With all the reports and research that we read, it takes a lot to stagger us.

But that’s exactly what the report by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York did when it concluded that our peer cities are Shreveport, Monroe, Hattiesburg, and Spokane.

We wrote about it in the last post but we can’t get it out of our minds.  The report means that we not only are not in the same category as Nashville, Jacksonville, Indianapolis, Louisville, Birmingham and Raleigh, we are in a group of cities that are considered third or even fourth tier.

We don’t intend to demean the other cities, but we were never aspiring to compete with Shreveport.  While we have been outspoken in our concern about the economic trends of Memphis, we’ve concluded previously that our city has no margin for error and that we have to do an awful lot of things right.  The report by the New York Federal Reserve staff suggest that we were too optimistic.

Shreveport Isn’t So Bad

For years, the chairman of the Airport Authority has said that without FedEx, we’re Shreveport.  Well, it turns out that even with FedEx, we’re in company with Shreveport.

In other words, it’s time to end the sound bites in favor of sound policies, because we’ll need them to climb out of where we are.

We’ve written reams about the importance of skilled, educated workers in a knowledge economy, and the New York report set out to measure “knowledge in cities” and “these knowledge-based clusters help explain the types of regions that have levels of economic development that exceed, or fall short of, other places with similar amounts of college attainment.”

Our grouping with Shreveport calls for a fundamental rethinking of our economic development strategies.   Yes, we have a decade of negative trend lines that should have shaken us into action, but this report is the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Facing Facts

It also calls for us to face the brutal facts, because they should once and for all motivate us to join hands to turn things around.  They should not discourage us but renew our determination  to embrace new thinking while rejecting formulaic economic development strategies to turn our attention to the change agents: talent, entrepreneurs, and creativity.

“Many observers have noted that the importance of natural resources, buildings and machinery as the means to produce goods and deliver services has been overshadowed by the primacy of knowledge, skills and creativity,” the report said.

“This study… examine(s) the knowledge economies of U.S. and Canadian metropolitan areas. Our goal in the paper is to identify and analyze a set of metropolitan area clusters that share similar knowledge traits. After joining a large sample of U.S. and Canadian metropolitan areas into eleven distinct clusters based on the types of knowledge used in the workforce, we provide descriptive information about inter-cluster differences in regional gross domestic product (GDP) and earnings per capita.”


To determine the city clusters, the researchers used standardized knowledge scores that grouped the 287 U.S. and Canada metro areas into a smaller set of regions with similar knowledge traits.

Here are the city clusters (the report breaks down the descriptions for each):

Making Regions has a workforce characterized by very high knowledge about the subject areas of Mechanical and Production and Processing. These cities in this cluster include Canton, Grand Rapids and Detroit.

Teaching Regions is made up of mostly “college towns” like Athens, Lexington, Bloomington and Champaign-Urbana.

Understanding Regions is also made up of metropolitan areas like Charlottesville, Rochester, Gainesbille and Iowa City that are home to major research universities.

Our So-Called Peer Cities

Thinking Regions includes major U.S. metropolitan areas of New York, Philadelphia and San Diego and smaller places such as Halifax, Nova Scotia; Las Cruces, New Mexico; and Portland, Maine.

Enterprising Regions, which are characterized by high knowledge about commerce, such as, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, Montreal and Toronto.  This cluster also includes the cities we’ve used as our peers for years: Atlanta, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Louisville, Nashville, St. Louis and Charlotte.

Metropolitan areas such as Anchorage, Mobile and Houston are included in a cluster of Building Regions.

Comforting (Not)

A cluster of Innovating Regions is made up of metropolitan areas such as Austin, Boston, Seattle and Washington D.C. These places are generally regarded as some of the cities with the highest levels of human capital and innovative activity.

High knowledge about IT, commerce and engineering are also defining characteristics of a cluster of Engineering Regions, including Calgary and San Jose.

Comforting (Memphis) and Working Regions (such as Jackson, TN) have less favorable indicators of regional economic development than the other knowledge-based clusters. Working and Comforting Regions have lower levels of economic development.

Our Peer Cities

Here’s the list of our peer cities, according to the report:

* Abilene, TX;  Alexandria, LA; Amarillo, TX: Asheville, NC

* Atlantic City, NJ; Buffalo- Chico, CA; Columbus, GA/AL; Spokane, WA

* El Paso, TX; Fayetteville, NC; Hattiesburg, MS; Las Vegas, NV

* Lincoln, NE; Lubbock, TX; Moncton, NB; Monroe, LA

* Niagara Falls, NY; Pueblo, CO; Quebec City, QC; Savannah, GA

* Shreveport, LA; Sioux Falls, SD; Springfield-Holyoke-Chicopee, MA

* Syracuse, NY; Topeka, KS; Utica-Rome, NY; Waco, TX; Winnipeg, MB

No Comfort Here

These are the so-called Comforting Regions, but there’s little reason to be comfortable about being included in this group.  It seems reasonable that we should at least set our sights on getting into the Enterprising Regions with the other cities we regularly compare ourselves to.

It’s just impossible to get excited about outcompeting Shreveport.