Every city has its own unique DNA—geographic, demographic, economic, and institutional characteristics that make it different from other places. These differences play a key role in creating opportunities for economic development. Not every city is equally well-suited for every kind of industry or economic opportunity. Figuring out what your city is good—and not so good—at doing is a key to economic success.
Every city is different. Mapping out the ways in which they are different can often be challenging. One fascinating way of tracing out perceived differences among cities is using the accumulated record of good searches to catalog the attributes people attach to different cities. Renee DiResta hit on the idea of using Google’s “autosuggest” feature–which offers, based on the history of all its recorded web-searches–to see which terms were suggested when searching for particular states. She created a list of state stereotypes based on the results. Nate Shivar applied the same technique to the searches about the nation’s 50 largest cities. You can see his results here.
Searches for Portland, for example, turned up “weird, great, white, and liberal” in response to the search query “Why is Portland so . . . ?” A similar search for New York City produced “expensive, popular, big, and great.”
While hardly scientific, the Google Search data do provide an insight into widely shared perceptions of city differences. This data can be a starting point for exploring a city’s positioning and branding, and doing so in a systematic way.
We created a geographic analysis of some of these terms– go here to check out how your city is perceived!
One of the most important ways in which a city can be different than others is in its occupation specialties; history, geography, and politics can dictate what a city does best- and worst.
One way to measure occupational distinctiveness is a location quotient. It’s 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 Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment Statistics (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.
To read more about this analysis, go here to read our short blog post on the topic.