Lists of “top cities” high on stats, low on story

Can you name 94 cities in the United States? I can’t.

That was the thought that came to mind when the Democrat and Chronicle published a news brief on Rochester’s ranking as the “95th best place to start a career.” The survey, conducted by WalletHub, is one of many list-driven efforts the financial advice website uses to build its awareness and earn publicity.

As reported by the Democrat and Chronicle, WalletHub relied a variety of metrics to quantify its results. These include data points such as “the number of entry-level jobs per capita, starting salary and job growth trends.” Similarly, the Rochester Business Journal today reported on another WalletHub survey. This time Rochester broke into the top 50 as the 44th best city to work for small businesses.

I don’t buy it. These lists, while helpful for WalletHub’s marketing goals, are not the type of benchmarks or resources Rochester needs to (a) market itself or (b) advance economic development issues. Other sources of local and economic data exist including Rochester’s own Center for Governmental Research (CGR) and the Washington, D.C.-based Brookings Institution. While perhaps less buzzworthy, the institutional goals of CGR and Brookings are far more aligned with the economic priorities of the Rochester region than a website dedicated to consumer credit card reviews.

First, the barometer for regional economic progress cannot be measured by the arbitrary comparisons contained within such lists. For example, do people really compare Rochester with places like Gilbert, Ariz.? And even if they could, should they?

Second, local news organizations should resist the temptation to report on content clearly designed for marketing purposes. These lists belong in the category of commodity content.

Lastly, general lists fail to tell the full story of any metropolitan area. Starting a career or running a small business cannot be summed up by the numbers alone.

Since moving to Rochester seven years ago, I’ve had the privilege of working with global enterprises, advocating on behalf of local community issues, and working with area leaders to foster an economic climate worthy of the area’s heritage for entrepreneurship. I don’t need any list or ranking to help me understand that these achievements, right here in Rochester, are the stuff of career building and evidence of a community committed to small business growth.

 

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