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Staff (Retired)
Visualizing US City Rankings Data in JMP

I have always been interested in studies that rank US cities according to a variety of attributes. It’s one reason I was drawn to the Raleigh, North Carolina, area more than a decade ago. These studies typically rate cities based on income, job growth, taxes, crime, etc.

Kiplinger, a Washington, D.C.-based publisher of business forecasts and personal finance advice, recently published a new one with a different spin on the criteria. The process Kiplinger used is described below:

“Our process is based on the work of Kevin Stolarick, of the Martin Prosperity Institute, a think tank that studies economic prosperity. Stolarick came up with a formula that identifies cities with current and likely future growth in high-quality jobs and income. We also weighed affordability and public-transit infrastructure – the latter being an important factor to ensure continued growth in certain metro areas.

Stolarick also included in the formula a measurement of the 'creative class,' a product of his work with Richard Florida, academic director of the Martin Institute and author of The Rise of the Creative Class. Creative-class workers – scientists, engineers, educators, writers, artists, entertainers and others – inject both economic and cultural vitality into a city and help make it a vibrant place to live.”

The results for 2010 were published in a less-than-informative table. So I downloaded the data into JMP and created the visual below using a Bubble Plot.

JMP Bubble Plot of all metro regions

Why a Bubble Plot and not a map of the US? Well, in this case there were too many variables to adequately show on a map. However, I’m open to suggestions.

Even though there’s no time variable, the Bubble Plot can show the data more elegantly than any other graph type I could think of. The bubbles represent each metro region. They are sized by population and colored by percent of creative class. The Y-axis is the cost of living, and the X-axis is the median household income.

The first thing that jumps out at the viewer is the large bubble well north of any other. While I’m sure you can guess the city, I’ll bet you’re as surprised as I am that no other city even comes close to it. So which city sits atop the others like the Sun?

JMP Bubble Plot of all metro regions but with the highest one highlighted to show that it's New York and Northern New Jersey

It's New York and Northern New Jersey, of course. That metro region sits up there because the study rates its cost of living at 400% of the US average. Yes, that’s right – 400%. I went back and checked the number, and accurate or not, it's what the study shows.

Now, the sweet spot of the graph is the lower right side with colored bubbles as close to red as possible. This will yield cities that have a low cost of living, high average income per household and a rich creative class. Using the Data Filter in JMP, I zeroed in on those cities.

JMP Data Filter

First, I selected cities with no more than 125% cost of living. Then, I added cities with a minimum of $50,000 household income. Lastly, I restricted my view to those that had at least 30% creative citizens.

So which metro area should I move to, based on those criteria?

The winner is Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura, California...

Bubble Plot in JMP with Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura, California highlighted

Followed by Minneapolis-St Paul-Bloomington, Minnesota-Wisconsin...

Bubble Plot in JMP with Minneapolis-St Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI highlighted

But wait ... the Raleigh-Cary, North Carolina, area where I now live is in a pretty decent spot.

Bubble Plot in JMP with Raleigh-Cary, NC, highlighted

So, I guess I’ll stay put.

If you want to explore this data yourself, visit the Best Cities 2010 page at the Kiplinger website.

And if you find a better way to show it, post a comment.

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1 Comment

Andrew wrote:

I used JMP to recreate a popular map recently. I was very quick and easy. You can see it here: