Why is small city resilience important?

Small cities are "living laboratories"  for ideas on how to generate dynamic economic opportunity across a broader geography. Small cities can provide a patchwork of economic hubs with a diverse industry base, entrepreneurship, quality jobs, and quality of life for people outside major metropolitan areas where growth and opportunity are increasingly concentrated. 

Why study small cities?

The success of large metropolitan areas in the south is well-documented, as places like the Research Triangle, Atlanta, Charlotte, Charleston, and Nashville are fast-growing and attractive places to live and do business.

In focusing on small cities, we see a diversity and creativity of approaches to grow local and regional economies in a resilient and dynamic way. 

What is economic dynamism and resilience?

Economic resilience refers to how an economy can respond to economic shocks due to disruption of industries, economic downturns, and disasters. Resilient economies adapt to shifts and downturns and reorient the local industry base as change occurs. 

Inherent in economic resilience is economic dynamism: the degree to which new businesses, ideas, and people are entering an economy and driving reinvention and innovation. In examining resilient small cities in the south, RTI considered the following factors around growth, technology, manufacturing, entrepreneurship, and education. 

Where is economic resilience happening in small cities?

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to economic resilience and dynamism in small cities. They have unique and distinct profiles, and as our work shows, are found in areas of different size and geographies - we look at university-anchored, coastal, military-connected, and metro-connected cities and how they use their local assets to generate resilient growth.

How have resilient small cities changed their economic trajectory?

The RTI team explored seven locations across the Southeast to better understand how small cities are investing in themselves and using their unique assets to chart a new trajectory forward for economic dynamism “and” resilience.

To learn more read the full report here about How have resilient small cities changed their economic trajectory?

What did we learn about resiliency in southern small cities?​

Each city has followed a different path, demonstrating that there is no single way to build resilient economies. The following themes underscore some key tactics, investments, and approaches that resulted in positive local change over the last 20 years.


Learn more about each Southern Small City​

Different types of places provide fresh ideas on ways small cities can drive toward economic resilience.

University Anchored


Military Connected

Proximity to Major Metro

Explore the data: what does your location look like? ​

For analysis, the data are presented at the Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), Micropolitan Statistical Area, and county level as defined by the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB). For more information, see the U.S. Census Bureau.

Learn more about the Idea Lab for Equitable Economic Development