RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – A new index of US cities ranked “Durham-Chapel Hill, NC” at  No. 11. The hyphenated metro combination of Durham and Chapel Hill jumped up 32 spots from last year’s ranking of No. 42. But Raleigh fell. 

“This city’s most noteworthy results were achieving second in one-year wage growth, sixth in high-tech GDP location quotient, and eighth in high-tech industry count,” according to The Milken Institute’s Best-Performing Cities Index (BPC)

Last year, Raleigh ranked #5 on the BPC index. Raleigh fell 11 spots to #16 this year.

The BPC Index also described Durham-Chapel Hill’s assets as R&D expertise and “a long history of partnership” between area universities and industry.

The ranking of NC cities

Nine North Carolina cities were ranked on the BPC – Large Cities Index: 

  • “Durham-Chapel Hill” (#11)
  • Raleigh (#16)
  • Wilmington (#21)
  • “Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia” (#31) 
  • “Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton (#91)
  • Winston-Salem (#96)
  • “Greensboro-High Point” (#138)
  • Asheville (T-165)
  • Fayetteville (#174)

Six North Carolina cities were ranked on the BPC – Small Cities Index: 

  • Burlington (#36)
  • Greenville (#40)
  • Jacksonville (#97)
  • New Bern (#115)
  • Rocky Mount (#140)
  • Goldsboro (#150)

The BPC index is published annually, reporting rankings based on synthesized data around job creation, wage growth, output growth of high-tech, broadband access, and housing affordability. 

Research Triangle is strong in tech concentration, low on housing affordability rank

Raleigh ranked high in certain categories, like High-Tech Concentration (ranked #9) and Wage Growth over a five-year period (#17) but received low marks on Broadband Access (#129) and Housing Affordability (#111)

Durham-Chapel Hill ranked very high for Wage Growth over a one-year period (#2) and High-Tech Concentration (#6) but also received a low ranking for Broadband Access ( #114) and Housing Affordability (#144).

The report described Durham-Chapel Hill’s liabilities as “a tightening labor market” and “a falling unemployment rate” and said that both could affect the area’s future ranking. 

Wilmington surpasses Charlotte; Asheville falls 92 spots

Wilmington, NC ranked #21 on the Large Cities index, jumping up 16 from last year’s ranking and beating out “Charlotte–Concord–Gastonia, NC–SC”, which fell 5 spots to #31.

Out of all the NC cities on the Large Cities index, Asheville’s ranking changed the most; Asheville fell 92 spots from #73, tying for #165.

“[Asheville] ranked near the bottom of the index for short-term job growth for the second year in a row, but it also fell from the top third of the index to the bottom third in both one-year job growth and one year wage growth, indicating particularly severe employment contraction during the early days of the pandemic,” the report said.

Rocky Mount had the strongest positive change in rank of all the NC cities, jumping 40 spots from #180 to #140 on the Small Cities index.

Poor marks for NC housing affordability

The news was not good about housing.

None of the NC cities ranked above #50 for Housing Affordability. 

Of NC cities in the Large Cities index, Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton ranked highest for housing affordability (#67), and Durham-Chapel Hill ranked the lowest (#144), followed by Wilmington (#143), Asheville (#133), “Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia” (#128), and Raleigh (#111). 

Of NC cities in the Small Cities index, Goldsboro had the highest Housing Affordability ranking (#50), and Jackson had the lowest (#146).


This year’s report was the first to pull data from “pandemic years”, using data from 2020. 

“Through the lens of COVID-19, it is more important than ever to understand not just the economic success of a city but also the extent to which that success is shaped by access to Opportunity,” the report said.

The 2022 report also highlighted a trend that was noted in the 2021 report: many high-tech jobs are migrating away from large coastal cities.

“While many of the nation’s traditional high-tech hubs still provide economic opportunities, they are no longer the only centers that create high-paying jobs, marking a shift toward spreading this type of economic success across more of the country,” the report said.

The Milken Institute is a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank based in Santa Monica, California.