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February 17, 2021 | Tom Ballard

Many Tennessee cities advance in latest Milken Institute rankings, some decline

The latest edition of “The Best Performing Cities 2021” report from the Milken Institute is out, and it was a mixed bag for Tennessee cities.

A total of 10 Volunteer State communities made the list of 400 cities, categorized in two ways: (1) large or small; and (2) one of five tiers within each category. Six moved up, while four recorded a decline.

It should come as no surprise that Nashville was the highest ranked Tennessee city, moving up to eighth place in the large city category nationally after ranking 14th the previous year.

Here’s how the others in the large city category were ranked:

  • Chattanooga at #62, moving up 23 places from 2020;
  • Knoxville at #91 compared to #99 the previous year;
  • Clarksville at #134, dropping 24 spots from its 2020 ranking;
  • Memphis at #166 compared to #152 the previous year; and
  • Kingsport at #181, a decline of two spots from 2020.

In the small city category, the four Tennessee cities listed were:

  • Morristown which made the second greatest leap among Volunteer State communities, moving up from #86 in 2020 to #24 in 2021;
  • Cleveland that made the largest jump, ranking #58 this year compared to #186 in 2020;
  • Johnson City dropped from #96 last year to #112; and
  • Jackson which had the steepest decline in the state, moving to #132 from #67 the previous year.

In describing how the rankings are calculated, Milken Institute writes that it “uses an outcomes-based set of metrics—including job
creation, output growth, and wage gains especially in high-technology sectors—to evaluate the relative performance of metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) and metropolitan divisions (MDs) in the United States. The goal of the index is to help readers evaluate how well these cities promote economic vitality relative to their peers.”

The authors further write: “National and global forces can affect a city’s economic performance, as they have throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the top performing metro areas leverage their assets to remain competitive places for businesses to operate and workers to live, regardless of the nation’s overall economic trajectory. These cities combine steady growth on one hand and dynamic innovation on the other, particularly through concentrated investment in high-tech sectors that generate positive spillover effects for local communities.”


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