NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


June 8, 2004

Last summer, the U.S. Census Bureau officially recognized a new kind of population center: the "micropolis." To qualify as a micropolis, an area must have at least one town of 10,000 to 49,999 people and a small proportion of its residents commuting outside the area.

Generally, a micropolis is far removed from the nearest big city, sometimes by 100 miles or more. Residents are drawn by affordable housing, less urban congestion, and a lower cost-of-living. As more people move to these smaller semi-rural areas, companies are catching on to this growing market:

  • More than three-quarters of micropolitan areas gained population between 1990 and 2000.
  • American Profile, a magazine distributed in small town and rural area newspapers, has built up a circulation of nearly six million in four years, more copies than People or Sports Illustrated sell each week.
  • Movie Gallery, Inc., a video-rental chain based in Alabama, operates in micropolitan towns and has seen its stores and revenue double in the past three years.

Many businesses are attracted to micropolitan areas because labor costs are low, expansion is relatively easy, and local bureaucracy isn't as burdensome as in large cities.

Unlike metropolitan areas, where a large urban core is surrounded by suburbs, a micropolitan's center is smaller, and settlements around the town are more diffuse. A handful of such towns, like The Villages, Fla., and Silverthorne, Colo., have grown so rapidly over the past decade that they may soon become small metropolitan areas by the Census's standards.

Source: Michael J. McCarthy, "Granbury, Texas, Isn't a Rural Town: It's a 'Micropolis,'" Wall Street Journal, June 3, 2004.

For WSJ text (subscription required),,SB108621093808527223,00.html


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