Our content is free because we may earn a commission when you click or make a purchase using our site. Learn more about how we make money.

American Cities With the Most Innovative Workers in 2022

Entrepreneurs, economic experts, public officials, and many more tout the benefits of innovation in the modern economy. Innovation can drive economic growth by creating new jobs or industries, improving efficiency and productivity, and raising quality of life. Some economists have calculated that innovation contributes approximately 50% of annual U.S. GDP growth.

Jobs in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields are most commonly thought of as quintessentially innovative fields. And it is true that new inventions, technologies, and scientific discoveries have rapidly reshaped society and the economy since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.

But in reality, innovation is not limited to STEM professions. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ O*NET database defines innovative jobs as those requiring creativity and alternative thinking to develop new ideas for and answers to work-related problems. And under this definition, innovative jobs are found in a wide range of disciplines beyond STEM fields, from the arts to education to entertainment.

In fact, many of the most innovative jobs according to O*NET are found in the arts, including highly creative jobs like choreographers, poets/lyricists, and writers/authors. Innovative jobs also include STEM fields like mechanical engineering and biochemistry & biophysics, along with positions that bridge technology and the arts, like video game design. At the other end of the spectrum, the jobs that O*NET considers less innovative include positions that are primarily manual labor, like agricultural graders & sorters or cutters & trimmers, or service jobs, like hosts & hostesses or parking attendants.

Chart1_The most innovative jobs require creativity and alternative thinking

Given these qualities, it may also be easy to assume that more innovative jobs pay higher wages and less innovative jobs pay lower wages. In reality, there is a correlation between a job’s level of innovation and annual wages, but the correlation is weak. While many innovative jobs in STEM fields pay well, it is also the case that a relatively low-innovation job like airline pilot has an average wage near $200,000, while the high-innovation job of choreographer has an average wage of less than $50,000.

Chart2_The most innovative jobs are more likely to offer above average pay

Innovative jobs are also unevenly distributed by geography. Many of the states that have higher overall levels of innovative jobs are found in the Northeast, including nation-leading Massachusetts. Most of these top states have higher levels of educational attainment that may qualify more residents for more specialized, innovative jobs. In contrast, the state with the lowest overall concentration of innovative jobs is Nevada. Much of Nevada’s economy is oriented toward gaming, tourism, and hospitality—industries that tend to have less innovative jobs.

Chart3_Northeastern states have high concentrations of innovative jobs

At the metro level, the list of cities with the most innovative workers includes knowledge economy hotspots like Austin, Boston, and Denver. But many of the other leading cities for innovative workers are Rust Belt locations like Detroit, Cleveland, and Rochester. In these manufacturing-heavy economies, certain types of innovative jobs, from mechanical engineers to materials scientists to model makers, are more highly concentrated than in other parts of the U.S.

The data used in this analysis is from O*NET and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. To determine the locations with the most innovative workers, researchers at Smartest Dollar calculated a composite innovation index for each location. The composite innovation index is an employment-weighted average of the occupation-level innovation scores for each location. In the event of a tie, the location with the greater share of workers in the most innovative jobs—those with an O*NET score of 80 or above—was ranked higher.

Here are the U.S. metropolitan areas with the most innovative workers.

Chart4_Small and midsize metros with the most innovative workers

Large Metros With the Most Innovative Workers

Providence, RI

Photo Credit: Mihai_Andritoiu / Shutterstock

15. Providence-Warwick, RI-MA

  • Composite innovation index: 59.45
  • Share of workers in the most innovative jobs: 3.2%
  • Total workers in the most innovative jobs: 17,000
  • Average annual wage for all workers: $60,530
  • Average annual wage for workers in the most innovative jobs: $85,627
Milwaukee, WI

Photo Credit: Sean Pavone / Shutterstock

14. Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis, WI

  • Composite innovation index: 59.45
  • Share of workers in the most innovative jobs: 3.4%
  • Total workers in the most innovative jobs: 26,590
  • Average annual wage for all workers: $56,190
  • Average annual wage for workers in the most innovative jobs: $77,605
Cincinnati, OH

Photo Credit: doma / Shutterstock

13. Cincinnati, OH-KY-IN

  • Composite innovation index: 59.50
  • Share of workers in the most innovative jobs: 3.4%
  • Total workers in the most innovative jobs: 34,480
  • Average annual wage for all workers: $54,910
  • Average annual wage for workers in the most innovative jobs: $81,629
Pittsburgh, PA

Photo Credit: AevanStock / Shutterstock

12. Pittsburgh, PA

  • Composite innovation index: 59.58
  • Share of workers in the most innovative jobs: 2.8%
  • Total workers in the most innovative jobs: 29,240
  • Average annual wage for all workers: $56,060
  • Average annual wage for workers in the most innovative jobs: $75,208
Grand Rapids, MI

