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9/11 and the Economic Prospects of Major U.S. Cities

James H. Johnson, Jr.
William Rand Kenan, Jr. Distinguished Professor of Management
Kenan-Flagler Business School
Director, Urban Investment Strategies Center
The Frank Hawkins Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3440

John D. Kasarda
Kenan Distinguished Professor of Management
Kenan-Flagler Business School
Director, The Frank Hawkins Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill



Drawing on research and media reports, this article provides an overview of the immediate and likely longer-term urban impacts of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. In so doing we highlight three specific post 9/11 threats to the future prosperity of large U.S. cities and metro areas: (1) constraints on international commerce, (2) immigration and foreigner entry reform policies, and (3) re-evaluations of location risks by corporate leaders, their employees, and the insurance industry. We conclude with reflections on the implications of these post-9/11 developments for employment deconcentration, urban commercial real estate markets, and the economic competitiveness of major cities.



  1. Introduction

  2. The September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attacks

  3. Longer-Term Impacts

  4. Qualifications and Concluding Reflections



I. Introduction

Over the last quarter century, and especially during the 1990s, U.S. economic growth and urban competitiveness became integrally linked with the ability to move people, goods, services, information, and capital easily and quickly -- domestically and especially internationally (Rondinelli, Johnson, and Kasarda, 1998; Kasarda, 2001a,b). Because the nation's metro areas dominated most of this transactional activity (DRI-WEFA, 2001), the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, DC sent economic shock waves throughout the U.S. urban system (Mills, 2002; Lyne, 2001a; Morrissey, 2002; Neikirk, 2002; Nicklaus, 2002; Swanstrom, 2002). No U.S. city was left untouched (Johnson, 2002b,c; Colter, 2002; Belser, 2002; Murphy, 2002; DeValle, 2002; Simpson, Adoye, Feliciano and Howard, 2002; Newman, 2002; Savitch and Ardashev, 2001).

Following 9/11, a series of federal laws and regulations were introduced to reduce the risks of future terrorist acts. In an increasingly speed-driven global economy, however, the new laws -- albeit unintentionally -- are likely to constrain international commercial and transnational populations flows to the United States (Carr, 2002; Hirsch, 2002), thereby weakening the competitiveness of U.S. cities and the industries upon which they depend (Johnson, 2001, 2002a).

Air freight, for example, accounts for 40 percent of the value of world trade and is especially critical to supply chain management in high-tech and other time-sensitive industries such as microelectronics, pharmaceuticals, digitized automobile parts, aerospace equipment, and medical instruments (Kasarda, 2001a,b). The fact that the vast majority of air freight passes through larger urban airports provides substantial competitive advantages to surrounding and nearby cities as a result of greater accessibility of time-sensitive industries to national and global suppliers and customers.

As global administrative hubs, major cities also depend on quick and efficient long-distance movement of executives and professionals into and out of them. And, at the lower end of the employment spectrum, many U.S. urban industries have increasingly relied upon flows of immigrant labor to perform vital production and service functions (Johnson, 2002a). Thus, by constraining goods and people flows into and out of U.S. urban areas, post-9/11 policies, laws, and regulations have struck at one of their key competitive advantages in the globally networked, speed-driven economy.

In this article, we focus on the tension between the U.S. government's post-9/11 efforts to boost homeland security and its objective to facilitate national and city competitiveness in the international marketplace. We commence with a brief review of the near-term impacts of 9/11 on major U.S. cities. This is followed by a more detailed discussion of three types of post-9/11 threats that are likely to influence the longer-term competitiveness and economic prospects of U.S. cities and metro areas: (1) constraints on international commerce, (2) immigration and foreigner entry reform policies, and (3) re-evaluations of urban location costs and risks by corporate leaders, employees, and the insurance industry. We conclude with reflections on the likely effects of these post-9/11 developments on business location, urban commercial real estate markets, and employment redistribution from cities to suburbs and down the urban hierarchy, from large metros to small and mid-sized metros.

II. The September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attacks

In the months prior to September 11, the U.S. economy was already in the midst of a downturn, with New York and other major metros experiencing job contraction. The September 11 terrorist attacks acted as a, "shock to the [U.S.] economy, worsening the underlying deteriorating conditions and leading the NBER (National Bureau of Economic Research) Business Cycle Data Committee to declare that the economy was in a recession, which began in March 2001" (DeVol,, 2002).

