The U.S. recently hit a large milestone on the road to recovery from the economic fallout of COVID-19. In the second quarter of 2021, real gross domestic product (GDP) exceeded its pre-pandemic level, according to Bureau of Economic Analysis data. This rebound comes exactly a year after real GDP hit its lowest point during the COVID-19 crisis when it was down by more than 12%. National signs of growth are apparent at local levels. While some cities are still struggling with high unemployment rates and depressed economic growth, many are growing again.
In this study, SmartAsset uncovered the fastest-growing cities in the U.S. To identify the top boomtowns in America in 2021, we looked at the most recently available data for 500 of the largest cities across the following seven metrics: population change, unemployment rate, change in unemployment rate, GDP growth rate, business growth, housing growth and change in household income. For more information on our data or how we put together our findings, read the Data and Methodology section below.
This is the 2021 edition of our study on the top U.S. boomtowns. Read the 2019 version of the study here.
- There are many up-and-coming cities in the Northwest. Six of the top 10 boomtowns in America according to our ranking are located in Oregon, Washington and Idaho. They include Nampa and Meridian in Idaho; Bend, Oregon along with Vancouver, Bellingham and Seattle in Washington. From 2014 to 2019, the total number of establishments and housing units grew by more than 8% and 10%, respectively, in all six cities. Additionally, as of August 2021, the unemployment rate was less than 5% in all but one of the cities (Bellingham, Washington).
- Close to half of cities are back to full employment. Many economists consider a 4% to 5% unemployment rate to be full employment, or the rate at which inflation is stable. According to August 2021 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the unemployment rate is less than or equal to 5.0% in 241 cities of the total 500 in our study. Additionally, in 110 cities, the August 2021 unemployment rate is less than or equal to 4.0%.
1. Murfreesboro, TN
Murfreesboro, Tennessee – our top-ranking boomtown – places in the top 20% of cities for six of the seven metrics we considered. It ranks eighth in its five-year population change (19.62%) and 18th in its five-year change in number of housing units (21.15%). Murfreesboro also has the 52nd-lowest August 2021 unemployment rate (3.4%), the 97th-highest average yearly GDP growth rate (3.71%), the 35th-highest five-year establishment growth (15.95%) and 66th-highest five-year change in household income (38.25%).
2. Nampa, ID
Businesses in Nampa, Idaho are booming. Census Bureau data shows that between 2014 and 2019 the total number of establishments in Nampa grew by close to 29%, the highest rate in our top 10 boomtowns and second-highest overall. Nampa also ranks in the top 5% of cities for two additional metrics: five-year population change and average yearly GDP growth. From 2015 to 2020, the population grew by 15.20% and the average yearly growth in total output for the three-year period from 2016 to 2019 is 6.27%.
3. Meridian, ID (tie)
Just about 10 miles east of Nampa, Meridian, Idaho ties with Conroe, Texas as the No. 3 boomtown in America. From 2015 to 2020, the population of Meridian, Idaho grew by more than 31% – a top-three rate in our study. Meridian also ranks ninth for both its August 2021 unemployment rate (2.5%) and five-year change in number of housing units (27.52%).
3. Conroe, TX (tie)
Across all 500 cities in our study, Conroe, Texas ranks fifth-highest for its five-year population change (26.03%) and fourth-highest for its five-year housing growth (39.69%). Additionally, Conroe is part of Montgomery County, which has seen an annualized GDP growth rate of close to 9% over the past three years – a figure that puts it in the top 1% of cities.
5. Mount Pleasant, SC
Across the top 10 cities in our study, household incomes are growing the fastest in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. From 2014 to 2019, the median household income grew by more than 47% – a rate that is roughly 25 percentage points higher than the national average and 16th-best across all 500 cities we considered. The total population of Mount Pleasant also grew by 13.53% from 2015 to 2020, the 19th-most in our study.
6. Bend, OR
Bend, Oregon ranks in the top 40 cities for four metrics. It has the 10th-highest five-year population change (18.00%) and 31st-greatest average yearly GDP growth rate (5.35%). Moreover, businesses and housing in the area are booming. Relative to the total 500 cities in our study, Bend has the 17th-highest five-year change in number of establishments (22.51%) and 20th-highest five-year change in number of housing units (24.07%).
7. Tempe, AZ
East of Phoenix, Arizona’s Tempe ranks as the No. 7 city in our study. Across the seven metrics we considered, it ranks in the top fifth of cities for five. It has the 28th-highest five-year population change (11.88%), the 86th-highest average yearly GDP growth (3.77%) and 81st-greatest five-year change in number of establishments (11.96%). Additionally, from 2014 to 2019, the number of housing units grew by 17.34%, the 29th-best overall. During the same period, the median household income increased by 40.70%, the 50th-best in our study.
8. Vancouver, WA
Vancouver, Washington is about 10 miles north of Portland, Oregon (which ranks 44th in our study). This smaller nearby city ranks well for its growing number of businesses and housing options. Census Bureau data shows that from 2014 to 2019 the total number of establishments and housing units grew by 16.36% and 11.80%, respectively. Additionally, GDP in Clark County has grown at an annual rate of 6.06%, more than two percentage points higher than the average yearly GDP growth rate of Multnomah County, which Portland is primarily part of.
9. Bellingham, WA
Bellingham is the second of three Washington cities that make our top 10. Bellingham ranks particularly well for two metrics: five-year population change and average yearly GDP growth. From 2015 to 2020, Bellingham’s population increased by 9.95%, the 46th-most in our study. Moreover, from 2016 to 2019, the average yearly growth in total output grew by more than 8% – a top-10 rate.
10. Seattle, WA
Washington’s Seattle rounds out our list of the top 10 boomtowns in America. Seattle ranks in the top 10% of cities for four metrics. It has the 29th-highest five-year population change (11.84%) and eighth-highest average yearly GDP growth rate (about 7%). Additionally, from 2014 to 2019, the number of housing units grew by 14.64% and the median household income increased by 44.40%.
Data and Methodology
To find the top boomtowns in the U.S. we analyzed data for 500 of the largest cities. We looked at the most recent data available for each of the seven metrics listed below:
- Five-year population change. This is the change from 2015 to 2020. Data comes from the Census Bureau and is at the city level.
- Average yearly GDP growth. This is the average yearly growth in total output for the three-year period from 2016 to 2019. Data comes from the Bureau of Economic Analysis and is at the county level.
- Five-year establishment growth. This is the percentage change in the number of establishments from 2014 to 2019. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s County Business Patterns Survey and is at the county level.
- Five-year housing growth. This is the percentage change in the number of housing units from 2014 to 2019. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2014 and 2019 1-year American Community Survey and is at the city level.
- August 2021 unemployment rate. Data comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and is at the county level.
- One-year change in unemployment rate. This is the difference in the unemployment rate from August 2020 to August 2021. Data comes from the BLS and is at the county level.
- Five-year change in household income. This is the percentage change in the median household income from 2014 to 2019. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2014 and 2019 1-year American Community Survey and is at the city level.
We first ranked each city in each metric. Then we calculated the average ranking for each city, assigning a single weight to all metrics except for August 2021 unemployment rate and one-year change in unemployment rate, both of which were half weighted. We used the average rankings to create our final score. The city with the best average ranking received a score of 100. The city with the worst average ranking received a score of 0.
Correction: An earlier version of this article did not accurately reflect two ties in the top 50 boomtowns: Denver, Colorado and Johns Creek, Georgia are tied in the 23rd spot and Spokane Valley, Washington and Orem, Utah are tied in the 31st spot.
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Questions about our study? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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