The nature of industry in America has changed considerably over the last few decades. A diversified national economy that resembles a broad church of burgeoning, lucrative sectors, industry in the USA has evolved and adapted to a 21st-century world that revolves around the use of technology.
Once a powerhouse of global manufacturing, the country has changed course over the last 20 years and now many American cities are now more reliant on other sectors such as financial services, technology and media.
One of the things that propelled Donald Trump to the White House back in 2016 was his goal to revive US manufacturing – an industry that he claimed had been destroyed by the rise of global manufacturing giants such as China. While the industry has seen enormous job cuts due to an increase in automation, the US are still significant players in global manufacturing.
With that in mind, we thought we’d shine the spotlight on the biggest industries in each of these iconic US cities.
US Cities by Industry
New York City
Key Industry: Financial Services
Cost of Living: 20% above the national average
The most densely populated city in the USA, New York is often dubbed “the city that never sleeps” due to it being a hive of activity at all hours of the day. The Big Apple is one of the most popular tourist destinations on the planet and its population is augmented by millions of tourists all year long.
New York has been a global business hub for centuries and when many think of big business, they tend to think of the towering skyscrapers that characterise Manhattan’s iconic skyline. The city is the global leader of an impressive array of different industries, but there’s one industry which NYC is particularly famed for – financial services.
A key sector in the city’s diversified economy, New York’s finance & insurance sector is believed to generate around 30% of the earnings of workers across the city. Interestingly, since 2000, employment in the sector has actually declined; this has largely been down to the wider use of financial technology.
Yet, New York is still the biggest financial hub on the planet and the annual average salary earned within the industry is currently around $84,173 which is way above New York’s average income of $69,513.
Key Industry: Education Services
Cost of Living: 20% above the national average
Massachusetts’ capital & largest city, Boston was founded in 1630, making it one of the country’s oldest cities. Famed for the part it played in the American Revolution, many of the city’s most renowned attractions can be seen on the Freedom Trail – a 2.5 mile walking route.
Often depicted in films such as the Good Will Hunting (1997) and Mystic River (2003) as gritty, rough and dour, Boston has actually experienced an ongoing economic recovery in last few decades, with a change of fortunes observed in employment rates, tourism and a boom in residential real estate.
However, one of Boston’s most consistent industries in recent times has actually been the education services sector – this involves colleges, universities, professional schools and secondary schools among other institutions. Back in 2010, 7.6% of total employment in Boston was in education, making up around 50,000 jobs at the time. Home to iconic institutions such as Harvard University, Boston’s education industry also resembles an emblem of social significance.
Other substantial industries in Boston include public administration, technical services and financial services.
Key Industry: Federal Government
Cost of Living: 17% above the national average
The capital of the USA and the seat of the United States federal government, Washington, D.C. has long been an epicentre of both national & international politics. Understood to now have a population of well over 700,000, the city is made up of a number of different industries.
The federal government has long been the largest employer in the Washington metropolitan area. In late 2017 it was calculated that the federal government employed 364,000 people in the D.C. area, a figure which has actually decreased year on year.
The second largest industry in D.C. is local government, which is thought to employ around 340,000 people.
Key Industry: Financial Services
Cost of Living: 1% below the national average
One of the most populated American cities, Chicago differs from the large west & east coast cities in that the cost of living is actually below the national average, which is interesting due to the city’s size and global stature.
Popular, therefore, among young professionals, Chicago has seen a swathe of new industries emerge in recent times. Striking a good balance between a competitive job market and a good standard of living, Chicago was named the 21st largest economy in the world in 2017, surpassing the entire economic output of Switzerland.
A hub of industry in America, Chicago is a hot-bed for sectors such as real estate and manufacturing. However, much like New York, one of Chicago’s biggest industries is financial services.
Key Industry: Automobile Manufacturing
Cost of Living: 11% below the national average
With the cost of living, at the time of publication, over 10% below the national average, Detroit can often seem hugely enticing at first glance. However, with an unemployment rate of over 5%, this Midwestern enigma has endured through decades upon decades of hardship & adversity.
