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The South and West continue to predominate in the 2020 list of “Fastest-Growing Cities in America,” released by the Wallethub data-analytics firm.

To determine where the most rapid local economic growth occurred over a period of seven years, WalletHub compared 515 U.S. cities across 17 key metrics. The data set ranges from population growth to college-educated population growth to unemployment-rate decrease.

Fort Myers (Fla.) was at the top of the list, followed by Bend (Ore.); Meridian (Idaho); Milpitas (Calif.); and Enterprise (Nev). Rounding out the top 10 were Frisco (Texas); Town-n-Country (Fla.); Round Rock (Texas); Mount Pleasant (S.C.); and Nampa (Idaho).

Some of the findings from the analysis:

• Enterprise (Nev.) experienced the highest population growth, at 8.14 percent. Conversely, East Los Angeles (Calif.) experienced the highest population decrease, at 2.06 percent.

• Midland (Texas) experienced the highest growth in real gross domestic product (GPD) per capita, at 10.28 percent. Conversely, Lafayette (La.) experienced the highest decrease in real GDP per capita, at 2.35 percent.

• San Mateo (Calif.) experienced the highest household-income increase, at 10.61 percent. Conversely, Pharr (Texas) experienced the highest household income decrease, at 1.74 percent.

• Frisco (Texas) experienced the highest job growth, at 6.74 percent. Conversely, Anchorage (Alaska) experienced the highest jobs decrease, at 1.22 percent.

(The full report is available at https://wallethub.com/edu/fastest-growing-cities/7010/.)

What are the biggest challenges faced by cities experiencing rapid growth?

“Probably the major one is how to expand housing rapidly in well-located centers throughout the region so that housing prices and traffic don’t go through the roof,” said Stephen Wheeler, professor in the Department of Human Ecology at the University of California at Davis. “That means an active public-sector role to plan and rezone land, involve the public, overcome NIMBYism and support nonprofit housing developers providing affordable units.”

And what role will COVID-19 play in reshaping large cities?

The potential of out-migration in many cities due to COVID is “a real concern,”  said Gary Green, a professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “It may depend largely on whether employers continue to encourage workers to work from home.”

“I don’t believe this will be the case for younger workers who will still be drawn to the culture and opportunities in cities,” he said. “The beneficiaries of this growth will likely be the suburbs, not more isolated rural areas. The lack of good infrastructure (e.g., access to the Internet) and education in many rural areas is a real constraint for these regions.”

Changes could come in many forms and layers, said John Rennis Short, a professor in the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland Baltimore County.

“Some small tweaks will occur including more use of streets for use as public spaces rather than through routes for cars,” he said. “Broader trends will involve a repurposing of high-density public spaces.”

Whether people will move to the suburbs “is another matter, dependent on home-work relations,” Short said. “If more work is done at home, then we might see the movement of people to cheaper-housing areas. It is already happening temporarily, [and] if the pandemic lasts longer, it may be permanent.”

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