© 2024 Innovation Trail

Are rankings and lists reliable economic indicators?

Many cities in Upstate New York are featured on lists that (sometimes simultaneously) give props and talk trash.
Leo Reynolds
via Flickr
Many cities in Upstate New York are featured on lists that (sometimes simultaneously) give props and talk trash.

Santa Claus isn’t the only one making lists these days.

Showing strong growth in “technology jobs,” Albany recently placed high in Tech America’s annual ranking of the acceleration of jobs.

But some of the details reveal Albany’s ranking may not be early Christmas present it initially appears to be:

Albany created only 341 high-tech jobs in 2009, but that was a 1.63 percent increase, enough to rank it third. Oklahoma City [ranked first] had 5.44 percent job growth, creating nearly 1,000 jobs in 2009.

Wait, the addition of 341 jobs is enough to earn a bronze in a national survey?

Remember, there was a recession going on when this data was compiled, so take the celebration of 341 new jobs as an indication of an emerging new relative norm. And at least Albany didn’t lose tech positions, like Boston or Las Vegas. Most of the Capital Region’s growth came from lab jobs sprouting up at Albany NanoTech and GE Global Research.

Lists are going to list, but what's it for?

The list is just one of many that we’ve reported on recently. Lists happen. They’re now a standard magazine gimmick for garnering clicks on the web (“The Top 10 [insert topic] Cities!”). It is thelow hanging fruit of the Internet. So it makes sense for a city to want to be on lists that flatter its features and avoid the embarrassing ones (least friendly to dog walking, Colorado Springs?). 

My colleague Zack Seward is looking into this phenomenon right now, to see how much publishers (and the cities they love) are making off of all these lists.

Buffalo is a perfect example of how lists can confuse. Taken all together, sometimes they don’t make much sense.

For instance, BestPlaces.com ranked the City of Good Neighbors second in a “best places to relocate” survey. Buffalo is the tenth best place to raise a family, according to Forbes.

But Forbes (yes, the same magazine) also slapped a “fastest dying” city designation on Buffalo. MSN places the city eighth on its “most miserable” list. And statistically, the Queen City is also the second or third poorest city in the country (not that it matters which).

So as we see, for many cities it is the best of times and the worst of times; it just depends which list you pull out of the hat.

WBFO/Western New York reporter for the Innovation Trail.