Lexington area moving up: 'Best performing cities' index is outcome-based

A large grain of salt is in order anytime you're considering the various economic rankings of cities and states, and it's always helpful to consider the source and its biases.

With that disclaimer, we can safely celebrate Lexington's rise in the Milken Institute's "Best Performing Cities" index.

The Lexington metro area moved up 93 spots, the second-biggest gainer of any area, from last year to 44th among large cities.

Austin, Texas was No. 1; Provo Utah, was No. 2; Nashville was No. 14; Clarksville, Tenn., which includes part of Kentucky, was No. 40, and Louisville was No. 58.

Owensboro was Kentucky's highest-ranking small city at No. 44.

Writing in The Atlantic Cities, editor Richard Florida said the Milken index "injects some much-needed clarity into the debates surrounding metro growth and decline.

"An 'outcomes-based' ranking, the report takes into account both short- and long-term growth in job numbers, wages and salaries, and the concentration and size of high-tech industries — an increasingly important part of success in today's knowledge-driven economy. The result is a data-driven look at economic growth in America's 200 largest metropolitan areas."

One of Florida's colleagues at the University of Toronto ran correlations between the Milken data and other demographics. "The biggest takeaway," writes Florida, "is the clear connection between talent and economic performance. The Milken Index is positively associated with both the share of adults that are college grads ... and the share of the labor force made up of knowledge, professional and creative workers.''

Also, he said, there is a strong correlation between economic performance on the Milken index and the Gallup Organization's gauge of overall well-being and happiness.

Lexington values education and has a high percentage of college graduates as well as an appealing quality of life.

It's good to see some quantifiable evidence that our local attributes can produce a winning economic formula, although at 44th we can hardly rest on our laurels.

Also, the Milken Index looked not just at Lexington but at the 485,000-person metro area, a reminder that the futures of the Bluegrass region's large and small towns, farms, suburbs and exurbs are all tied together.

More about the Milken Index and an interactive map can be found at: best-cities.org.