Small is Beautiful

Micropolitan Areas of North America

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From hamlet to village, and town to city, the words used to describe areas where we live continue to evolve. In the United States, ‘city’ refers to a large, permanent human settlement, a chartered municipal corporation. A metropolis, or ‘mother city,’ refers to large cities or a conurbation. While many of us have heard these and other terms to describe populated areas, one less familiar is micropolitan.
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A combination of ‘micro’ and ‘metropolitan,’ the word micropolitan was first used in 1982. The term refers to an urban area or small city with a population of at least 10,000 but fewer than 50,000. The number of residents in a micropolitan is greater than that usually associated with a rural area, but not as great as that found in a metropolitan. More specifically, according to the United States Census Bureau, a micropolitan is a geographic entity “delineated by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for use by Federal statistical agencies in collecting, tabulating, and publishing Federal statistics.”

In 2003, a decade after it was coined, the term micropolitan – often referred to as a micropolitan statistical area in the U.S. by the OMB – is sometimes used alongside Metropolitan Statistical Areas. At present, 576 micropolitan areas have been identified in the United States.

Unique and diverse
Often because of their size, micropolitans may not command the same political or economic clout as metropolitans, yet play an integral role in the economic vitality of the U.S. Sometimes called ‘mini metros,’ micropolitans are county-based and feature urban centers they can draw upon for employment, which makes them literally at the crossroads between a rural way of life and a larger city. In many ways, micropolitans offer the best of both worlds.

Culturally diverse, many micropolitans see themselves transitioning their economies away from industries of the past – such as lumber milling or glass manufacturing – and embracing newer sectors. Unlike massive cities which have very limited space to grow (and whatever little there is to be had is often extremely expensive), micropolitans have room to expand, with many boasting completed business/industrial parks or shovel-ready land, making them ideal for new companies and those seeking to expand. And while some micropolitans may not have colleges or universities directly in their centers, these educational institutions are often located nearby, able to provide potential employers with a resource base for future staff.

“I would say we are still a micropolitan just by way of our population and size,” states Pam Borda, Executive Director for the Northeastern Nevada Regional Development Authority (NNRDA). Entities like the NNRDA are able to assist companies seeking to move to the area. “We are still a very small rural area, but we are essentially a full-service area. We have an exceptional college here, and our campus is literally second to none in this state.” Known for its gold mining activity and absence of taxes, the NNRDA has grown to cover Elko County, Carlin, Elko, Wells, West Wendover, White Pine County in the City of Ely, Eureka County, and Lander County.

Like many other micropolitans, these communities in Northeastern Nevada have area hospitals, airports, and other amenities usually found only in large cities. Another example of a micropolitan which continues to attract and retain specific industries is Harrison County in West Virginia. Like many other micropolitans, the County provides the best of city and rural lifestyles – stunning scenery, a talented and available workforce, hospitals, schools, universities and colleges nearby, highway access, and more, making it a tremendous place to not only work, but to raise a family.

With a history going back over 200 years and a population of approximately 16,000 in Clarksburg, the county seat, this micropolitan is home to many highly respected businesses and centers. Known as a hub for biometrics, technology, and health care, Harrison County remains known for its aerospace industry, which includes Aurora Flight Sciences, Lockheed-Martin, Bombardier Aerospace, Pratt & Whitney, FMW Composite Systems, Engine Airframe Solutions, and the Robert C. Byrd National Aerospace Education Center, to name a few.

Referring to the area and its people as a friendly and a beautiful, dynamic community, Jaime Metz – the Executive Director of the Harrison County Economic Development Corporation – says it is unlike any other place he has ever worked or lived. The County boasts six available business parks able to provide acres of land to grow, and an enthusiastic talent pool.

Although modestly sized, micropolitans can have a commanding presence, and offer a great deal to businesses both large and small. Since they were labeled by the government in 2003, micropolitans have attracted well-known big-box stores — Walmart and Lowe’s being just two examples — along with restaurant chains such as Cracker Barrel. Others have attracted entertainment venues, including multiplex theater chains. At one time referred to as “non-metropolitan areas” or sparsely-populated rural places, micropolitans today have estimated populations across the United States of 28 million, and are earning the respect they deserve. Continuing to attract investment, Micropolitan Statistical Areas not only bridge the gap between large urban centers, but draw an increasing number of businesses willing and eager to take advantage of acreage to grow, available workers, and prices far more reasonable than those found in big cities.

Among their many advantages, micropolitans are able to market themselves to a range of industries through the designation they have received from the Office of Management and Budget. From nearby hospitals to business parks, sizable airports, quality schools, colleges, universities, and more, micropolitans offer businesses not only a tremendous place to establish themselves and grow, but an appealing way of life for all residents. Lower rates of crime, less expensive housing, reduced traffic congestion and cleaner air, and oftentimes a wealth of year-round outdoor activities serve to make these areas extremely attractive.

For businesses, these County-based “mini-metros” are not only unique, but at the crossroads of future growth. For those willing to embrace a mix of urban and rural living, the possibilities are limitless.

June 27, 2017, 3:15 PM EDT

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