New Study Shows Job Growth Has Little Effect on Population

business travelers Conventional wisdom holds that job growth attracts people to urban areas. But when it comes to economic development in American cities, the trusted old theory "If you build it, they will come" may not work, argues a Michigan State University (MSU) sociologist in a new study.

MSU's Zachary Neal found that in order to attract job seekers to your city, you have to attract influential and employed people first. The key group seems to be airline passengers traveling for business purposes.

"The findings indicate that business people come first, then the jobs," said Neal, assistant professor of sociology. "It's just the opposite of an 'If you build it, they will come' sort of an approach."

Attracting business travelers to the host city for meetings and other business activities by offering an easily accessible airport and other amenities such as hotels and conference centers is one of the best ways to create new jobs, Neal explained. These business travelers bring with them new ideas and potential investment, which creates a positive climate for innovation and job growth. In the study, Neal analyzed a range of permanent non-agricultural jobs.

For the study, Neal examined the number of business air-travel passengers in major U.S. cities during a 15-year period (1993-2008). According to Neal, business passengers destined for a particular city, and not just passing through, are a key to job growth.

Attracting new people to a city leads to job growth, but job openings do not necessarily attract new people, according to Neal.

Based on the results of the study, municipalities with the greatest potential to convert business passengers into new jobs were largely "sunbelt" cities such as Phoenix, Miami, Dallas, Houston and Riverside, Calif. Those with the least potential were mostly East Coast or Midwestern cities such as Boston, Pittsburgh and Detroit.

"One might expect to see a bump up in jobs first, and then a year or two later an increase in business passenger traffic," Neal said. "But we saw just the opposite. There was a bump up in business traffic and then about a year later a bump up in jobs. The business passengers were coming before the jobs did, rather than after."

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