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Wall St. and Business Wednesdays: The Black Enterprise Magazine Top Ten Cities

After completing a survey several months ago, more than 4,000 readers agreed on the top 10 cities for African Americans. Here are the results.


“Hotlanta,” with a 61% African American population, continues its legendary draw in business, housing, and education. Atlanta moved to the top of the list, driven primarily by respondents’ high level of satisfaction with entrepreneurial opportunities, earnings potential, and cultural activities. Future job growth is strong at 23%—the highest of the entire 10 finalists, and Atlanta is home to a high number of black-owned businesses. On a negative note, Atlanta metro has been labeled one of the worst cities for crime.


A city that once earned a reputation as the “murder capital,” Washington, D.C., is enjoying a renaissance of sorts under Mayor Anthony A. Williams. The violent crime rate for the nation’s capital is well below the average for other top 10 cities. The district maintains its No. 2 spot with respondents optimistic about career and business opportunities. It has the second lowest black unemployment rate of the top 10 at 7.6%—well below the national average of 10.2%.


Dallas returns to the best cities list at No. 3, up from No. 8 in 2001. Dallas placed third among the top 10 cities in median household income for black families, future job growth and black high school graduation rate. Survey respondents had mixed reactions about this Sun Belt city. They were pleased with Dallas’ cost of living and the quality of medical care. On the other hand, respondents expressed dissatisfaction with the availability of African American enterprises, even though Dallas has a relatively high number of black residents per black business. They were also pessimistic about their employment outlook. Dallas’ black unemployment rate, though somewhat high at 9.5%, is less than the national average.


“Music City U.S.A.” is a new entry to the top 10 with low cost of living as the biggest draw. Only Houston and Memphis had lower cost of living indices than Nashville. “The cost of living compared to other large cities is amazingly low,” says Vice Mayor Howard C. Gentry Jr. That “provides an opportunity for a person to take a medium-level job and live comfortably, or start a career here and be able to grow and advance and not be so overly concerned about income.”

This is key, given the median black household income is $33,630 and just a little more than one-fourth earn beyond $50,000. Despite overall and black unemployment rates that are well below national averages and future job growth at 20.7%—second to Atlanta—respondents are unenthusiastic about their job prospects.


“Rocket City’s” fall from grace as BE’s best city for African Americans in 2001 can be tied to a soaring back unemployment rate, high violent crime rate, above average medical cost index, and moderate future job growth, compared to other top 10 finalists. Five other top cities fared better than Houston in terms of its median black household income ($33,562), percentage of black households earning more than $50,000 annually (29.1%), and number of black homeowners (51.8%). Next to Washington, D.C., and Atlanta, black businesses abound in Houston, which has 30 African American residents for every black business. Moreover, African Americans constitute 25% of 2 million residents and own nearly 24,286 businesses, more than one-fifth of the city’s total.


The “Queen City” appears again on the top 10 as one of the few cities without an African American mayor. The metropolitan area earned high marks for cost of living, diversity, and economic growth. Respondents were satisfied with the quality of healthcare, even though Charlotte’s number of physicians per capita is the lowest among the top 10 and well below the national average. Charlotte residents were disappointed with the dearth of black-owned businesses, with African Americans owning only 6.2% of the areas businesses. But residents have high hopes that BET founder Robert L. Johnson’s ownership of the Charlotte Bobcats NBA basketball franchise will influence other African American entrepreneurs.


A newcomer to the list, Birmingham is the least populous city among the top 10 but it has a city population that is nearly 75% African American. A city historically known as one of the major front lines in the civil rights movement, respondents were less than satisfied with race relations in their city. They did express above average satisfaction with cost of living and housing. Indeed the city’s cost of living index is well below the national average.


Situated on the lower Chickasaw Bluff above the Mississippi River, Memphis is home to the blues, the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies, and 397,702 African Americans who make up 61% of the total population— the third highest black percentage of the top 10. “Bluff City” is best known as a manufacturer of textiles, heating equipment, and automobile and truck parts. It’s also a major transportation center, serving as FedEx’s headquarters and a Northwest Airlines hub. These features, Mayor Willie W. Herenton says help create employment opportunities. Unfortunately, they’re not enough. Although future job growth looks bright—19.2%—recent job growth appears bleak at -0.8%. The black unemployment rate–—11.3%—is above the national average for African Americans and the total U.S. population.


A newcomer to the top 10 list, Columbus is set apart by its location. It is bucking the trend of population decline suffered by other Midwestern cities. Since 1990, the city’s population has increased 12.4%, according to 2000 Census figures. In spite of a black city population of 25.8% of some 700,000 residents, an African American holds the position of mayor. Nonetheless, survey respondents were dissatisfied with the level of power and influence of African Americans in their community. Respondents gave Columbus high marks for its low cost of living, housing prices, healthcare, and earnings potential. Future job growth is a respectable 15.3% for a city with diverse economic sectors ranging from technology to education.


Baltimore returns to the list in the No. 10 spot. This jam-packed city, full of black-oriented cultural and recreation activities, including the soon-to-be-completed Reginald F. Lewis Museum, Orioles Park, and an Inner Harbor bustling with shops, nightclubs, and restaurants. The social scene is wanting, public schools are lacking, and job opportunities are in short supply. The area’s recent job growth and future job growth figures are a miniscule 0.5% and moderate 15.1% respectively. However, at 8.1%, Baltimore has the third lowest number of jobless African Americans on the top 10. About 32.2% of black households earn more than $50,000, third after Washington, D.C., and Atlanta.

Note: For more on why these cities made the cut, plus stories from real professionals who live there, pick up the July issue of BLACK ENTERPRISE, on newsstands.

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

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The views and opinions expressed herein by the author do not necessarily represent the opinions or position of or Black Electorate Communications.

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