Virginia Metro Brain Gain


Joel Kotkin and Mark Schill at the New Geography blog have devised a different way of looking at which metro regions are winning and which ones are falling behind in the competition to build an educated workforce. By this set of metrics, most Virginia regions score in the top 50% of the nation’s 380 metropolitan regions, but none are standouts. Overall, our regions are doing OK, better than average, but no one is setting the world on fire.

What does this chart, extracted from ranking of all 380 regions, measure? I’ll let Kotkin and Schill explain:

To determine the metro areas that are gaining brainpower in the 21stCentury, we scored the nation’s 380 metropolitan statistical areas based on three criteria. 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.

Not surprisingly, metro regions with a large college/university presence tended to do better over the 13-year period studied, but industry mix played an important role as well. Government and high-tech industries attracted educated workers. The Washington metro has the best educated population in the country.

After following the debate for more than a decade now, I have to say, it’s still not clear to me what, if anything, metro regions can do to recruit and retain educated workers. Employers are the driving force — they are the ones who recruit employees to a region. Regions with industries that are profitable, growing and pay well enjoy a big advantage over regions dominated by shrinking, low-paying industries. But there’s more to the story than that. Regions also have to hold on to their employees. If costs are too high, if life is boring, if the community isn’t welcoming to outsiders, talented young people will leave.

There are no quick fixes here. It can take literally generations of effort to build an employment base of dynamic employers with the clout to recruit talented workers and to create the kinds of amenities that keep those talented workers in town. Regions that view the challenge clearly and sustain their efforts over the years will prevail over those that don’t.


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37 responses to “Virginia Metro Brain Gain”

  1. THe one thing about the DC/Md/Va region that I’m sure that Don and TMT can verify – is that not only is the workforce highly educated – but it’s diverse ..

    there are folks in that region from all over the country – indeed all over the world.

    Perhaps one measure of urban areas – not yet undertaken – is the percentage of the workforce – that hails from the state the Metro area is in.

    take Richmond, Hampton and Nova and see what the percent is.

    What I’d assert is that Virginia has a lot of folks in it’s rural poor areas that cannot successfully compete for jobs in their own state even if they moved to the DC Area.

    They simply lack the calibre of education that is required and then you go to a place like Lynchburg and ask if those kids in Lynchburg’s school are going to grow up to go to a Va college then go to the DC area to get Virginia’s share of those jobs.

    1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

      Larry, interestingly, while the NoVA workforce is both quite diverse by many measures and generally well educated, we are seeing a large influx of individuals without extensive educations and with low job skills because of the lack of growth in high-compensation jobs and the growth in low-skill service jobs. My source is Fairfax County executive Ed Long. While that might meet market demand, it has significant long-range consequences – lower tax capacity and higher demand for government services. No one is talking about this yet.

      Also, I see a huge volume of people with skills, education and internal motivators designed to meet the needs of the federal government, rather than non-government needs and/or market disruption. As the feds slowly retreat from high-spending levels on national defense and homeland security, as well as general regulation, I see these factors as being another long-term problem for NoVA’s quest to diversify its economy and keep strong levels of prosperity. Toss DJR’s concerns about a shortage of research universities in the area, and I suggest NoVA has some big challenges ahead.

      1. TMT – I’ve been told that it is “liberals” like Obama that want to hurt the US by sequesters and BRACs..

        they see cutting DOD as “leftist”.

        on the service jobs – don’t you think that for every population of higher paid individuals there will always be a certain demand for service jobs to service their needs?

        do you think the service jobs will exceed the need for them?

        I just see service jobs the same way I see commercial retail.. it all goes back to how many rooftops there are.. you can have more Target or WalMarts than there are rooftops that need what they sell.

        1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

          Larry, I have long felt and written we can cut both defense and homeland security, if done correctly and surgically, without jeopardizing our safety. I no more support spending on these areas for job protection than I do in other areas to preserve jobs for the professional caring class.

          Similarly, growth in service jobs is simply a response to market demand.’

