Lehigh Acres, Florida, located just east of Fort Myers, used to resemble a ghost town with streets of mostly unoccupied homes, abandoned after the 2007 foreclosure crisis. Now, the area is ranked the fastest-growing city in America, according to WalletHub. 

The personal finance website recently ranked 515 U.S. cities of varying population sizes across two dimensions: sociodemographic factors like age and education; and jobs and economy, which WalletHub counted as a single dimension. WalletHub evaluated those dimensions using 17 metrics, including unemployment-rate decrease, median household-income growth, and increase in the number of startups. 

While still largely a bedroom community, Lehigh Acres is bouncing back from the foreclosure crisis and recession. With the promise of low real estate prices and business improvement efforts, car rental company Hertz relocated its global headquarters to the area in 2015. A year earlier, IT consulting firm Gartner set up shop in nearby Fort Myers. 

Mostly, however, western and southern cities, like Lehigh Acres, comprise the upper rankings of WalletHub's list because they've been attracting newcomers. Eight of the 15 cities with the largest population gains last year were located in the south and six were in the west, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's new estimates for population growth, which were released in May.

Founders are part of that migration pattern. Christina M. Rice, the founder of OMNoire, a social wellness community for women of color, moved her business from New York City to Atlanta in 2018. In 2017, startup investor Tim Ferriss and Outdoor Voices CEO Tyler Haney both relocated from Silicon Valley and New York City, respectively, to headquarters in Austin. 

Additionally, Texas is becoming an increasingly formidable hot spot: The Lone Star state boasts six of the top 15 cities on WalletHub's list. Separately, Austin, Dallas, San Antonio, and Houston featured prominently on Inc.'s 2019 list of Surge Cities, which highlighted the U.S. ecosystems with the most economic momentum.

To be sure, southern and western cities still have room for improvement. Texan cities like Sugar Land and Allen have the lowest income growth on the WalletHub list, which signals that local businesses may not be thriving and boosting employee wages as a result. Meanwhile,New Orleans hubs like Lafayette and Shreveport had the lowest job growth. 

While northern and eastern cities didn't dominate the rankings, they're still seeing progress. WalletHub ranked Passaic, New Jersey, and Somerville, Massachusetts, the cities with the highest income growth, indicating that local markets are flourishing, a quality favored by high-skilled workers.

Published on: Oct 17, 2019