How Resilient to Shocks are the Top 10 “Eds and Meds” Metros?

12.23.2011 | Our prior blog post examined the top ten metros for “eds and meds” (education and health care) concentration. Increasing a metro area’s meds and eds industries can boost all residents’ earnings, the study found—and meds more so than eds. I was curious after reading the study how the top-10 “eds and meds” metros fare on BRR’s Resilience Capacity Index (RCI)—another tool in the economic development arsenal. The RCI captures a metro region’s ability or capacity to respond to a future stress, like a major economic shift or a natural disaster.

Overall, the metro areas with high concentrations of eds and meds didn’t fare so well, with a few exceptions.

Below are two tables that show the top 10 “eds and meds” metros by the metro area’s concentration of employment in education or health care relative to the national median. The table also shows metros’ RCI rankings.

A few explanations first: The RCI is based on a set of strengths and weaknesses in three areas: economic capacity, socio-demographic capacity, and community connectivity.

  • A region’s economic development capacity includes income equality, economic diversification, regional affordability, and the business environment.
  • A region’s socio-demographic capacity includes higher educational attainment, higher share without disabilities, low poverty rates, and a high share of the population with health insurance.
  • A region’s community connectivity capacity is a strong civic infrastructure, overall metropolitan stability, high rates of homeownership, and high voter participation.

Top 10 metro areas with highest concentration of educational institutions and their RCI ranking (out of 361 metro areas: 1= highest; 361 = lowest)

Educational Institution Concentration Rank* RCI Overall Ranking RCI Regional Economic Capacity Rank RCI Socio-Demographic Capacity Rank RCI Community Connectivity Capacity Rank
State College, PA 8.2 276 345 17 346
Champaign-Urbana, Rantoul, IL 7.7 274 340 48 324
Bryan-College Station, TX 7.2 361 361 341 358
Bloomington, IN 7.1 321 328 208 322
Iowa City, IA 6.6 130 330 6 264
Gainesville, FL 5.9 341 355 252 316
Lafayette, IN 5.4 280 249 127 334
Columbia, MO 5.4 169 256 49 263
Athens, GA 4.9 348 352 337 314
Charlottesville, VA 4.4 185 321 66 209

Top 10 metro areas with highest concentration of medical institutions and their RCI ranking

Medical Institution Concentration Rank* RCI Overall Ranking RCI Regional Economic Capacity Rank RCI Socio-Demographic Capacity Rank RCI Community Connectivity Capacity Rank
Rochester, MN 3.1 1 68 2 6
Alexandria, LA 1.9 263 212 309 199
Iowa City, IA 1.8 130 330 6 264
Columbia, MO 1.6 169 256 49 263
Waterbury, CT 1.5 NA NA NA NA
Duluth-Superior, MN 1.5 32 102 123 7
Punta Gorda, FL 1.5 194 216 246 83
Gainesville, FL 1.5 341 355 252 316
Sharon, PA 1.4 NA NA NA NA
Asheville, NC 1.4 163 131 224 87
*Source: “Eds and Meds” and Metropolitan Economic Development,” in Urban and Regional Policy Effects (Brookings, 2008).

Among the metros with high concentrations of medical institutions, Rochester, MN, leads the pack in both the medical industry concentration and in the RCI index. In fact, Rochester sits in the number 1 spot in both its highest concentration of medical facilities and its top ranking in the RCI overall capacity. It garners that top spot by having high economic capacity, and very high socio-demographic and community connectivity capacity. (If only it weren’t’ so cold!) And speaking of cold, Duluth-Superior in Minnesota (#6 on the meds list) ranks quite high in overall resilience capacity as well, particularly its community connectivity. Asheville, NC, (#10) is a strong contender as well, with an overall ranking of 163 on the resilience capacity, driven both by its regional economic capacity and its community connectivity.

Among the metro areas with high concentrations of educational facilities, Iowa City and Columbia, MO, make it into the top half of RCI rankings (any ranking less than 180). This ranking is driven largely by the metro areas’ high scores on socio-demographic factors, like high education levels, low poverty, and a high share of residents with health insurance. Charlottesville, VA, comes close to breaking into the top half with a ranking of 185.

The RCI rankings remind economic developers of the old adage: don’t put all your in one basket.  Even when meds or eds can boost overall incomes in the metro area, relying too heavily on one industry is never smart. Detroit is Exhibit A in the perils of a company town. Like a healthy immune system, exposure to a wide array of germs makes the organism stronger. In metro areas, diversification allows it to bounce back after a shock to its system. As the RCI index suggests, it’s a combination of strengths, from economic to personal to civic, that make a metro area strong and resilient in the long term.

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