          The problem I’ve raised is one for local and state government. Fairfax County offers a huge number of services that depend on taxes paid by a workforce that has been “top heavy” vis a vis compensation. If we become more bottom heavy, it will be harder to fund the existing level of services because of a likely slowdown in real estate, sales and income taxes (with income taxes funding some state aid that comes back to Fairfax County), at the same time there will be a greater demand for services by lower-income individuals. It’s probably time for Fairfax County to again reexamine its operations with eye towards continued low revenue growth. And Fairfax County is not alone.

          1. TMT – there are lots of moving parts and almost as many opinions but Fairfax and NoVa are already so expensive that they drive people to go to the outer counties to find affordable places to live – in turn exacerbating your traffic.

            but yes – you could end up like Detroit which lost a bunch of jobs and then got top heavy on services no longer paid for by higher end workers but used by lower end workers.

            I would think many if not most cities have this problem.

            In San Francisco there is a war going on between the millennials who work for GOGGLE buying up lower cost properties that the retired depend on and forcing them out.

            The challenge for Fairfax/NoVa is figuring out how to provide truly affordable housing for service workers and the entry level folks.

            Down our way – we have two types of commuters. We have the govt workers who would like a nice house in NoVa but can’t afford it so they move down here where such houses are plentiful at 300K … large, 3000 square foot homes in cul-de-sac neighborhoods with decent nearby schools.

            Then we have folks living in townhouses within a mile or so of I-95. These are NoVa service workers… who can’t find a place to live they can afford in NOVA so they do the same commute.

            Of course I-95 is royally crapped out for any east coast travelling schmuck…

            NoVa – under any employment scenario – flush or thin – does not seem to have any real plan to provide affordable housing for it’s service workforce and that, in turn, causes other disruptions and ..threats…to the status quo.

          2. TooManyTaxes Avatar

            Larry, affordable housing is a big problem. There is not a lot in Fairfax County, most especially for large families. The County is trying to impose a requirement for 20% workforce/affordable housing (with the latter addressing the needs of the even lower income folks than workforce housing). But, in Tysons, the County has excused all affordable housing because the land and construction costs are just too high. Affordable housing in Tysons isn’t.

            But the problem is much bigger. For example, Fairfax County schools go well beyond what is required by the feds and the state for low income kids. I’ve been told FCPS spends as much as $60 M to provide additional resources to schools with high numbers of low income kids. I know the expenditures are made as a fact. There is some confusion as to the exact amount because FCPS staff tries to hide it to avoid wrath from higher income parents whose kids are in much larger classes.

            But back to my point, $60 M is almost 3 cents on the tax rate. Can Fairfax County continue to collect this “extra tax,” along with the “extra taxes” for many other programs directed to help low income and especially low-income non-English speaking people without healthy job growth at the higher end? I know Ed Long is worried (and he should be). Fairfax County is unlikely to be Detroit, but its days of being all things to all people are probably numbered.

            And I know there is a big, but quiet, debate as just how much affordable housing can Fairfax County afford. If most of the lower income service workers don’t live in Fairfax County, the need for expensive services is smaller.

          3. sure they can collect the extra tax … why not?

            people are not going to move out over 3 cents.. right?

            in terms of the 60 million for low-income kids – where do they come from if there is little affordable housing?

            more than that – I doubt seriously you actually know because most school systems do not disclose how they spend the local funding so everyone is free to make up whatever they want to about it.

            My bet is that your local funding goes far more for sports, advanced guitar, AP, and other high-end college-prep amenities… that your monied parents want for their college-bound kids.

    2. We’ve been through all this before.

      More people commute to work out of NoVa than into NoVa. NoVa is not a net importer of workers.

      TMT’s point about people with ore limited skills moving to NoVa is well taken. They are after jobs even if they are on the low end of the wage scale. And they live here. In addition, relatively unskilled immigrants have moved to NoVa in droves. They live somewhere. The silliness of “no affordable housing” is refuted over and over again. Can you get more housing in Fredricksburg than Arlington? Oh yes. But the idea that there are no lower income people living in NoVa is just plain BS.

      I don’t share TMT’s “government workers can only work for the government” theory. I think he’s showing his age. Can a 55 year old government worker with their entire working career in the federal government make the move ti an entrepreneurial small company? Maybe not. Can a 30 year old who has worked five years for the feds make that move? Of course. New entrepreneurial companies with no links to the federal government are sprouting up all over the place in NoVa.

