The New Demographics

The Changing Geography Of Talent In America

The map of talent in the U.S. is changing and it’s shifting toward the heartland

A new report by Senior Fellow Richard Florida of Heartland Forward identifies a shift in the geography of talent towards Heartland metros.

BENTONVILLE, Ark., Feb. 15, 2022 /PRNewswire/ — Today, Heartland Forward released a new research report, “Heartland of Talent: How Heartland Metropolitans are Changing the Map of Talent in the U.S.”, written by Heartland Forward Senior Fellow Richard Florida, alongside researchers at Heartland Forward. The report identifies a marked shift in the geography of talent over the past decade away from extreme concentration in coastal superstar cities and leading tech hubs like San Francisco; San Jose, California; Washington D.C.; Boston, and New York and toward metros across the heartland and nationwide, like Austin, Texas; Minneapolis-St. Paul; Kansas City, Missouri; St. Louis; Oklahoma City; Des Moines, Iowa; Omaha, Nebraska; Columbus, Ohio; Cincinnati; Nashville, Tennessee; Ann Arbor, Michigan; Iowa City, Iowa; Auburn, Alabama and Fayetteville, Arkansas to name a few. The report attributes this shift to the work these metros have done to bolster their amenities to appeal to talent and predicts that this shift is likely to accelerate with the dramatic rise of remote work, offering talent a much greater choice of locations.

“The map of talent in the United States is changing. Slowly but surely, the coasts are losing their appeal as the dominating force of talent attraction, job creation and recreation,” said Richard Florida, senior fellow at Heartland Forward and author of a “The Rise of the Creative Class” and “The New Urban Crisis”.

“Due to the extreme unaffordability of traditional leading hubs, combined with the shift to remote work caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, new names are making their mark on the list of talent destination spots, including many across the heartland.”

Heartland of Talent

“At Heartland Forward we have been laser focused on changing the narrative of the middle of the country,” said Ross DeVol, president and CEO of Heartland Forward. “While the results of this report do not suggest a complete reversion to the older, more diffuse system of the 1950s and ’60s, this new geography of talent looks like a slightly more stretched-out version of the map we’ve grown used to. The trends of the past decade along with the rise of remote work offer smaller and medium-sized heartland metros and rural areas across the country the opportunity to be players in this new geography. It’s an opportunity they shouldn’t miss, and we at Heartland Forward are committed to helping these metros seize these opportunities.”

The map of talent in the United States is changing. Slowly but surely, the coasts are losing their appeal as the dominating force of talent attraction, job creation and recreation...

The report examines the changing geography of talent in America from 2010-2019. To do so, it uses two basic metrics of talent: educational attainment and the share of the workforce engaged in knowledge, professional, and creative occupations.

The analysis covers all 350-plus U.S. metros, paying special attention to large metros with more than one million people and the 166 metros spanning 20 states that make up America’s heartland region. Overall, its findings suggest a subtle and nuanced shift in the geography of talent. While coastal superstar cities like San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and New York City and leading tech hubs like San Jose and Boston remain talent centers, there are some bright lights for heartland communities.

Here are its findings:

  • Heartland metros like Columbus, Missouri; Nashville, Tennessee; St. Louis; Cleveland and Cincinnati are gaining talent,
    Heartland college towns like Ann Arbor, Michigan; Madison, Wisconsin; Iowa City, Iowa and Fayetteville, Arkansas are also gaining talent, and
  • Older industrial metros outside the heartland metros like Pittsburgh have all seen significant improvement in both their shares of college grads and the creative class.
  • These shifts in the geography of talent are likely to be accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the dramatic rise of remote work. Remote work gives talent greater choice of locations, and smaller cities and metro areas have worked to bolster their amenities and appeal to this talent.

The report also highlights the importance of investing in talent-based economic initiatives, including direct talent attraction initiatives, entrepreneurial support initiatives and arts and culture amenities, in order to take advantage of the rise of remote work, and features particularly successful initiatives like Tulsa Remote, which offers $10,000 to people to move to Tulsa.




About Heartland Forward:
Heartland Forward is a nonpartisan, 501c3 organization whose mission is to improve economic performance in the center of the United States by advocating for fact-based solutions to foster job creation, knowledge-based and inclusive growth and improved health outcomes. Heartland Forward conducts independent, data-driven research and programs to facilitate action-oriented discussion and impactful policy recommendations. To learn more, visit