The immediate impacts of the terrorist attacks were immense, especially in New York City. In addition to the death toll of nearly 3,000, approximately 30 million square feet of commercial office space (roughly equivalent to the size of Miami's central business district), 75,000 phone lines, 19,600 square miles of phone cable, and, "enough concrete to build a five-foot wide sidewalk from Manhattan to Washington," were lost or severely damaged in the attacks (Tully, 2001). An estimated 1,300 businesses, involving 80,000 workers, were dislocated (Lyne, 2001a).

Property damage alone in New York City was estimated to be in the $10 billion -- $13 billion range. The New York City Comptroller's report stated that it will cost $218 billion to, "replace the buildings, infrastructure and tenant assets as a result of September 11" (Thompson, 2002). Overall insurance claims (life, property, workers' compensation, and business disruption) were estimated to be in the range of $100 billion -- roughly four times those resulting from Hurricane Andrew in 1992 (Jones, 2002).

Exacerbated by national and global recessionary trends, New York City reportedly lost 125,000 jobs in the fourth quarter of 2001 (79,000 in October alone; New York City Partnership and Chamber of Commerce, 2002). New York's two airports were especially hard hit (Kennedy, 2002). During the twelve months following September 2001, 16.5 percent of the city's airport-linked jobs disappeared (Greenhouse, 2002). Lower-wage workers absorbed much of this job loss. Thousands of others, including garment workers, travel agents, and retail shop assistants, experienced wage cuts (Bagli, 2002a; Fong, 2002).

The Milken Institute estimated the terrorist attacks' impact on the entire U.S. metropolitan system (DeVol,, 2002). Using a regional econometric input-output model, Milken researchers first estimated employment changes given existing conditions and assuming that the attacks did not occur. Following this baseline analysis, they factored in the anticipated impacts of 9/11 on various sectors of metro economies. The difference in the two sets of estimates, the Milken researchers contend, reflects the effects of the terrorist attacks on U.S. metro economies.

Table 1 lists the 50 metro areas that are likely to be most adversely affected by the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Collectively, these metro areas are forecasted to lose 1.2 million jobs between 2002 and 2004--527,000 in 2002, 407,000 in 2003, and 243,000 in 2004. New York city and other global gateways, including Los Angeles and Chicago, are projected to suffer the greatest job losses. Other major airport hubs (Atlanta, Detroit, Minneapolis, and Dallas), aircraft and parts manufacturing centers (Seattle), and tourism and entertainment centers (Las Vegas and Orlando) are also projected to experience significant job losses (Table 1). Much of this is tied to declines in business and tourist air travel.

As we noted earlier, three specific post-9/11 outcomes: (1) constraints on international commerce, (2) immigration and foreigner entry reforms, and (3) re-evaluations of corporate locational costs and risks following the attacks-- have the potential to exacerbate urban job losses, or at least prevent full recovery. Each of these threats is elaborated in the following section.