      Company (Inc 5,000 rating, location)

      Reliant Asset Management (3, Arlington)
      American Care Partners (96, Falls Church)
      hCentive (117, Reston)
      American Wireless (232, Arlington)
      Fontiva (286, Arlington)

      And on and on

      Analytica (81, DC)
      Tahzoo (85, DC)

      And on and on

      Then there are the companies that graduated from the Inc list …

      Surescripts (Arlington)
      Appian (Reston)
      MicroStrategy (McLean)
      Motley Fool (Alexandria)
      AppAssure (Reston)
      EdgeConnex (Herndon)
      foundationDB (McLean)

      You guys kill me with your hearsay evidence.

      1. re: ” More people commute to work out of NoVa than into NoVa. NoVa is not a net importer of workers.”

        good grief Don…

        how about this – you tell me WHICH DIRECTION – HOV is in the mornings on I-95…

        big hint – it’s not south…

        tell me this where are all these outbound folks headed to – to work?

        Have you seen I-66 in the mornings ? Do you see a herd headed west?

        1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

          When I drive over the Beltway to an office in Tysons, I often see a bigger backup heading to Maryland, but some of that might relate to the Express Lanes merge and construction to extend the merge lanes. How many people live in Fairfax, but work in D.C.?

          1. We can probably find out but it’s probably substantial – but that’s not what most people think when some says that NoVa people commute to outside NoVa jobs.

            We have thousands upon thousands of people who commute every day on I-95 and VRE – NORTH to jobs from Quantico to For Belvoir to Crystal City and DC and the vast majority of them moved south to find more affordable homes or else they would have chosen far shorter commutes in NoVa.

            NoVa is not a small place.. 2 million people but my impression is that there are lower-income neighborhoods with lower income schools – and you can see this by looking at the percent of ED students.

            I do not doubt that some are living in “illegal” rented basements and similar but this is how you do get affordable housing for lower paid people.

            Pick your poison – on this. It’s going to happen whether you regulate it or not and you’re better off regulating it… if you want safety standards.

        2. It doesn’t matter which way Larry. If NoVa were really importing workers because the housing was too expensive then it wouldn’t be a net out commuter.

          1. Don – come on guy – you must KNOW – in the mornings ALL the major roads into NoVa are FULL of folks coming to NoVa… (of which I include DC) and points on the beltway but whether it’s I-95, or I-66 or the Dulles Tollroad and 29 .. it’s a LOT of incoming…

            there IS – “churn” on the beltway itself with people headed in both directions…

      2. Don –

        tell me how much of the private sector is not govt contractors and business that comes from govt and govt contracting?

      3. TooManyTaxes Avatar

        The federal employee demographic is highly skewed towards older workers. My wife is a career fed, and I’m always seeing things about a fed HR concern that they just don’t have enough younger workers. There aren’t that many 30 year olds working for Uncle Sam as an average curve might suggest.

        But I am probably showing my age. My kids say that all the time.

        A lot of low-income workers are living in illegal boarding houses that violate county codes. The Mason District is especially hit hard because Penny Gross fights code enforcement, at least according to the Mason District Council. On the other hand, Jeff McKay has been elected and reelected on a pro-enforcement agenda for the Lee District. There are many people renting part of a living room or singles renting a closet. I’ve seen photos taken by Fairfax County showing external padlocks placed on basement, attic and closet doors when the landlord locks tenants in their “apartment” overnight. We’ve been very lucky that few people have died as a result of the county’s failure to enforce its occupancy and safety codes. I think Don’s right about lots of low-income people living here. They lived in illegal dwellings in old New York and they are doing the same in Fairfax County now.

        1. re: living in illegal dwellings… would lower income kids live in higher end homes and go to higher end schools?

          you should generate a list of Fairfax schools and look at the percent of ED compared between them.

          You have schools in Fairfax that have very low percents of ED and other schools with high percents …

          how is that explained?

          1. we also need to make clear that “affordable housing” tends to have two different meanings.

