BLOOMINGTON — Even as other municipalities face challenges in the wake of the recession, Bloomington stands among the country’s fastest-growing cities, according to a new study.
Financial website NerdWallet ranked cities across the U.S. according to their level of economic growth between 2007 and 2011, with Bloomington coming in at 11. The study’s top 10 cities included New Orleans, La.; Fargo, N.D.; and Odessa, Texas.
The study took into account not just population growth, but growth in the rate of employment and median income for workers, said Divya Raghavan, an analyst with NerdWallet who put together the study, based on U.S. Census data.
Bloomington’s population of those aged 16 and older grew 5.8 percent between 2007 and 2011. During the same period, NerdWallet found Bloomington’s employment rate increased by 3.3 percent and the median income of workers rose 8.9 percent.
“Most of these (types of studies) look at population growth as ‘fastest-growing,’ and we were looking for a broader measure,” Raghavan said. “If you look at just population growth, you could have cities with a very high birthrate or a lot of people, but the economic indicators are not really any better.”
“You would naturally expect to see the labor force decrease during times of economic hardship,” said Ken Springer, director of research and client services for the Economic Development Council of the Bloomington-Normal Area.
“My best guess (at the cause of the increase) is that given the historical strength of our economy, Bloomington-Normal may have attracted displaced workers from outside our community during this period.”
Springer attributed Bloomington’s growth in earnings to its generally strong employment rate.
“When workers are in abundance (due to high unemployment rates), employers generally don’t feel as pressured to increase worker pay,” Springer said Wednesday.
College towns like Bloomington tended to rank high, Raghavan said. The study’s top 20 included university towns like Shreveport, La. at No. 20, home of Louisiana State University Shreveport, and Las Cruces, N.M. at No. 16, home of New Mexico State University.
Towns with industries that are experiencing rapid growth also tended to make the list, Raghavan said, citing Gainesville, Fla., at No. 2, which she said has benefited from being a hub for tech company startups.
The presence of strong industries like insurance, healthcare and agriculture, and Bloomington’s position as a transportation hub have also helped Bloomington weather the uncertain economy, said Michael Seeborg, a distinguished professor of economics at Illinois Wesleyan University.
Another encouraging sign is Bloomington’s status as one of only two Midwestern communities on the list, Seeborg said. Rochester, Minn., home of the Mayo Clinic, was ranked No. 13.
“It’s great to see Bloomington on lists like this,” Seeborg said.