Lakeland rises in the Milken Institute’s Best-Performing Cities index

The list of best-performing cities considers the economy, resiliency, and growth of 400+ cities. See where Lakeland ranked.

A photo of downtown Lakeland lit up at nighttime.

Lakeland continues to gain recognition from national publications.

Photo by Reader Bob K. (submitted for our 2023 Picture of the Year contest)

Lakeland is gaining national recognition once again for its growing economy. The Milken Institute, a nonprofit think tank, has included the Lakeland-Winter Haven area in its 2024 Best-Performing Cities list. The list ranks 400+ US cities based on 13 economic factors, dividing the list by ranking tiers and small vs. large cities.

So, how did Lakeland fare on this year’s list? Short answer: very well. Lakeland-Winter Haven ranked No. 30 out of 200 large cities, outranking places like Las Vegas and Philadelphia. It gained six spots after ranking No. 36 last year. Let’s break down a few of the economic indicators that contributed to the ranking, by the numbers. (Spoiler: Lakeland saw increases in every category.)


The report considers wage and job increases as part of a city’s labor market performance. Lakeland-Winter Haven ranked No. 4 for medium-term job growth this year, up from No. 6 in the 2023 report.

  • Job growth, 2017-2022: No. 4 — 20.1% increase
  • Wage growth, 2017-2022: No. 13 — 49.2% increase
An aerial rendering of the Applied Research Center at Florida Polytechnic University in what could be the new Central Florida Innovation District

Polk County produced $200 million in GDP from its tech sector in 2020.

Rendering by HOK

High-tech impact

When it comes to economic growth, the high-tech sector can’t be underestimated. The Milken Institute measured high-tech concentration and gross domestic product (GDP), which is the total of goods + services produced by a local high-tech industry.

  • High-tech GDP growth, 2017-2022: No. 13 — 56.9% increase
  • High-tech GDP growth, 2021-2022: No. 25 — 11.3% increase

Economic opportunity

This category looked at the economic well-being of community members, including how factors like housing and income inequality impact their access to economic opportunities.

  • Households with affordable housing: No. 125 — 67.5%
  • Households with broadband internet: No. 124 — 91%

Learn more about how rankings were decided, and see the results of 400+ more cities on this interactive map.