Analysis | The rise of managerial cities, flushing stink bugs and your favorite season! (2024)

Many American cities go with an eggs-in-one-basket economic strategy: Music in Nashville. Carpet in Dalton, Ga. RVs in Elkhart, Ind. Fruitcakes in Claxton, Ga.

Economists call the phenomenon agglomeration, which feels like an onomatopoeia: It’s the sound businesses make as they cluster together to take advantage of a skilled workforce and shared base of suppliers and buyers.

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Analysis | The rise of managerial cities, flushing stink bugs and your favorite season! (1)Analysis | The rise of managerial cities, flushing stink bugs and your favorite season! (2)

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The coronavirus pandemic added a new agglomeration specialization to our list: management. From the moment our ancestors came out of the trees and formed the first limited liability companies, managers had to be in the same room (or cave) as their subordinates. But tech has been slowly eating away at that connection, and the novel coronavirus finally snapped it in two.

In the typical metro area for which we have data, people are now about 36 percent more likely to work for managers in another metro area than they were before the pandemic, according to an analysis by ADP Research Institute fellow Issi Romem.

The institute is the research arm of payroll processing colossus ADP, which handles paychecks for roughly 1 in 6 U.S. workers and has access to a geyser of (privacy-protected) data we mere mortals can’t dream of tapping into. Romem’s analysis focused on about 1.3 million people working at firms with more than 1,000 workers, and the direct reports of managers with 10 or fewer employees.


Some folks in satellite offices have long reported to distant bosses, of course. The difference now is that managers appear to be sticking closer to HQ even as their minions are scattered to the remote-work winds.


The greater San Francisco and Boston areas reign as the princes of these emerging management hubs. Minneapolis and Philadelphia do well, too. Las Vegas, Houston and San Antonio are falling behind as they add more worker bees and fewer queens.

The management cities tend to be better educated areas, including the Massachusetts Bay area and its California counterpart, of course, but also D.C., Denver and Minneapolis. Those cities also tend to have higher incomes and higher prices. Meanwhile, the cities occupied by the new long-distance direct reports trend younger and cheaper.

In the old days, before we all became comfortable hollering at each other in little Zoom grids with plastic ferns and pretty much any book other than Dostoevsky’s “The Idiot” arrayed behind us, it made sense to keep managers near their direct reports where they could keep an eye on them. But as teams spread out, companies may decide that they gain more by keeping managers at headquarters with their bosses and peers.

“The trade-off between those two locations has just shifted, probably in favor of the leadership hub,” said Romem, who has long studied how cities work as the founder of the research outfit MetroSight. “There are fewer centrifugal forces, fewer forces preventing agglomeration of managers.”

But Romem has found that we could be looking at something other than a classic agglomeration situation. We could be seeing the consequences of high housing prices, and low home-building, in America’s cities.


In the past three years, the metro areas with the highest housing prices tended to see the fastest rise in their leadership ratio as newly mobile workers fled for lower-cost areas and companies cast hiring nets beyond their immediate neighborhoods.

“We relate that to what we call domestic offshoring, which is the increasing concentration of high-value leadership roles in the expensive metros and the gradual shedding of footloose but lower-paying occupations that can happen from elsewhere,” Romem said.

Looked at from another, perhaps more cynical, perspective, agglomeration begins to resemble a hollowing out. As a physical gulf opens between managers and subordinates, we’re stepping on a slow conveyor belt toward high-cost managerial cities and low-cost working-class ones.

Or as Romem put it: “Remote work has helped the expensive cities further cement their role as the command and control centers of the economy.”

What’s your favorite season?

When our friends at YouGov asked folks their favorite season, spring and summer vied for supremacy. Spring seized a narrow lead overall, but only with the help of Southern votes. Folks in the Northeast actually preferred summer.

Local weather is the obvious culprit. A simple analysis of Google searches shows people in the northern half of the country are more likely to search for the first day of spring, while their southerly neighbors are more likely to search for the first day of fall. It clearly depends on whether you’re more eagerly awaiting relief from the muggy heat or relief from the biting cold.

But it also depends on something funnier: We’ll call it calendar nepotism, after the human tendency to favor those to whom you are linked by birth. When slicing and dicing the results of YouGov’s poll of 1,000 U.S. adults, we noticed that — no matter the season — we’re more likely to say it’s our favorite if it includes our own birthday.

Our least favorite season requires no advanced analysis. We all loathe winter. Americans over age 45 and Midwesterners loathe it more. Young and Hispanic Americans — a group that skews toward sunny southerly states — loathe it less. But overall, almost two-thirds of us believe winter is the worst.

Maybe it’s the never-zero chance that attending an NFL playoff game will require surrendering some digits to frostbite. Or maybe it’s the universally hated “wintry mix.” Or maybe it’s that we’re much more likely to die in the winter months.

