In the race to land Amazon.com's second headquarters and its 50,000 jobs, experts say that writing a big subsidy check to the company probably won't tip the scales.

Instead, what curries favor with Amazon and other tech firms are long-term commitments to education, innovation and livability. These steps come with an added bonus: They are likely to benefit their communities regardless of whether Amazon or another tech giant makes its home there.

(Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, owns The Washington Post.)

All 20 finalists for HQ2, as Amazon calls it, have a common interest in university research, science education and accessible neighborhoods.

“These are not the most incentive-aggressive places in the country," said Joseph Parilla, a Brookings Institution fellow. "They are the places that have the best public and private assets in addition to education and innovation.”

Some of the finalists are rated as one because they are in the same region. Easily comparable data is not available for the sole Canadian finalist.

Seattle

BOS

Toronto

NY

PIT

CHI

PHI

IND

DEN

COL

LA

RAL

DC

NAS

ATL

DAL

AUS

MIA

Some of the finalists are rated as one because they are in the same region. Easily comparable data is not available for the sole Canadian finalist.

Seattle

BOS

Boston

NY

New York City

Newark

Toronto

PIT

Pittsburgh

CHI Chicago

DEN

Denver

PHI

Philadelphia

IND Indianapolis

COL Columbus

RAL

Raleigh

DC

Washington, D.C.

Montgomery Co.

Northern Va.

LA

Los Angeles

NAS Nashville

ATL

Atlanta

DAL

Dallas

AUS

Austin

MIA

Miami

Easily comparable data is not available for the sole Canadian finalist.

Seattle

BOS

Boston

NY

New York City

Newark

Toronto

CHI

Chicago

PIT

Pittsburgh

PHI

Philadelphia

IND

Indianapolis

DEN

Denver

COL

Columbus

DC

Washington, D.C.

Montgomery Co.

Northern Va.

RAL

Raleigh

LA

Los Angeles

NAS

Nashville

ATL

Atlanta

DAL

Dallas

Some of the finalists are rated as one because they are in the same region.

AUS

Austin

MIA

Miami

To see which of these metropolitan areas are building truly competitive tech economies, The Washington Post compiled an index of the places competing for Amazon.com based on metrics from Brookings and other analysts.

What we found is that all of them fare better than most other cities in the country, but fall well short of Silicon Valley jurisdictions — a sign of how far Northern California has distanced itself from the rest of the country in such measures as producing computer science degrees and securing patents.

Three best cities for tech economies: Austin, Boston and Raleigh.

Parilla says the cities that fare best on these metrics will probably add tech jobs long into the future regardless of Amazon's decision. Even the cities near the bottom of the index are already outperforming the rest of the country and are likely to enjoy future growth because of it.

Three worst cities for tech economies: Columbus, Ohio, Philadelphia and Miami.

“Sustained investment and collaboration across the public, private, educational and civic sectors — that’s the really hard work, and it can’t be done in a six-month application cycle when a company drops a potential investment at your feet," Parilla said. "It has to be built up over decades. You can actually make the types of investments in innovation and collaboration that will benefit your community — and by the way they are things that Amazon and other companies like, too.”

How does your city stack up as a tech economy?

Select a city to see how it compares on nine key metrics:

You selected , which is highlighted in the next charts.

People who innovate in

More than any other indicator, what distinguishes cities on Amazon’s final list from other areas is a deep pool of talented workers. Software development engineers, in particular, are at a premium in the American workforce, and other than Seattle and Silicon Valley, America's best cities at attracting or producing them are all on Amazon’s list.

Percent of workers in advanced industries

It isn’t just programmers that tech firms need, but accountants, architects, managers and consultants. This metric from 2015 measures jobs in these high-value, high-paying industries, mostly accessible to workers with four-year degrees. In the District, that means government contractors. In Raleigh, it means academic researchers.

Worst
6%

Best
14%

ATL

AUS

BOS

CHI

COL

DAL

DC

DEN

IND

LA

MIA

NAS

NY

PHI

PIT

RAL

New tech patents per 1,000 people

Filing for a patent is a tangible indicator of a new idea, something that local universities often accelerate. Those wondering how Austin and Raleigh made Amazon’s list can see why here.

