For more than a year, Amazon teased and tantalized us by holding a very public contest to determine where the e-commerce titan would locate its second head­quarters. More than 230 cities in North America applied, with Amazon promising $5 billion-plus in construction investment and as many as 50,000 jobs to the winner. State and local leaders jockeyed for position, sometimes jesting, sometimes in earnest, sometimes both. In November, New York's governor offered, "I'll change my name to Amazon Cuomo if that's what it takes." Last year, Stonecrest, Georgia, offered to relinquish more than 300 acres and create a town called Amazon in exchange for HQ2. (Amazon has decided that the Long Island City neighborhood in New York City's borough of Queens will share HQ2 with Crystal City, Virginia, which is just outside of Washington, D.C.)

The flurry of solicitation underscores a key fact of 21st-century urban life: Policies and pressures from federal and state governments will continue to force city leaders to learn the value of self-reliance. And most municipal problems--infra­structure, poverty, inadequate schools--are easier to solve if the local economy is thriving.

So it's easy to see why so many elected officials wooed Amazon for a prize most cities were unlikely to win. Amazon was upfront about what it required: a population of more than a million, the ability to attract and retain tech talent, a stable and friendly business environment. Most cities were bound to feel like they never really had a chance.

Still, the HQ2 exercise got us at Inc. thinking: Which American cities account for the most growth, and what are they doing right? That led us to create our first-ever Surge Cities list, for which we partnered with the data science firm Startup Genome. We assembled yardsticks--including population growth, business investment, rate of entrepreneurship--crunched scads of data, and ranked the top 50 cities.

The dynamic, funky city of Austin came out on top, which might surprise those whose impressions of it calcified after seeing Richard Linklater's 1990 classic, Slacker. As our Surge Cities package explains and any relatively recent visitor could see, Austin's growth is so seductive that thinkers like Tim Ferriss and companies like Outdoor Voices have relocated there.

Whether you do business in one of the Surge Cities or are merely thinking about it, you'll find dozens of insights in this issue about America's real growth engines--and how they got that way.