May 10, 2016 Reading Time: 3 minutes

Today, the American Institute for Economic Research ranked American cities by the attributes that are most attractive to young college graduates.  The nine-factor formula centers on demographics, economics and quality of life.

Among the 260 metro areas, large and small, that made up this ranking, the cities that ranked highest in each size category were Washington D.C.; San José, California; Ann Arbor, Michigan; and Iowa City, Iowa.

The second annual Employment Destinations Index includes an interactive tool that allows users to create their own ranking based on what matters most to them individually.

The report is based on AIER research on the factors that influenced migration patterns of college grads ages 22-35.

The most important factor in attracting a recent college grad to a city was having a young well-educated population. For instance, top-ranked cities boasted 47-55 percent of the 22-35-year-old population having a bachelor’s degree, compared to just 30 percent nationally.

“The young and well-educated are moving to places where they’ll find a big contingent of the population that share these characteristics,” according to the co-author of the report, Amanda Knarr, program coordinator at AIER. “Civic leaders seeking to attract college-educated Millennials and the businesses that employ them will want to emphasize their demographic profile.”

The other important factors were a strong economic climate, including a low unemployment rate and a high labor force participation rate, as well as racial and ethnic diversity.

Additional factors in the Employment Destinations Index included bars and restaurants, entertainment and arts venues, and the use of public transit, as well as rents, and earning power.

The top-ranked major metropolitan area was Washington, D.C., which enjoys higher wages, lower unemployment, and higher labor force participation for young people with a college degree.

The highest-ranked midsize metropolitan area was San José, the “capital” of Silicon Valley. The home of giants like Apple and Google, San José earns its high ranking due to economic strength supported by the tech industry.

The top-ranked small metro area was Ann Arbor, home to highly-educated young people, research activities that support private industry, racial and ethnic diversity, and places to gather, which all contribute to a highly valued quality of life.

And among the smallest metros, Iowa City, home of the University of Iowa, won with a growing technology corridor, an abundance of bike paths and city accessibility due to transit, low rents, lots of restaurants and bars, and a diverse population.

The top metro areas for job seekers in each category are, in descending order:

Major metros (More than 2.5 million residents):

1. Washington

2. San Francisco

3. Boston

4. Denver

5. Minneapolis

6. New York

7. Seattle

8. Chicago

9. Baltimore

10. Dallas

11. San Diego 

12. Atlanta

13. Houston

14. Philadelphia

15. Los Angeles


Midsize metros (1 million-2.5 million):

1. San Jose, California

2. Austin, Texas

3. Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina

4. Columbus, Ohio

5. Portland, Oregon

6. Hartford, Connecticut

7. Milwaukee, Wisconsin

8. Kansas City, Missouri

9. Salt Lake City, Utah

10. Richmond, Virginia

11. Charlotte, North Carolina

12. Indianapolis, Indiana

13. Virginia Beach, Virginia

14. Nashville, Tennessee

15. Cincinnati, Ohio

16. New Orleans, Louisiana

17. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

18. Rochester, N.Y.

19. Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

20. Cleveland, Ohio


Small metros (250,000-1 million):

1. Ann Arbor, Michigan

2. Bridgeport, Connecticut

3. Lincoln, Nebraska

4. Fort Collins, Colorado

5. Honolulu, Hawaii

6. Trenton, N.J.

7. Santa Cruz, California

8. Norwich, Connecticut

9. Omaha, Nebraska

10. Portland, Maine

11. Des Moines, Iowa

12. Grand Rapids, Michigan

13. Albany, New York

14. Gainesville, Florida

15. Colorado Springs, Colorado

16. Santa Barbara, California

17. Anchorage, Alaska

18. Manchester, New Hampshire

19. Charleston, South Carolina

20. New Haven, Connecticut


Smallest metros (Below 250,000):

1. Iowa City, Iowa

2. Lawrence, Kansas

3. Bloomington, Illinois

4. Champaign-Urbana, Illinois

5. College Station, Texas

6. Columbia, Missouri

7. Burlington, Vermont

8. La Crosse, Wisconsin

9. Ithaca, New York

10. Bloomington, Indiana

11. Santa Fe, New Mexico

12. Bismarck, North Dakota

13. Barnstable, Massachusetts

14. State College, Pennsylvania

15. Flagstaff, Arizona

16. Midland, Texas

17. Lafayette, Indiana

18. Napa, California

19. Springfield, Illinois

20. Bellingham, Washington

To view the detailed list of the 75 best metro areas for job seekers, and how they performed in each of the nine factors, visit

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Aaron Nathans

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