            “affordable housing” for govt workers than make 80-100K and up means the kind of homes that usually sell for 500-800K in Fairfax/NoVa and 300-400K in the exurbs… It’s an irony when talking about folks who make that kind of money especially when compared to what folks in the exurbs make – working local.

            but the second kind – is housing – whether in NoVa or the exurbs for folks who work in the lower income occupations… service jobs.. etc… and in theory – a component of new urbanism where folks can live, work, shop and play instead of driving ….

          2. Some schools are in rich neighborhoods and some schools are in poor neighborhoods?

          3. that’s the way it usually works, right?

        2. I grew up along Rt 1 in Fairfax County. The highest poverty school in NoVa is Hybla Valley Elementary. It is right in the middle of where I grew up. 90% free and subsidized lunches.

          Now, where do the parents of these children live?

          Hint #1: They do not commute to NoVa from Fredricksburg.
          Hint #2: They do not live in illegal dwellings.

          They either live in the trailer parks along Rt 1 or in subsidized housing along Rt 1.

          Where is the second poorest school? Carlin Springs Elementary School in Arlington (86% free and reduced lunch). Where do those parents live?

          #3 – Lynbrook Elementary School – Springfield, VA (86%)

          #4 – William Ramsay Elementary – Alexandria, VA (84%)

          #5 – Cora Kelly Elementary – Alexandria VA (82%)

          #6 – Patrick Henry Elementary – Alexandria VA (82%)

          Where do all those parents live LarryG?

          1. they all live near those schools.. by definition.

            what’s the point? I’m sure this is one but I need help …

  2. typo – …you CAN’T have more Targets/Walmarts than there are rooftop demand for.

  3. Cville Resident Avatar
    Cville Resident

    This is why it’s so difficult to be a fiscal conservative when it comes to LOCAL, as opposed to state or federal gov’t.

    I think you hit on some good points….talented workers just aren’t going to stay in boring places. Cities and metros have to constantly be churning and doing new things to keep interest. Plus, it’s rather foolish not to have a great local public school system. Those things cost money….bike trails, schools, redevelopment, etc. I have a hard time making a serious argument that city/county gov’ts shouldn’t be active and continuously adding new amenities. This is a situation where the consumers (talented workers & knowledge industries) demand these amenities and aren’t afraid to leave if they aren’t there.

  4. Larry:

    Jim Bacon provided the in-commute and out-commute statistics for Fairfax county about six months ago. Far more people commute out of Fairfax County to work than commute into Fairfax county for work. You don’t see the out-commuters on the Beltway because they are in tunnels taking the Metro to DC. The facts are in – Fairfax County does not import workers. It exports workers. Like I said – we’ve been through this before.

    Second point, the question isn’t whether there is a lot of federal government work in NoVa. Of course there is. The question is whether the work lost through sequestration and reduced defense spending will be made up in non-government business. TMT is pessimistic. I see signs this is happening. I am optimistic. Right now, this is a question of what’s happening at the margin.

    Third point, if there were no affordable housing in NoVa there would be no poor people living in NoVa. Where would they live? However, in school after school I have demonstrated with official statistics that there is a high percentage of less affluent parents in the NoVa school district. Where are they living LarryG? The people you see commuting to Fredricksburg want better property than they can afford in NoVa. Same reason people commute long distances from NYC to out in Westchester County or Long Island. Those commuters could certainly afford to live in NoVa – they just choose not to do so. To them, the commute is worth the difference between a town home and a single family residence.

    Cville Resident – You are right as rain. Local communities have to modernize, improve and evolve in order to attract talented people. However, in Virginia, a strict implementation of Dillon’s Rule creates a Soviet style level of central control coming out of Richmond. The biggest enemy of the Commonwealth of Virginia is our own state government. The localities should be freed to do what they think best for their local area. Some will choose wisely, some will not. However, those who err will see the success of those who succeed and presumably will copy the winners.

    1. Don – we’re holding on to different parts of the same elephant and I think it can be fixed by answering these questions.

      1. where are Fairfax folks out-commuting to?

      2. where are Fredericksburg commuters out-communting to?

      3. what is the difference between NoVA and Fairfax in terms of commuting?

      4. what is the difference betwee Fburg and NoVa in terms of commuting?