Speaking of which, when we ran the numbers on death rates by month for a previous column, we thought, “Gee, March almost looks like a winter month by this metric!” There’s a reason for that, of course: March is a winter month.

Many of us would say spring begins with the vernal equinox, when the sun hovers directly over the equator and days and nights each last around 12 hours, planetwide. In the Eastern United States, this usually happens around March 20, so two-thirds of March falls in winter.

But at Department of Data’s not-quite-sprawling headquarters at an undisclosed Northern Hemisphere location, early March brings daffodils and the first migratory birds. And while we’re no walking Poor Richard’s Almanack, we’re pretty sure those are the first signs of spring, not the last signs of winter.

This, of course, is meteorological spring, which is defined by temperature — not equinoxes or solstices. The meteorological seasons come in tidy three-month blocks: March, April and May are spring. June, July and August are summer. And so on.


But as our ridiculously talented colleagues Lauren Tierney and Harry Stevens have reported, spring keeps coming earlier every year. And it’s not the only season that’s out of whack.

If we define seasons based on when the temperature crosses into ranges defined by long-term trends, Northern Hemisphere winters grew 20 days shorter and summers grew 13 days longer between 1871 and 2012. Most of that shift hit in the last four decades, according to an analysis of atmospheric trends by Evan Kutta, now of the National Weather Service, and Jason Hubbart of West Virginia University.

That may be why, when YouGov asked when seasons began, younger Americans said spring began earlier and winter began later than their older peers did. Overall, almost a third of Americans picked a date between March 19 and 22. But the most popular single day was actually April 1 — a day that doesn’t comport with either accepted calendar. To be sure, further analysis showed the April date was most common among Midwesterners, and we don’t blame them for assuming spring comes later.

Meteorologists will be crushed to hear March 1 was only the third-most popular pick for spring’s starting line, though a quarter of Americans still agree spring comes sometime between the first of March and its ides. For winter, summer and fall, the meteorological start date is the most popular starting point — though that’s partly because the people who prefer the astronomical start date always spread their votes from the 19th to the 22nd.

Flushing stink bugs, and your home’s biggest water hogs

Stink bugs are on the march. I never saw or heard of them before a few years ago, but now I find them often in my house, especially when the weather changes. Everyone I know has the same experience. And we have all learned NOT to crush them, so we either put them outside, or with great satisfaction, flush them down the toilet. I feel a little guilty wasting the water though, and I wonder how big of an impact this extra flushing is having.

Al Kupchella, Fairport, N.Y.

Your commode concern seems well placed! Toilets are thunderingly thirsty, consuming more water than any other indoor fixture as of 2016, according to the most recent data available from the Water Research Foundation.

Each American flushes an average of five times a day. So depending on how often you’re flushing invasive brown marmorated stink bugs — that’s a species name, not a euphemism — you may be seriously expanding your flushing footprint.

Newer toilets can move a gallon or less per flush, but decades-old supertankers can unleash as many as seven gallons, so we’re still at a national average of about 2.6 gallons per flush. The indoor fixtures of an average U.S. single-family home use 138 gallons a day.

With every bug we send to Davy Jones’s Locker, we increase our water consumption by almost 2 percent. And with a record 73 percent of us living in counties where brown marmonated stink bugs were reported on the citizen-science platform iNaturalist in 2023, those extra flushes would add up quickly.

Virginia Tech entomologist Ben Aigner has handled stink bugs so often that he doesn’t even notice the rotting-fruit-garnished-with-sickly-cilantro stench anymore, even as the insects’ ever-present emissions often stain his fingertips an unfortunate orange.

Aigner suggests forgoing the flush in favor of a dedicated stink bug abattoir — also know as a jar partly filled with water and a drop or two of soap.

“The soap breaks the water tension,” Aigner tells us. “So when you drop an insect into it, it’s not able to float on the surface. It’ll sink in and the insect will drown. And that’s a very easy way to collect stink bugs from inside your home without having to flush every single one down the toilet.”


Depending on your tolerance for malodorous orange fingers, you might want to wear gloves when you drop them in the jar. For more imposing infestations, Aigner suggests a rudimentary trap: Partly fill a pie tin with soapy water and point a desk lamp at it.

In tests covered by legendary Minnesota mocker and insect emancipator Christopher Ingraham a decade ago, Aigner’s older brother, John — also an entomologist, also a scourge of stink bugs everywhere — showed that the homespun bug bath outperformed anything on the market.

Hello there! The Department of Data seeks quantitative questions. What are you curious about: Americans’ favorite months? What happens to old mental hospitals and airports sold off by the government? Is there more urban wildlife these days? Just ask!

If your question inspires a column, we’ll send you an official Department of Data button and ID card. This week’s button goes to admitted bug flusher Al Kupchella, near the Erie Canal in the Rochester suburbs.

Analysis | The rise of managerial cities, flushing stink bugs and your favorite season! (2024)


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