The 7 Most Recession-Proof Cities in the US

Looking for some stability during turbulent economic times? Pack your bags and head to one of these cities.

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Recession Proof Cities
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A recession may be looming in America’s near future, and you don't have to take our word for it: A recent Duke survey polled more than 500 chief financial officers across the U.S., and nearly half of them believed there will be a recession by the end of this year, with an even higher number — 82 percent — predicting a recession by the end of 2020. Signs of an impending economic downturn are appearing everywhere — from slumping numbers on Wall Street to decreasing demand for American goods in other parts of the world.

Which brings up a timely question:

Is anywhere safe from the effects of a recession?

Ames IA
Photo Courtesy of Christopher Gannon/Iowa State University

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While a recession certainly affects the whole country, it turns out that some cities are able to weather a national economic crisis much better than others. We looked at housing markets, unemployment rates, proximity to government centers and universities and other factors to identify seven cities that are basically recession-proof. And since our specialty is, well, Livability, we paid special attention to cities that don't just offer stability during economic turbulence, but are also vibrant, positive places to live, no matter what the stock market is doing.

If you don't like the way this economy is headed, here are seven great cities that might be able to offer some comfort.

1. Lincoln, Nebraska

For decades, Lincoln has proved its ability to withstand turbulence in the national economy. Even in the depths of the Great Recession, this prairie city’s unemployment rate sat at a healthy 4.7 percent, compared to parts of the country that spiked as high as 10 percent. Lincoln’s secret? Jobs at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and in state government have provided padding and kept folks working during the worst of the recession.

Holding steady in its growth, the city never experienced a housing boom, so there was nowhere for it to fall. Plus, Lincoln scored fourth place on the Silicon Prairie’s 2016 list of cities with the best startup ecosystems in the Midwest, and first on Livability's list of up-and-coming tech hotspots, proving that this little city on the prairie has a bright — and high tech — future.

Great economy aside, Lincoln was named the “Happiest City in America” by Gallup in 2013, and it’s not hard to see why. Lincoln is anchored by the University of Nebraska, and almost 70 percent of its residents have some sort of higher education. With the university offering a steady roster of artistic and cultural events, and a surprisingly diverse food scene that's getting cooler every day, there's always something fun or delicious to experience in Lincoln.

 2. Wichita, Kansas

While Wichita's unemployment rate trended with the rest of the U.S. during the Great Recession, it’s what this city is doing now that’s preparing it to survive another recession. In 2018, the city saw unemployment fall to 3.5 percent — the lowest it’s been since May 1999. In 2019, job growth is predicted to be positive and steady, and the city anticipates adding 2,700 new jobs. Kansas as a whole has an incredibly affordable real estate market, and residents here have the third lowest income-to-debt ratio in the nation.

While Kansas isn’t often on folks’ radar for their next big move, Wichita is a Midwestern treasure that shouldn’t be overlooked. The city’s downtown has recently undergone a huge renewal, infusing the area with new energy and a renewed sense of community. In addition to the opportunities available here, Wichita's cost of living is almost 14 percent below the national average. Living here means you can afford to take advantage of the ever-growing list of events, activities and restaurants — without draining your savings account.

Fargo ND

Courtesy of jpellgen under a CC 2.0 license.

3. Fargo, North Dakota

As the rest of the country panicked from 2007 to 2009, North Dakota experienced almost none of the recession’s shockwaves. In fact, the state’s unemployment rate during this tumultuous time rested at an easy 3.4 percent while the rest of the nation’s rates soared into double digits. How did this happen? The state prides itself on remaining steady during both upturns and falls in the country’s economy, and it can rely on oil and agriculture to keep jobs flowing. The best North Dakota city to live in during a recession is Fargo, the home of Microsoft and Case New Holland. In 2015, Fargo raked in $15.35 billion for the state’s economy. A strong and educated workforce help Fargo's economy stay strong, but the city is always seeking more workers.

In addition to lauding its vibrant and supportive startup scene, Livability awarded Fargo a spot on our 2018 Top 100 Best Places to Live list. Lovers of the great outdoors will feel at home here immediately with its parks, 90 miles of trails and more than a dozen hockey and skating rinks. Meanwhile, North Dakota State University infuses the city with a youthful vibe, including lots of restaurants and entertainment options. The bottom line? Not only is Fargo a great bet to withstand a recession, it's also a great place to live with an under-the-radar cool factor the rest of the country is just now starting to discover.

Victoria TX

Courtesy of Nicolas Henderson under a CC 2.0 license.

4. Victoria, Texas

No state can survive a recession quite like the Lonestar State. During the Great Recession, Texas steadied itself thanks to stable real estate prices and an extremely diverse mix of industries to keep the jobs flowing. And no Texas city is more recession-resilient than Victoria, a hub of the state’s energy sector. Located between Houston and Corpus Christi, the city is home to a huge Caterpillar excavator plant, Formosa Plastics Corp., polymer and fiber producer INVISTA, DuPont and many others that are constantly expanding and hiring.

Of course, Victoria is also just a great place to live. It’s an extremely charming small town just 40 miles from the Gulf Coast. A small city of just over 60,000 residents, you'll find no shortage of fun things to do here, from outdoor recreation to attractions like The Texas Zoo and the Victoria Ballet Theatre.

5. Knoxville, Tennessee

By now you may have noticed a trend: the cities on this list are either in the Midwest or the South. The home of "Rocky Top" is no exception. Knoxville had a smooth ride through the Great Recession, and is poised to do the same should another one hit in the near future. The city’s economic growth landed it the number two spot of CareerBliss.com’s "Happiest Cities to Work in Right Now" list in 2013, and, more recently, a spot on Forbes’ list for most Recession-Resistant Cities for Real Estate. In 2018, Livability awarded Knoxville the #8 spot on the Top 100 Best Places to Live list. 

In Knoxville, there hasn’t been an extreme housing explosion, so housing prices have just been rising steadily. Currently, the median home price is $134,600. Knoxville has a vibrant downtown and great restaurant scene due to the University of Tennessee bringing a steady stream of young residents to town. With the Great Smoky Mountains at your back door and Nashville and Chattanooga just short drives away, it’s a perfect place to put down roots and find peace of mind.

6. Tulsa, Oklahoma

While other metropolitan areas struggled in 2008 and 2009, Tulsa weathered the economic storm like a champ. Like some other cities on the list, Tulsa didn’t experience a housing boom, so there was no bust to be had. Compared to tight urban areas on the coasts, land in Oklahoma is relatively inexpensive and extremely plentiful. The state’s agriculture and energy industries kept it afloat as long as it could, and once the recession hit, it didn't linger as long or have as big of an impact. In fact, even during the peak of the recession, Tulsa was growing. In 2008 it opened up its huge BOK Center arena, part of the city’s enterprising Vision 2025 project.

To top it all off, Tulsa is a city with rich history and culture. It’s part of America’s old frontier and is steeped in Native American history. It boasts a highly-rated opera company and two symphonies, among other big-city amenities that might surprise you. It's no coincidence that Livability called Tulsa "an underrated gem" last year.

7. Des Moines, Iowa

The Hawkeye state might fare better than most others during the next recession. According to a recent analysis by Pew Charitable Trusts, the state’s annual budget volatility is lower than average and has more in reserves than most others. During the recession, Des Moines’ unemployment rate only increased by 1.2 percent, and its housing prices fluctuated a mere 0.1 percent. And as the fastest-growing city in the Midwest, Des Moines also boasts a thriving startup ecosystem that made it one of the top cities for tech hires in 2018, and one of Livability's up-and-coming tech hotspots.

The city is awash with job opportunities in a wide array of industries including agribusiness and financial services. And in case you didn’t know ... in the past few years, Des Moines has gotten cool. Like, really cool. Millennials are flocking here to begin their careers and pounce on affordable housing, bringing with them new restaurants, artistic communities and a growing nightlife scene. It's not only a place to find economic stability, but a creative city that's brimming with fresh energy. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Emily Handy is a writer and editor from Nashville. She loves all things food; is hopelessly addicted to Diet Coke; sees way too many movies; and when she’s not writing, you can fin... more

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