The wealthiest counties in America: Money on the move


The list of the fifty richest municipalities in the U.S. has inspired a lot of quick analysis of the country's current economic demographics. But the list's greatest value may be the glimpse that it offers into America's past and the path that it suggests for the future migration of workers and capital.

America's urban development was initially tied to the flow of goods and services. For example, New York City was a natural spot for traders coming from England and the Caribbean. Moreover, its location on the banks of two rivers made it a perfect distribution point for goods and workers. Later, as railroads sprang up and industry developed, New York cemented its position as a central area where raw materials entered and finished products emerged.

The same is true of Chicago, Detroit, Pittsburgh, and dozens of other cities that became natural meeting points for various industries and commodities. Even Los Angeles' position at the nexus of an ocean, miles of arable farmland, a sun-drenched coastline, and a flow of cheap labor could largely draw its growth and success from its location. The film industry, for example, initially moved to the area (from New York) for its endless supply of cheap lighting and open space.