Once one of the most industrial of all American cities, Detroit witnessed a number of unfortunate episodes that eventually led to much of the city resembling more of a ghost town than a 21st-century western metropolis. Following huge job losses, race riots and civil uncertainty, many big businesses in the city centre relocated either as far as the suburbs or even further afield.
However, contemporary commentators have noted that poverty is now improving, household income is rising and criminal activity is decreasing, all-in-all meaning that Detroit is beginning to regain its lost identity as a hub of industry in America.
In recent times, Detroit has welcomed a number of new industries such as life sciences, information technology and advanced manufacturing. However, the biggest industry in Detroit is still automobile manufacturing.
Key Industry: Crude Petroleum & Natural Gas Extraction
Cost of Living: 8% above the national average
Often referred to the “Oil Capital of the World”, Houston is home to the headquarters of more than 500 oil & gas exploration and production firms. The fourth most populous city in the country, Houston is a lively focal point of industry in America.
In addition to its various HQs, the city also has nine refineries that are understood to produce over 2 million barrels of crude oil on a daily basis. In fact, Houston’s oil & gas exploration industry is so significant that, back in 2011, it employed almost 90,000 across the city alone.
Yet, there’s more to Houston than its prominent energy sector. A thriving tourist hotspot, the city is also home to other important industries. Interestingly, Houston is ranked second when it comes to construction activity in the US.
Key Industry: Technology
Cost of Living: 73% above the national average
When many think of industry in San Francisco, they think of Silicon Valley in the San Francisco Bay Area that is home to an ever expanding array of innovative, global technology companies. With technology being one of the fastest growing industries of the last few decades, it’s no wonder that the cost of living in San Francisco has skyrocketed to 73% above the national average.
However, day-to-day life in the city is made easier by the fact that San Francisco is the USA’s highest paying city with an average salary of $87,315 and a median total compensation of $112,400. With a relatively low unemployment rate and a diversified local economy that includes sectors such as tourism, scientific research and health care, it’s no wonder that many believe the San Francisco Bay Area to have one of the most booming economies in the country.
Key Industry: Casino Hotels & Tourism
Cost of Living: 5% above the national average
A city of bright lights, high-rollers and world-famed casinos, Las Vegas is one of the most iconic tourist attractions on the planet. Often branded by writers such as Hunter S. Thompson as a city of low morals and disreputable behaviour, Las Vegas actually has a lot going for it and many commentators are suggesting that the city is poised for another economic boom.
Like many cities in America, Las Vegas was hit particularly hard by the financial crisis in 2008. Unemployment at one point rose to around 15% and it is claimed that around 70% of Nevada’s job losses at the time were in the Las Vegas region.
While there is more to Las Vegas than meets the eye, its biggest industry will always be the successful blend of tourism, gaming and hotels.
Key Industry: Motion Picture & Video Production
Cost of Living: 29% above the national average
America’s second most populous city, Los Angeles is widely recognised as Southern California’s cultural centre and most notable hub of industry. A modern, sea-front metropolis that is comprised of stunning mountain ranges, iconic institutions and some of the wealthiest neighbourhoods on earth, LA certainly has plenty going for it.
Home to a prominent local economy that ranked LA as the 18th most competitive financial centre in the world in 2017, the city’s leading industry is known far and wide – Hollywood. The home of the U.S. film industry, Hollywood is made up of major studios such as Walt Disney, Warner Bros, Universal Pictures, Columbia Pictures and Paramount Pictures.
Spearheaded by Hollywood in LA and San Francisco’s gargantuan tech sector, many have calculated that if California was an independent country, it would have the fifth largest economy in the world.
Key Industry: Manufacturing
Cost of Living: 37% above the national average
Another west coast powerhouse, Seattle is a massive hub of industry in America. Close to the border with Canada, Seattle is surrounded on all sides by stunning scenery, expanses of woodland and towering mountains.
Unlike other cities in America where manufacturing has seen a decline, manufacturing is still a large industry in Seattle. On the Seattle government website, it has been claimed that “In 2014, industrial companies located in the Duwamish and Ballard accounted for nearly 40 per cent of all B&O taxes collected by this City: more than $75 million.”
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