At City Observatory, we’ve come the conclusion that every city has its own unique characteristics that both define its identity and which play a key role in shaping its economic opportunities.  These distinctive traits don’t always shine through in conventional economic data, which leads us to look for the rare statistics that convey more nuance about every place.

One such data source is the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment Statistics (OES).  The OES includes metropolitan-level estimates of the number of workers in occupational categories, as well as estimates of the range of pay levels.  It’s possible to use the occupational employment estimates to calculate a location quotient–a measure of specialization, which shows how much larger or smaller a share of a region’s employment base is made up of a particular occupation.  We used the OES data to identify the occupation in each metropolitan area with the highest location quotient–indicating the occupation in each metropolitan area that is the most disproportionately likely to be found in that region compared to all others.  Note that the occupation with the highest location quotient is not necessarily the most common occupation in the region, just the one that is more concentrated in that region than any other occupation, relative to the typical metropolitan area.

Occupations with high location quotients are indicators of a city’s knowledge specializations.   While it’s hard to measure knowledge directly, occupational data give us a window into where the most highly developed knowledge is located. These knowledge specializations have important economic development implications.  If you’re looking to grow a business and be successful, you want a pool of talented people who understand your industry, its technology, and its markets.  The occupational data shed light on the concentrations of specially talented workers.  The leading specializations for each of the nation’s largest metropolitan areas are shown here.


These data confirm many of our intuitive notions about the clustering of industries, knowledge, and occupations.  New York’s leading occupation is fashion designers, Los Angeles’s is media and communication workers.  Las Vegas is the leader for gaming workers, Washington for political scientists, and blue collar Milwaukee for foundry mold and coremakers.

It’s interesting to compare metro specializations to those for entire states.  We compared our results to those generated for states by the website Mental Floss who prepared “Which job is most unique to your state?” — a similar analysis of state occupational distinctiveness a couple of months ago.

Many cities share their principal occupational specialization with the state they are located in, but in other cases, there’s evidence of an urban-rural divide.  In Louisiana the most distinctive occupation is captains, mates and pilots of water vessels, while in New Orleans, its entertainers, performers, and sports workers. Oregon’s leading occupation is logging workers, but in metro Portland, the most specialized occupation is semiconductor processors.

Occupational data provide a rich source of insight into the knowledge, skills, and abilities of a region’s workers.  Those who want to explore the occupational approach to understanding city distinctiveness should read this paper by Ann Markusen and Greg Schrock.