The Baton Rouge metropolitan area is in rarefied company, now that it has topped the 800,000 population mark that makes it a “major market” in many ratings.
Consider that in a new study of places where young people can start a career, Baton Rouge was 10th out of 65 metro areas above 800,000 population — a group that included such huge cities as Houston and San Antonio in Texas, and other major urban areas from Boston on the Atlantic coast to San Jose in California.
Still, the competition is intense.
The particular survey about young adults’ prospects shows areas of concern for those of us who want Baton Rouge to retain its Top 10 status.
The survey by American City Business Journals is, as all such ratings, based on a set of factors, including strong recent growth rates. In Baton Rouge’s case, strong growth over the past half-dozen years has flowed in part from the consequences of hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.
That bubble caused by hurricane recovery spending and a jump in oil prices for much of that time must be succeeded eventually by a more sustainable growth pattern in the years ahead.
It’s noteworthy that the top spot on the list is Austin, which has benefited from a resilient Texas economy during the national recession.
It is home to the University of Texas. Further, another metro area that Baton Rouge benchmarks itself against, the Raleigh-Durham region, in North Carolina, remains ahead at fourth place.
These cities have significant advantages in some parts of the ACBJ survey, such as the percentage of those age 18-34 with a bachelor’s degree. We’re at about 20 percent, with Austin at about 30 percent and Raleigh — the Research Triangle Park area, home to several major universities — at 35 percent.
Cutting back university funding during Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration cannot be helpful in improving that statistic for Louisiana, but particularly for Baton Rouge. LSU and Southern universities are significant factors in our future growth.
For general population growth, Baton Rouge is among the lowest in the Top 10, except for Boston in the nation’s shiver zone for winter. We’re even a bit behind No. 7, Oklahoma City, which, like Baton Rouge, has still a relatively affordable cost of living and housing rating.
Even for cities hard-hit during the recession — No. 9 Seattle lost population a bit during the past five years — the underlying educational foundation for progress is probably better than ours, all other things being equal.
And in just about every case in the Top 10, the cities with more progressive social attitudes and openness to minorities of all sorts are those poised to grow in the more diverse society in America’s future.
The Baton Rouge Area Chamber seeks to make our region the “creative capital of the South.” That’s a laudable goal that is built on the foundation of educational attainment. That is the factor that differentiates income over a lifetime in individuals, but also the growth of entire communities.
We’re glad to be ahead of Seattle and some of the other cities in the ACBJ ratings. We hope, though, that with major-market status in population comes a major-market intensity about higher achievement in education and social progress in Baton Rouge.
In the recession, our team has had some good seasons. But it’s hard to play in the big leagues without a commitment to greater advances in educational attainment and social progress.