The Most Recession-Proof City in America

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During the slow recovery, only one major city outside Washington, D.C., has ranked in the top 10 for the fewest jobs lost and the highest economic growth in the country. Only one city

with a population of more than 1 million west of Virginia's military hubs has seen an increase in both net earnings and personal income

It's San Antonio, and -- except possibly for our nation's capital -- it could be the most recession-proof city in the United States.

Last month, I went to the Alamo City to find out what makes San Antonio so steady. Here's what I found: It's the eds, the meds, the enlisted, and the hotel beds. (The cheap and delicious margaritas don't hurt.)


Call it the "eds and meds" effect. In the past decade, education and health care have been the most dependable -- perhaps the only dependable -- industries in the country. They combined to create 5.2 million jobs between 1999 and 2009, a lost decade when private-sector employment grew by only 1.1 million. San Antonio is home to a $16 billion health care and bioscience industry that employs one of every seven workers in the city. Its 31 colleges and universities enroll more than 100,000 students in a population of about 1.3 million.

San Antonio has a third line of defense against economic despair: the military. Bookended by the Randolph and Lackland bases, San Antonio anchors the country's Air Force training program. The city also won the lottery in the federal government's recent base-closure-and-realignment round, receiving $2.2 billion to build the largest new military medical complex near the city's center, at Fort Sam Houston. The secret to San Antonio's recent economic success, it turns out, is eds, meds, and enlisteds.

Also: hotel beds. Home to Texas's top two attractions (the Riverwalk and the Alamo), San Antonio has a thriving tourism industry that represents one-tenth of the local economy. Even the city's leisure business is somewhat recession-proof. Because San Antonio is primarily an in-state destination -- half of its tourists come from Houston and Dallas -- the city benefits from Texas's buoyant economy.

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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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