Executive Summary:

America has many cities that are booming and others that are in severe distress. These two groups get the most public attention.

But what about cities between those two extremes—cities that are doing above average economically and demographically but not yet at the superstar level? This paper focuses on 10 such cities in the greater Midwest.

While the “Rust Belt” accounts for the lion’s share of America’s highly distressed cities, the image that this entire region is uniformly failing is not the whole story. There are well-performing cities in the Midwest that are growing in population and jobs faster than the U.S. average and have high-value economic sectors, civic assets, and amenities. They could potentially raise their performance to be more comparable with Sunbelt boomtowns.

These cities have succeeded by becoming economic centers of their state or immediate region. But to get to the next level, their challenge is to expand their appeal beyond their backyard to the nation at large. Moreover, if they fail to do this, their robust performance may degrade in the future as the population of their hinterlands declines.

While burdened with some factors beyond their control, such as cold winters, the cities in America’s older industrial heartland that have significantly reinvented themselves can find a way to grow, especially if they avoid repeating the housing-policy mistakes of coastal cities.