 90,209 by the end of 2019. For those of you who are not familiar, New Braunfels is home to arguably one of the best water parks and resorts in Texas. Schlitterbahn, anyone? 

McKinney, TX

Just tapping right above the 50 percent mark is the third Texas city on the list. Located in the northeastern region of North Texas, McKinney was reported with a total population of 199,177 in 2019 and experienced a 51.9 percent increase over the past decade. It goes without saying that North Texas is a hot region for growth. 

South Jordan, UT

Heading west, the past decade of growth reported in South Jordan put the Utah city in fifth place on the list. Located just a hop, skip, and a ski jump south of Salt Lake City, South Jordan recorded an impressive 51.8 percent population growth in the past decade. Final numbers for 2019 equaled 76,598 people. 

Meridian, ID

Just above Utah, Idaho made its place on the list with a 48.3 percent increase reported for Meridian. The city finished 2019 with a robust 114,161 total population. This city represents the fourth highest out of the 10 on the list for the highest population total in 2019. 

Cedar Park, TX

Ah, Texas; we meet once again. Cedar Park made its way on the list as No. 7 with a 44.2 percent increase over the past decade and a total of 79,462 population. Neighboring cities include Leander, Round Rock and an interesting place known as Nameless with a reputation for being a “ghost town,” according to Texas Escapes Magazine.

Fort Myers, FL

Going even farther south, Fort Myers makes the eighth place on the list with a 39.8 percent increase over a decade, growing its total population to 87,103 for 2019. Fort Myers represents Florida on the top 10 list for significant growth in population during the period listed.

Conroe, TX

Just when you thought you had read all the Texas cities that made the list, one more pops up. Conroe comes in at No. 9 with a total population of 91,079 and an increase of 39.3 percent. Way to represent, Texas!

Irvine, CA

Coming in at the highest total 2019 population for the fastest-growing large cities on the list, Irvine finished 2019 with an impressive 287,401 population, which represents a 35.5 percent increase over the past decade. Irvine is the only California city to crack the top 10, which speaks volumes to the city’s infrastructure, quality of life and business opportunity. 

Best Cities for Federal Banking

Source: Office of the Comptroller of the Currency report

With any successful business comes the added layer of financial management. And when it comes to protecting your profits, you must choose your banks wisely. In the list below, we present cities offering trusted resources for banking as identified by the Office of the Comptroller Currency report. These cities offer the most options for federal banking, from cross-border banking to investor relations. 

New York, NY 

The city that never sleeps tops the list for the most federal banks. A robust 32 total federal banks are found in the Big Apple, giving your business more than enough options from which to choose. A few of the big-name banks found here include Arab Banking Corp., Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd., Bank of China, Gulf International Bank and many more. 

San Francisco, CA

Although San Francisco (or any other city for that matter) did not come close to offering more than a handful of federal banks compared with the Big Apple, three of the federal banks found here include CMB Wing Lung Bank Ltd., Bank of Communications Co., Ltd., and UBS. If you’re looking for sustainable finance and investment options, this is a great place to start. 

Closely behind San Francisco are: Miami, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C. and Chicago, with each having at least two federal banking options and competitive financing for domestic and international businesses. 

Best Cities for Civilian Labor Force 

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics report

We like to save the best for last. Arguably one of the most important elements in any business is its representing workforce. Cities that made this list showcase skills and growth that not only support efforts in economic development but prepares the next generation of those who will continue to grow the economy. The Bureau of Labor Statistics report identified metropolitan areas offering robust labor pools. These numbers reflect cities with at least 500,000 civilian workers as of September 2019.


Birmingham-Hoover: 551,568


Tucson: 503,048

Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale: 2,524,737


Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim: 6,781,917

Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario: 2,074,832

Sacramento-Roseville-Arden-Arcade: 1,104,416

San Diego-Carlsbad: 1,593,792

San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward: 2,603,490

San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara: 1,088,233


Denver-Aurora-Lakewood: 1,694,499


Hartford-East Hartford-West Hartford: 630,118

District of Columbia 

Washington-Arlington-Alexandria: 3,475,733


Jacksonville: 797,492

Miami-Ft. Lauderdale-West Palm Beach: 3,176,775

Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford: 1,381,556

Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater: 1,577,352


Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell: 3,102,466


Chicago-Naperville-Elgin: 4,836,999


Indianapolis-Carmel-Anderson: 1,071,170


Louisville-Jefferson County: 676,110


New Orleans-Metairie: 594,425


Baltimore-Columbia-Towson: 1,521,785


Boston-Cambridge-Nashua: 2,814,506


Detroit-Warren-Dearborn: 2,177,102

Grand Rapids-Wyoming: 574,566


Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington: 2,033,164


Kansas City: 1,135,510

St. Louis: 1,481,679


Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise: 1,138,060

New York

Buffalo-Cheektowaga-Niagara Falls: 541,098

New York City-Newark-Jersey City: 9,920,695

Rochester: 521,893

North Carolina

Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia: 1,375,200

Raleigh: 735,976


Cincinnati: 1,132,137

Columbus: 1,101,267

Cleveland-Elyria: 1,045,516


Oklahoma City: 688,813


Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro: 1,325,943


Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington: 3,133,899

Pittsburgh: 1,214,109

Rhode Island

Providence-Warwick: 691,449


Memphis: 644,028

Nashville-Davidson-Murfreesboro-Franklin: 1,095,969


Austin-Round Rock: 1,244,523

Dallas-Ft. Worth-Arlington: 4,003,204

Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land: 3,440,488

San Antonio-New Braunfels: 1,211,007


Salt Lake City: 671,371


Richmond: 688,763

Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News: 861,205


Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue: 2,187,696


Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis: 816,430