      5. Are you thinking that Fairfax and Fredericksburg are both exurban and both commuting from their locations to somewhere else – both to wherever that somewhere else is?

      6. In the NOVA/DC/MD area where are the job centers where people commute to?

      7. what are the major roads that take people from where they live to where they work – in the morning?

      1. The questions are irrelevant to your argument but here goes:

        1. DC mostly.
        2. Probably DC too.
        3. Beats me.
        4. People in F’Burg commute further
        5. The facts demonstrate that both are net out-commuters
        6. DC
        7. Whatever road you call WMATA, Rt 95, Rt 66

        1. #3 – do you consider Fairfax and NoVa to be similar in terms of commuting ?

          that was my real question under 3. There are a million people in Fairfax and 2 million in NoVa. If you consider Fairfax an exurb without significant jobs – ergo the out-commute – do you think the bigger region is essential just a bigger version of Fairfax with regard to jobs/commuting?

  5. :raises eyebrows:

    The large Washington metropolitan area is near the tops in the nation. No surprise.

    Hampton Roads is a lot higher than I expected. I had always been told it was like Pittsburgh on the ocean, but with the military instead of steel. But I guess being down almost to 100 isn’t that dominant.

    Roanoke and Lynchburg are further down but for the size of their metropolitan areas are doing well. And Roanoke has been experiencing recent growth, better than Charlottesville. I’ve been told by people in the tech business that UVA is an absolute failure for effectively leveraging the research done at the university and spawning off start-ups. Charlottesville has a lot going for it, but I think its politics are stagnating and local leaders aren’t leading.

    1. re: Pittsburg Hampton

      agree. good analogy

      Pittsburg has made an amazing transition. It could have ended up like some compromised urban areas like Danville or Detroit.

      Hampton can make that transition also – but it will take Pittsburg-like leadership not folks standing around whining about the sequester and DOD downsizing.

      We have some big league Congressional hypocrites in Va who talk deficit and debt out of one side of their mouth and moan and groan about losing government jobs out the other.

      We take in about 1.6 trillion in revenues – total – and we spend more than a trillion of that on DOD plus the VA and Homeland security and a variety of other govt disguised as not DOD.. but in reality really is or is the non-military “national defense”.

      That’s the unique thing about NoVa and Hampton – they are not true private economies.. and they never will be because Washington is HQ for the govt and Hampton is one of the finest military seaports in the US.

      1. With both Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads built around government contracting, either civilian or defense (or quasi-defense for much of Northern Virginia, to be honest), does Virginia actually have any good examples of metropolitan areas supported by private entrepreneurship?

        How much does Richmond qualify given its role as the state capitol?

        What about Charlottesville? State funding for UVA is all but meaningless, but there’s been a significant state and federal role in establishing the university community and getting it to where it is today. And the private side is floundering.

        Who would have guessed that Roanoke and Lynchburg are arguably the best examples of private business hubs in the Commonwealth? And note that their suburbs, unlike suburbs of real high-income, high-education creative class areas, or the other major suburbs in Virginia dependent on the government, lean strongly Republican.

        1. I think FreeDem is pretty close to the truth.

          there’s also one aspect of business that is in play and that is that more and more businesses are getting leaner and leaner in their operations – they’ve automated more, they’ve redesigned their operations to be less dependent on human labor, and their job-providing benefit to communities is not what it used to be.

          and even companies with footprints of 100 or 200 or more employees – can – and do – leave – when they consolidate, get bought or buy out a competitor and need less administrative.

          Anyone who has tried to get in touch with a company about a purchase finds out real quick that even at 2 a.m. in the morning you can get a message that says “we’re sorry. we’re experiencing high call volumes and there is a 20 minute wait”!

          More and more people that used to have a decent-paying company position are finding themselves working for WalMart – which – if you look at a lot of the cities in Va is in the top 3 or 5 of the non-govt employers.

          Unless you know how to write code for a drone or work in a data center.. or the like – the main jobs with employer-provided health care are – government – Federal, State and Local.

          This is the new normal. The middle class is going to be re-defined as to what it is and it will not be what we think of it now. It will no longer be the “safe” career job with guaranteed health care – unless you work in a place like NoVa which is going to forever be the HQ of the govt – and as Free Dem points out – all kinds of quasi-“defense” agencies and jobs. I’d be willing to bet that half the jobs in the DC area are associated with the Military or “national defense” agencies … which in reality are more than 75 % of all Fed govt jobs.

