What Denver and Silicon Valley Have in Common

This article originally appeared on 5280.com on June 28, 2016.

A recent economic report contains some pretty dire—and unprecedented—news for all but a few counties nationwide. The silver lining: Denver County residents are among the lucky ones.

Only 15 counties in the U.S. with more than 500,000 residents are experiencing a better economic recovery this time around than they did after either of the two previous recessions (the early 1990s and the early 2000s). That’s according to recent Census data analysis from the Economic Innovation Group, a research and policy think tank comprised of entrepreneurs, economists, and investors.

The group examined county data in the five-year recovery periods following each of the last three economic downturns (2010–14, 2002–06, and 1992–96). It looked at two primary factors: How many jobs were created and how many new businesses opened during this time. The results—in almost all of the roughly 130 U.S. counties with more than half-a-million residents—found a better overall recovery in the 1990s and early 2000s.

Denver ranked fifth in terms of recovery after the latest recession, with job growth of 12.6 percent. The rest of the counties in the top 15 were almost all in Silicon Valley and the New York metro area. Hubs for “knowledge-based economic activity,” the report says. “Connected cities” with “access to capital.” The counties that are home to a few Rust Belt cities—Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Buffalo and Rochester, New York—made the list, “thriving most relative to their own pasts.” And Florida’s Miami-Dade County and Texas’s Harris County (Houston) rounded out the list.

The rebound was much worse for counties with small populations, which collectively closed more businesses than they opened during this recovery. The biggest counties—the ones with more than 500,000 people—produced 81 percent of all new businesses in the 2010–14 span. It’s opposite of the 1990s recovery, when counties with less than 500,000 launched 71 percent of all new businesses.

So what about the Colorado counties outside of Denver? Our state, overall, still fares better than most. The majority of residents (67 percent) live in a county that either matched or exceeded the national rate of new business growth during the latest recovery. Only 17 states can say that. And Colorado is one of only 12 states that can claim that a majority of the population (61 percent) lives in a county that either matched or exceeded the national job growth rate during this recovery.

The bottom line: The United States as a whole has regained the jobs it lost in the last recession and added even more. That, by definition, is an economic recovery. But it’s been a geographically uneven rebound, and a great many places don’t feel recovered.

Or, as the Economic Innovation Group’s report put it, “Were it not for these relatively few pockets of resiliency,” like Denver, “the U.S. economy would have seen near-total stagnation in its business landscape.”