North Carolina has plenty of “smarts” outside of Raleigh – and the Triangle.

The new Forbes’ “America’s Smartest Cities” report ranks Raleigh ranks No. 7 among the 51 largest cities with a 78.7 percent increase in growth of “college educated” residents since 2000.

But Wilmington actually scores better nationally at No. 5 overall among 380 metro areas.

Asheville and Durham-Chapel Hill also crack the top 15 at No. 8 and No. 15.

It’s no news that Raleigh and the Triangle in general are favorites when it comes to the flurry of “best” for this or that from Forbes – living to retirement to grow a business to tech jobs.

But Twitter was alive with tweets this week about the Forbes survey in part because of the showings separately by Wilmington, Asheville and Durham-Chapel Hill.

Researchers Joel Kotkin and Mark Schill based their survey to find “brainpower” gains for the “21st century” based on a specific set of criteria and through in some “weighting.” To best understand what the report means, read this paragraph:

“We started with the growth rate in the number of residents with at least a bachelor’s degree from 2000 through 2013 (25% weighting in final score). But since the places that post the highest growth rates tend to be those starting with low levels of educational attainment, we gave greater weight to the percentage point increase in the share of the population that is college-educated over that span (50%), and we factored in the share of educated people in the population in 2013 (25%). We also separated out results for the 51 MSAs with over a million residents.”

Raleigh scored No. 7 with these figures:

  • Share Of Population That Is College-Educated, 2013: 43.7%
  • Increase In Share Since 2000: 6.1 percentage points
  • Increase In College-Educated Population Since 2000: 78.7%

But to put the Raleigh numbers in perspective, compare those to No. 1 – the Boston metro area:

  • Share Of Population That Is College-Educated, 2013: 44.8%
  • Increase In Share Since 2000: 7.8 percentage points
  • Increase In College-Educated Population Since 2000: 32.2%

In other words, plenty of progress. Yet work to be done. 

It’s Forbes’ belief that “many of the strongest local economies have been those with a high share of educated people in their workforce, particularly areas where technology companies and other knowledge-based industries are growing most rapidly.”

Add the researchers: “For the most part, the top 10 on our list of the 51 largest metro areas is dominated by places with large concentrations of colleges, and those that long ago made the transition from industrial to information-based economies.”

Such is the case for Raleigh and the Triangle in general. If you include Durham-Chapel Hill (don’t forget: most of the RTP itself is in Durham County), then our home area continues to make impressive progress.

The top 10 includes many of the expected metros such as the Valley. But who would have expected Pittsburgh and Grand Rapids, Mich.? These two “rust belt” metros have leaders and populations who realize what must be done to deal with a technology dominated future.

Here’s the list: 

1.Boston metro


3. San Jose metro

4. Grand Rapids

5. Washington, D.C. metro

6. Baltimore metro

7. Raleigh

8. San Francisco area

9. Seattle area

10. New York metro

“Small-Scale Geographies” Show Strength

Perhaps the best overall news for North Carolina in terms of economic development and talent/work force recruitment is the showing by the state’s other cities. 

Durham-Chapel Hill with its university, technology, life science and booming entrepreneurial sectors, is not a surprise. But the No. 15 ranking among ALL metros is something to be touted.

And what about Wilmington at No. 5?

Blend the beaches, UNC-Wilmington, a strong economy and an emerging tech sector – well, “Silicon Beach” isn’t a pipe dream at all. 

Then there is Asheville at No. 8. Powered in part by UNC-Asheville, its own climate appeal to those who like mountains year-round and a splendid arts community, the city has plenty of appeal.

The Forbes study praises these smaller but up-and-coming metros it labels as “amenity regions:”

“Some of the most dramatic growth is taking place in two kinds of small-scale geographies: college towns and what might be best described as amenity regions. At the turn of the millennium, college towns already had a decent base of educated people; now they seem able to attract and nurture tech companies as well. This is the case for the second-ranked metro area on our overall list of all 380: Bloomington, Indiana. Home to Indiana University, the metro area has logged a dramatic 11.7 percentage point increase in the proportion of its population that is college educated since 2000. The share of its population with BAs is now 40.6%, putting it in range of places like Boston and the Bay Area.”

Read the report at: