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Five cities that will rise in the New Economy

From Seattle to Huntsville, Ala., five cities are poised to prosper in the New Economy because of exports, innovation, clean technology, and healthcare.

By Ron Scherer / November 20, 2009

Two cyclists take a break from riding to look over downtown Seattle – a city that has many of the attributes, including an enviable lifestyle, that make experts think it will do well in the future.

Mary Knox Merrill/The Christian Science Monitor

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Fort Collins, Colo.

In Houston, the Texas Medical Center is expanding so quickly that it will soon become the seventh largest downtown in the US. By itself. The hospital complex brims with restaurants, shops, and hotels, and employs 100,000 people – the population of Billings, Mont.

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In Seattle, the erector-set cranes along the waterfront and big forklifts at the airport are loading exports into containers with the constancy of a piston: plywood to Beijing, halibut and crab to Tokyo, Granny Smith apples to Moscow. Last year, Washington was the only state to ship more goods to China than it receives.

In Fort Collins, Colo., town fathers are aggressively transforming the heart of the city into a zone that generates as much electricity as it consumes – making it a showcase for the city’s quest to become the Silicon Valley of clean energy.

As the United States emerges from the worst recession in 80 years, a new economy is taking root that will help create the next tier of powerhouse cities in America. Just as the Industrial Revolution of the late 1800s and the Information Age of the past 40 years helped shift the urban and regional balance of power in the US, forces are now at work that will shape who prospers in the economy of tomorrow.

No one yet knows the exact contours of the New Economy. It is more Monet than Rembrandt. But experts say that certain characteristics are already visible on the canvas that will give cities advantages in attracting new jobs and industries.

“In a broad sense, we are at an inflection point,” says Mark Muro, policy director at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “We are looking at the outlines of a new economy where we consume less, save more, increase our exports, and need to become greener.”

Start with something as prosaic as foreign trade. The permanent trend toward a global economy and the more ephemeral one of a weak dollar are uniting to make places with shipping ports and international airports the rail spurs of tomorrow. That’s why a small firm like the Vaughn Company, located southwest of Seattle, can blossom into a business of 80 employees by selling its unique “chopper pumps” for wastewater treatment to customers in more than 70 countries.