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Robert Manduca, who made an extremely detailed map of job locations in the US back 2014, recently published a paper with estimates for central business district employment for US metropolitan and micropolitan areas.
Manduca utilizes an algorithm to delineate CBDs as areas of contiguous job density. This creates a standardized calculation of downtowns that allows comparisons across regions. This is very useful because there is no standardized definition of downtowns.
You can download a spreadsheet with summary information about every MSA. In some cases, the largest employment area is suburban, so you’ll see the CBD classified as “suburb” in this case. (The spreadsheet is of the largest employment center in each metro).
Here’s a table of the top ten CBDs by total employment.
You’ll see that this maps pretty well to common sense views of the rank. There are some cities that feel off. Nashville is higher than one would expect. Dallas is lower (see the spreadsheet). This is probably due to the way geographies are captured by the algorithm, connecting job centers to the CBD in Nashville and not doing so in Dallas. Still, it’s a useful set of data to look at.
Here is a table of CBD employment in major heartland metro areas.
Check out the data.
Also, if you haven’t played with that 2014 map, it’s well worth your time. Here’s a super-detailed view of Indianapolis downtown employment from it that will give you a sense of how granular it gets.