          ” From 2004 to 2012, the federal non-postal civilian workforce grew by 258,882 employees, from 1.88 million to 2.13 million (14 percent). Permanent career employees accounted for most of the growth, increasing by 256,718 employees, from 1.7 million in 2004 to 1.96 million in 2012 (15 percent). Three agencies–the Departments of Defense (DOD), Homeland Security (DHS), and Veterans Affairs (VA)–accounted for about 94 percent of this increase.”

        2. Cville Resident Avatar
          Cville Resident

          Where do you get that the private side of the Charlottesville economy is floundering?

          Our firm (a private biotech) just hired a Stanford Ph.D. and a Harvard Ph.D. this year for annual salaries in excess of $150K.

          Also, the Chamber of Commerce came out this week and said retail sales for Charlottesville will set an all-time record this year. The Virginia Film Festival set a new record in revenue a couple of weeks ago.

          Take a look at the list of the fastest growing private firms in the nation. Charlottesville had the most per capita of any region in the state.

          I have a hard time believing that the private economy is doing poorly here. There are now 3 major private redevelopment projects under way: The old Coke building (already fully rented out), a new Farmer’s Market mixed-use complex, and Fifth Street Station with a new Wegman’s. Does that sound like a place that’s “struggling” or its local leaders aren’t “leading”?

          1. A disconcerting though illuminating thing to do for a given place is look at the percent of jobs that belong to government – Fed, State and Local.

            You’d be surprised.

            but whatever percentage you come up with – you can figure that’s all the percentage of retail and commercial businesses , of that economy.

            It’s prominent in many cities because they tend to have the Fed and State services represented there., then VDOT, then local govt, then fire, rescue, law enforcement and education and if a College then more.

            Can you claim ANY of these jobs as “entrepreneurial”?

            Here’s the right metric. look at the jobs. exclude all govt – then exclude all private that has contracts with the govt .. and see what is left that does not provide goods and services to rooftops.. and what do you end up with?

            Not much in a lot of places… the true private economy entrepreneurial economy is not huge.

            The idea that the govt does not create jobs… hmm… teachers, policemen, highway maintenance, social services, social security, medicare… state and Fed retirement… post office… fire and rescue… sheriff… county attorney …911 dispatch… hospitals.. A LOT of the economy is – government services paid for with taxes… basically you pay for the policeman and he pays to educate your kids.

          2. “Charlottesville had the most per capita of any region in the state.”

            The region would be central Virginia, no?

            However, Charlottesville does seem to be doing rather well in terms of economic development. Big question is whether the Hook has a plan to handle growth without killing off the quality of life that makes it desirable. Downtown mall says “yes”, sprawl along Rt 29 says “no”.

          3. Rt 29 through Cville is the de facto for cities and major roads traverse them.

            They all become venues for commercial development and they all cripple the road for it’s original purpose to be a travelling road for folks bound for other destinations ….

            Rt 29, 50, 7, 1 etc in NoVa no longer function as roads that connect Virginia.

  6. Cville Resident Avatar
    Cville Resident


    I was referring to the Inc. list. Honestly, I think the “region” would have simply been Cville and Albemarle County.

    As to 29 v. Downtown….there is an enormous mixed use project that is going to be a new Farmer’s Market/residential/office/retail complex going in on Water Street that should be up and running by 2016. That’s supposed to be a “game changer” in terms of increasing density in the City. We’ll see, what, if any, effect it has on 29.

    Here is a link if you are interested:

    1. Interesting article. It kind of supports the contentions that Jim Bacon has been making for a long time on this blog. Instead of letting the developer meet the market for high density, mixed use development the city is putting a lot of restrictions on the development. I am always surprised how easy it is to get permission to build another suburban subdivision and how hard it is to get permission to build a high density, mixed use building. If people want high density, mixed use development I am not sure why the City of Charlottesville doesn’t just let the developer build it. The site is a parking lot right now I guess. Seems like high density, mixed use would be an improvement.

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