Photo Credit: Henryk Sadura / Shutterstock

11. Grand Rapids-Wyoming, MI

  • Composite innovation index: 59.61
  • Share of workers in the most innovative jobs: 3.5%
  • Total workers in the most innovative jobs: 17,750
  • Average annual wage for all workers: $52,660
  • Average annual wage for workers in the most innovative jobs: $69,637
Minneapolis, MN

Photo Credit: Dave Riewe / Shutterstock

10. Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI

  • Composite innovation index: 59.78
  • Share of workers in the most innovative jobs: 3.6%
  • Total workers in the most innovative jobs: 65,960
  • Average annual wage for all workers: $63,990
  • Average annual wage for workers in the most innovative jobs: $83,195
Hartford, CT

Photo Credit: f11photo / Shutterstock

9. Hartford-West Hartford-East Hartford, CT

  • Composite innovation index: 59.83
  • Share of workers in the most innovative jobs: 2.6%
  • Total workers in the most innovative jobs: 14,030
  • Average annual wage for all workers: $67,140
  • Average annual wage for workers in the most innovative jobs: $83,451
Denver, CO

Photo Credit: Andrew Zarivny / Shutterstock

8. Denver-Aurora-Lakewood, CO

  • Composite innovation index: 59.91
  • Share of workers in the most innovative jobs: 3.6%
  • Total workers in the most innovative jobs: 52,340
  • Average annual wage for all workers: $66,750
  • Average annual wage for workers in the most innovative jobs: $85,378
Buffalo, NY

Photo Credit: Daniel Novak / Shutterstock

7. Buffalo-Cheektowaga-Niagara Falls, NY

  • Composite innovation index: 59.92
  • Share of workers in the most innovative jobs: 2.8%
  • Total workers in the most innovative jobs: 14,070
  • Average annual wage for all workers: $56,140
  • Average annual wage for workers in the most innovative jobs: $76,041
Baltimore, MD

Photo Credit: f11photo / Shutterstock

6. Baltimore-Columbia-Towson, MD

  • Composite innovation index: 59.95
  • Share of workers in the most innovative jobs: 3.0%
  • Total workers in the most innovative jobs: 37,920
  • Average annual wage for all workers: $64,500
  • Average annual wage for workers in the most innovative jobs: $94,731
Cleveland, OH

Photo Credit: Rudy Balasko / Shutterstock

5. Cleveland-Elyria, OH

  • Composite innovation index: 59.98
  • Share of workers in the most innovative jobs: 3.4%
  • Total workers in the most innovative jobs: 32,460
  • Average annual wage for all workers: $55,860
  • Average annual wage for workers in the most innovative jobs: $79,598
Rochester, NY

Photo Credit: George Raymond Gibbs / Shutterstock

4. Rochester, NY

  • Composite innovation index: 60.09
  • Share of workers in the most innovative jobs: 2.5%
  • Total workers in the most innovative jobs: 11,740
  • Average annual wage for all workers: $56,830
  • Average annual wage for workers in the most innovative jobs: $70,092
Detroit, MI

Photo Credit: Sergey Novikov / Shutterstock

3. Detroit-Warren-Dearborn, MI

  • Composite innovation index: 60.21
  • Share of workers in the most innovative jobs: 4.1%
  • Total workers in the most innovative jobs: 73,810
  • Average annual wage for all workers: $59,060
  • Average annual wage for workers in the most innovative jobs: $86,951
Boston, MA

Photo Credit: Travellaggio / Shutterstock

2. Boston-Cambridge-Nashua, MA-NH

  • Composite innovation index: 60.23
  • Share of workers in the most innovative jobs: 3.0%
  • Total workers in the most innovative jobs: 78,220
  • Average annual wage for all workers: $76,850
  • Average annual wage for workers in the most innovative jobs: $98,387
Austin, TX

Photo Credit: Sean Pavone / Shutterstock

1. Austin-Round Rock, TX

  • Composite innovation index: 60.36
  • Share of workers in the most innovative jobs: 3.2%
  • Total workers in the most innovative jobs: 34,150
  • Average annual wage for all workers: $60,260
  • Average annual wage for workers in the most innovative jobs: $81,527

Detailed Findings & Methodology

The data used in this analysis is from O*NET’s Occupation-Level Innovation Score and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics. To determine the locations with the most innovative workers, researchers calculated a composite innovation index for each location. The composite innovation index is an employment-weighted average of the occupation-level innovation scores for each location. In the event of a tie, the location with the greater share of workers in the most innovative jobs—those with an O*NET score of 80 or above—was ranked higher. To improve relevance, only metropolitan areas with at least 100,000 residents were included. Additionally, metros were grouped into cohorts based on population size: small (100,000–349,999), midsize (350,000–999,999), and large (1,000,000 or more).

Lattice Publishing

Lattice Publishing produces content that has been used by more than 750 national and local publishers across the country.