TABLE 1: The 50 Metro Areas Projected to Lose the Most as a Result of 9/11

Absolute Job Losses (In Thousands)
  2002 2003 2004 Total
New York-Newark, NY-NJ-PA -67.32 -49.01 -35.02 -151.35
Los Angeles-Long Beach, CA -32.31 -25.2 -15.97 -73.48
Chicago, IL -30.36 -21.38 -11.98 -63.72
Las Vegas, NV-AZ -21.21 -14.65 -4.98 -40.84
Seattle-Bellevue-Everett, WA -19.66 -17.67 -13.15 -50.48
Washington, DC-MD-VA-WV -17.02 -12.26 -6.43 -35.71
Boston, MA -15.87 -11.93 -6.71 -34.51
Atlanta, GA -15.58 -11.64 -6.63 -33.85
Orlando, FL -14.45 -10.56 -4.96 -29.97
Dallas, TX -14.31 -11.11 -6.65 -32.07
Phoenix-Mesa, AZ -13.68 -10.4 -6.27 -30.35
Houston, TX -13.19 -9.21 -5.41 -27.81
Orange County, CA -12.14 -9.33 -5.42 -26.89
Detroit, MI -12.1 -9.29 -5.44 -26.83
Philadelphia, PA-NJ -12 -9.19 -5.26 -26.45
San Francisco, CA -9.86 -7.92 -4.29 -22.07
St. Louis, MO-IL -10.89 -8.82 -5.57 -25.28
Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN-WI -10.52 -7.77 -4.4 -22.69
Fort Worth-Arlington, TX -9.98 -7.18 -4.45 -21.61
San Diego, CA -9.86 -7.92 -4.29 -22.07
Miami, FL -9.82 -6.81 -3.09 -19.72
Denver, CO -8.34 -5.86 -3.06 -17.26
Baltimore, MD -7.84 -5.72 -3.35 -16.91
Pittsburgh, PA -7.25 -5.01 -2.86 -15.12
Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL -6.91 -5.29 -2.83 -15.03
Cincinnati, OH-KY-IN -6.58 -5.36 -3.41 -15.35
Riverside-San Bernadino, CA -6.47 -5.36 -2.95 -14.78
Kansas City, MO-KS -6.42 -4.81 -2.56 -13.79
Oakland, CA -6.32 -4.68 -2.54 -13.54
Nassau-Suffolk, NY -6.24 -4.84 -2.8 -13.88
Indianapolis, IN -6.23 -4.85 -2.88 -13.96
Portland-Vancouver, OR-WA -5.86 -4.52 -2.53 -12.91
Newark, NJ -5.84 -4.17 -2.38 -12.39
Cleveland-Lorain-Elyria, OH -5.83 -4.83 -2.73 -13.39
San Antonio, TX -5.75 -4.59 -2.62 -12.96
Milwaukee-Waukesha, WI -5.74 -4.19 -2.36 -12.29
Honolulu, HI -5.7 -4.71 -3.94 -14.35
Wichita, KS -5.65 -6.2 -5.27 -17.12
New Orleans, LA -5.2 -3.97 -1.92 -11.09
Norfolk-Virginia Beach, VA-NC -5 -3.65 -1.88 -10.53
Hartford, CT 4.96 -4.52 -3.01 -2.57
Louisville, KY-IN -4.9 -3.18 -1.94 -10.02
Nashville, TN -4.87 -3.73 -1.99 -10.59
San Jose, CA -4.83 -3.24 -1.58 -9.65
Charlotte-Gastonia-Rock Hill, NC-SC -4.82 -3.62 -2.03 -10.47
Salt Lake City-Ogden, UT -4.82 -3.5 -1.84 -10.16
New Haven-Stamford, CT -4.76 -4.24 -2.88 -11.88
Columbus, OH -4.38 -3.71 -2.02 -10.11
Fort Lauderdale, FL -4.18 -3.26 -1.68 -9.12
Atlantic-Cape May, NJ -3.17 -3.03 -2.72 -8.92
Total -527.07 -407.89 -242.93 -1177.89
Average -10.54 -8.16 -4.86 -23.56

Source: DeVol, et al., 2002.

III. Longer-Term Impacts

Constraints on international commerce

Unable to compete globally on the basis of cost, major U.S. cities during the 1990s leveraged their superior transportation and telecommunications infrastructure to compete successfully on the basis of accessibility, speed, and agility (Kasarda, 2001a; Moss, 2000). Only a dozen or so cities in other parts of the world offered such extensive, quick and efficient movements of people and products to domestic, regional, and international markets. Led by their world-class aviation hubs, larger U.S. cities and their broader metropolitan areas attracted new economy businesses and industries that increasingly emphasized intra-and inter-firm global networking, international sourcing and sales, flexible, customized production and rapid delivery of products and services, domestically and world-wide. Time-sensitive high-tech manufacturers, e-commerce fulfillment centers, information and communication technology (ICT) and third-party logistics firms were drawn to urban areas with extensive domestic and global flight networks (Kasarda, 2000).

As the world's service economy likewise shifted into fast-forward, major cities further leveraged their international gateway airports to attract foreign regional corporate headquarters, trade representative offices, and professional associations that require officers to undertake frequent long-distance travel. They also utilized their gateway airport accessibility to attract large consulting, marketing, advertising, legal, financial, and auditing firms, which often send out professionals to distant customers' sites or bring in their clients by air. The same attraction held for high-tech industry office complexes. Research shows that executives and technical workers in these industries travel by air 40 percent more frequently than other professionals (Erie, et al., 1999).

With the U.S. high-tech sector rapidly expanding, air cargo became the preferred mode of shipping of components and finished goods in micro-electronics, pharmaceuticals, mobile phones, digitized auto parts, aerospace equipment, optics and small precision manufacturing tools and medical instruments. As illustrated by Dell Computer's global supply chain (see Figure 1) these industries rely extensively on international air cargo shipments of parts and components. In fact, by year 2000, the value of U.S. exports by air substantially exceeded that by vessel (see Table 2), with approximately 85 percent of air cargo imports and exports passing through the nation's ten largest hub airports (U.S. Department of Commerce, 2002). When the high-tech bubble burst in early 2001, air freight started to decline. The events of 9/11 accelerated this decline, with U.S. air exports dropping by nearly $33 billion in 2001 (Table 2).


Global Supply Chain-Dell Computer

FIGURE 1: Global Supply Chain-Dell Computer.

Source: Abbey, Twist and Koonmen, 2001.


