The U.S.' emerging cities are not experiencing the kind of super-charged growth one sees in the developing world, notably in China and India. Unlike Europe, North America's population is slated to expand by well over 100 million people by 2050, much of it in the U.S. and much of it driven by continued immigration.
In the course of the next 40 years, the biggest gainers won't be existing behemoths like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, but less populous, easier-to-manage cities that are both affordable and economically vibrant.
Even in hard times this low-density, wide-ranging urban area has repeatedly performed well on Forbes' list of the best cities for jobs. The area is a magnet for technology firms fleeing the more expensive, congested and highly regulated northeast corridor. One big problem obstructing the region's ascendancy has been air connections. But Delta recently announced a large-scale expansion of flights there from around the country. Population growth will likely be lead by educated millennials seeking affordable housing and employment opportunities. Today the region has 1.7 million residents; the State of North Carolina projects it will grow to 2.4 million by 2025.
Salt Lake City, Utah
Once seen as a Mormon enclave, the greater Salt Lake urban area--with roughly 1 million people--has every sign of emerging as a major world player with a wider appeal. The church still plays a critical role, in part by financing a massive redevelopment of the city's now rather dowdy city core. The area's population has doubled since the early 1970s and will grow another 100,000 by 2025 to well over 1.1 million. New companies are flocking to this business-friendly region, particularly from self-imploding California. Increasing national and global connections through Delta's hub will tie this once isolated city closer with the wider world economy.
San Antonio, Texas
Last year this historic Texas metropolis--home to the Alamo--ranked second on our list "best cities for jobs" among larger cities. The region has been growing rapidly to well over 2.1 million. As the economy, particularly in Texas, recovers, an already strong health care sector will be joined by an expanding industrial base. One key factor in San Antonio's favor: stable house prices--even by Texas standards. PMI Mortgage Insurance Co.'s most recent risk index, which is a two-year measure, lists San Antonio as having the lowest risk from falling prices among large Texas cities.
Oklahoma City, Okla.
Oklahoma City--with its business-friendly environment and abundant oil and natural gas reserves--ranked No. 11 in Forbes' list of the best big cities for jobs. A KPMG study named it the least costly metro area to do business among U.S. cities with populations between 1 million and 2 million, and according to the Census Bureau Community Survey, it has the third-shortest commute time among the 52 largest cities. Such factors--plus its exciting new basketball star, Kevin Durant--have definitely attracted plenty of new residents. An article in the Sacramento Bee reported that many Californians were migrating to the former Dust Bowl town in search of jobs and more stable housing prices, and its population, at 1.2 million, is expected to grow 9.8% in the next 10 years, according to the Greater Oklahoma City Partnership.
The Omaha metro area has a population of 838,875, making it the 60th largest metropolitan area in the country. And it's growing, thanks to high in-migration and a recent baby boom that added about 4,600 children between 2008 and 2009. The population has grown 9.4% to from 2000 to 2009, and it is expected to grow another 2.3% by 2014. Why are so many people flocking to Omaha? One reason is the low cost of living, including stable housing prices (like many of the Great Plains cities). Another reason: jobs. Omaha ranked ninth in our most recent best big cities for job list, with its healthy agriculture and civil engineering industries. Its friendly attitude toward business and innovation--as well as the strong universities in the area--has made it a leader in biotechnology. More than 20 bioscience companies are headquartered there--including Streck Laboratories and ConAgra Foods.
Formerly considered a suburb of Washington, D.C., Northern Virginia--which comprises Arlington, Fairfax, Loudon and Prince William counties, as well as other independent cities--has become a metro area of its own. The expanding federal government no doubt plays a large part in the area's growth; the CIA and the Department of Defense are headquartered there, and it is home to many other government agencies. The area also has one of the largest technology industries outside Silicon Valley. Northern Virginia has one of the most affluent, as well as the most educated, populations in the country; an astonishing 35% of Arlington County's population, for example, holds a graduate or professional degree.
A high quality of life, a vibrant cultural and music scene and a diverse population make Nashville a desirable place to live. The Nashville Area Metropolitan Planning Organization expects the 10-county greater Nashville area, home to 1.3 million people, to add close to another million by the year 2035. Low housing costs contribute to a cost of living that is lower than other affordable cities, like Raleigh, Austin, Dallas or Indianapolis. Nashville is also home to a growing health care industry: More than 250 health care companies have operations in Nashville, and 56 are headquartered there.
While the recession has taken a huge toll on the rest of Ohio, Columbus has been thriving, thanks to strong population growth, a booming startup culture and the largest college campus in the country--Ohio State University, a major employer and information center. Forbes named the Columbus metropolitan area--home to 1.8 million residents-- one of America's best housing markets, as well as one of the best places for businesses and careers. The city enjoys below-average unemployment and a strong tech presence that includes Battelle Memorial Institute, which oversees laboratories for several federal agencies.
Thanks to a business-friendly attitude, inexpensive housing and a strong cultural community, Indianopolis' population--now at 1.7 million--has increased at a rate that is 50% higher than the national average. That's faster than hot spots Washington, D.C., and Seattle, and nearly as fast as urban-planner darlings Portland or Denver. But while Portland and Denver may attract more young singles, Indianapolis boasts a growing population of educated, young married couples--many coming from cities like Chicago for the shorter commutes and lower cost of living--an arguably more attractive demographic since they will most likely stay, raise families and invest in the communities, boosting the area's growth even more.