Worst
0.3

Best
2.9

ATL

AUS

BOS

CHI

COL

DAL

DC

DEN

IND

LA

MIA

NAS

NY

PHI

PIT

RAL

Growth in young firms

This measurement from the U.S. Census Bureau shows how well a region can start and grow companies, which are big job creators.

Worst
-11%

Best
+24%

ATL

AUS

BOS

CHI

COL

DAL

DC

DEN

IND

LA

MIA

NAS

NY

PHI

PIT

RAL

Growth in digital services

Because every company needs to be on the Internet, digital services companies are a fast-growing part of the economy, and growth is beginning to happen outside of Silicon Valley. Indianapolis is seeing a boost related to the growth of Salesforce.com there.

Worst
-1%

Best
+16%

ATL

AUS

BOS

CHI

COL

DAL

DC

DEN

IND

LA

MIA

NAS

NY

PHI

PIT

RAL

Grooming new talent in

Education is important — it sounds obvious. But some areas consistently produce more college graduates and have been expanding their pools of workers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

Local 18- to 24-year-olds enrolled in college

The share of young people in a city who are enrolled in college has long been an important indicator for companies. Boston pitched Amazon on its 75 colleges and universities in the region.

Worst
21%

Best
38%

ATL

AUS

BOS

CHI

COL

DAL

DC

DEN

IND

LA

MIA

NAS

NY

PHI

PIT

RAL

Jobs in STEM occupations

Today everyone from Stephen Colbert to Ivanka Trump embraces STEM education, but the cities with the strongest scores on this list have been focused on attracting STEM talent for years.

Worst
4%

Best
12%

ATL

AUS

BOS

CHI

COL

DAL

DC

DEN

IND

LA

MIA

NAS

NY

PHI

PIT

RAL

How well maintains itself

These are the girders of the economy — the housing stock, transportation systems and financial prudence that enable industry to flourish. Quality-of-life estimates are more subjective but informed by income and cost-of-living data. Would talent from Seattle or Silicon Valley be more willing to relocate to Dallas or D.C.?

Percent of income spent on housing and transportation

This measures how expensive cities are to live in compared with how much money people are making. The District and Boston are among the priciest places to find a home, but there are more transportation options, so some residents can afford not to own cars, and people make more money. In Miami, not so much.

Worst
63%

Best
41%

ATL

AUS

BOS

CHI

COL

DAL

DC

DEN

IND

LA

MIA

NAS

NY

PHI

PIT

RAL

Quality of life

Which cities are most attractive to workers? It differs for everyone, but this metric measures amenities and assets including weather, food, crime and cultural institutions.

Worst
-0.05

Best
+0.08

ATL

AUS

BOS

CHI

COL

DAL

DC

DEN

IND

LA

MIA

NAS

NY

PHI

PIT

RAL

Regional credit rating

Cities or states that are hampered by heavy debt payments may not be in a position to fund infrastructure improvements that Amazon’s growth could require. Here, analysts assess state bond ratings. Not a great look for Illinois and Pennsylvania.

Mid

Chicago

Philadelphia

Pittsburgh

High

Atlanta

Austin

Boston

Columbus, Ohio

Dallas

Washington, D.C. region

Denver

Indianapolis

Los Angeles

Miami

Nashville

New York and Newark

Raleigh, N.C.

Ranking the cities

We combined each of these factors to create an overall index comparing the finalist cities. Austin, Boston and Raleigh fared well on almost every metric. Others have one area or another to work on: Denver and Indianapolis for their share of college students, Nashville for patents. Parilla said even the laggards on this list — Miami, Philadelphia and Columbus — are poised for growth.

“I kind of came away saying that there are more midsized places that are really emerging in this space,” he said. Which means that Amazon — and other tech firms — will probably come back to this list again, and not for the subsidies.

Better tech economy

Worse tech economy

Atlanta

Austin

Boston

Chicago

Columbus, Ohio

Dallas

Washington, D.C. region

Denver

Indianapolis

Los Angeles

Miami

Nashville

New York and Newark

Philadelphia

Pittsburgh

Raleigh, N.C.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story failed to acknowledge that Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, owns The Washington Post.

About this story

To rank cities’ tech development levels, The Post used data from a Brookings analysis of Moody’s Analytics data, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development , the U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Center for Neighborhood Technology and researcher David Albouy. Photos by the Associated Press; Andrea Sachs, Jabin Botsford and Linda Davidson/The Washington Post; and Charles Ommanney for The Washington Post.

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