TABLE 2: United State Merchandise Exports by Air and Vessel, 1990-2001 (Millions of constant 2001 US$)

VOLUME 1990 1995 2000 2001
Total Value $261,298 $397,001 $483,425 $450,335
Air Value $110,471 $181,194 $284,356 $251,494
Vessel Value $150,827 $215,907 $199,069 $198,841
GROWTH 90-95 95-00 90-00 00-01
Total Value 51.9% 21.8% 85.0% -6.8%
Air Value 64.0% 56.9% 157.4% -11.6%
Vessel Value 43.1% -7.8% 32.0% -0.1%

Source: U.S. Department of Commerce, 2002.


Air commerce and business travel essentially stopped for four days following 9/11. When airlines resumed service, a series of security regulations impeded both product movement and business travel. Virtually all packages weighing more than 16 ounces were excluded from the cargo bellies of passenger planes (Krause, 2002). This still holds for U.S. mail. Scheduled air cargo products that took a few days to move between the U.S. and both Asia and Europe shifted largely to unscheduled charter air cargo service and alternative forms of transport, often resulting in weeks (and sometimes months) for international shipments.

With declining passengers and cargo, many flights were eliminated in the year following 9/11 and cargo belly capacity reduced as U.S. airlines shifted to smaller planes. Numerous direct air route options were lost and frequencies on existing routes diminished, all impacting speed and flexibility in product sourcing and shipping (Reconnecting America, 2002). Cities, whose gateway airports provided them with competitive advantages of speed and agility in supply chain management, were most affected as just-in-time manufacturing, third party logistics functions, and order fulfillment slowed. Productivity was reduced and hundreds of thousand of jobs were lost in these sectors (OECD, 2002).

Business travelers, already under pressure to cut travel costs, faced significant time delays in getting through airports (an additional indirect cost burden) as well as personal hassle. Many shifted to driving for trips under six to eight hours while others simply cancelled long-distance business travel entirely (Miller, 2002; Reconnecting America, 2002). The urban convention business was markedly affected and is still down considerably. Tourism and tourist-related industries were hit even harder. This industry, which contributed $272 billion in Gross Metropolitan Product in the nation's largest 100 metropolitan areas, accounted for 7.1 percent of the total Gross Metro Product in the top 20 metro-areas in year 2000 (DRI-WEFA, 2002). Most of this tourism revenue was concentrated in the central cities.

Impacted by decreased business travel and tourism, city hotels reached a 40-year low in occupancy level in 2002, while taxi drivers, restaurants, and city tourist attractions continue to suffer (Loose and Lee, 2002). DRI-WEFA (2002) estimated that due to a curtailment in aviation-linked business travel and tourism alone, the 20 largest metropolitan areas lost $11.7 billion in 2001 and $18.9 billion in 2002.

By September 2002, many city airports had at least 20 percent fewer scheduled flights compared to September 2001. These included Boston Logan International (-23 percent), Los Angeles International (-20 percent), Newark International (-20 percent), and Washington Dulles (-20 percent), with Miami International (-19 percent) and San Francisco International (-18 percent) closely behind (Reconnecting America, 2002). The absolute numbers of flights lost were dramatic in some cities. For example, Los Angeles International had 1,239 fewer weekly flights in September 2002 than in September 2001 (Reconnecting America, 2002).

Surface movements have not been spared either, particularly on the bridges and the tunnels leading into and out of many major U.S. cities. Trucks often continue to be backed up for hours (and sometimes days) at international border-city crossings (OECD, 2002) with traffic from the Canadian border to Detroit down as much as 40 percent in 2002 (Dolan, 2002). Prior to 9/11, trucks used to breeze across the Ambassador Bridge from Windsor, Canada to Detroit, the busiest commercial truck crossing in North America. A year later it took three to four hours (Blustein, 2002) and sometimes longer, resulting in just-in-time supply chain disruptions, especially in Detroit's automotive industry.

Rail and ocean cargo, which initially escaped the heavy post 9/11 constraints placed on air cargo, are now receiving much more attention by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). TSA is requiring closer scrutiny and potential complete inspection of shipping containers, 21,000 of which enter U.S. ports each day. Should the latter occur, the competitive advantages that port cities and the entire U.S. economy obtained through relatively quick and efficient goods movements will be affected.

Los Angeles exemplifies the importance of efficient air and vessel product movements to the local and national economy. A 1999 economic impact analysis showed that Los Angeles International Airport is responsible for over 400,000 jobs (direct, indirect, and induced) in the greater LA region, 80 percent of which are in Los Angeles County. The study also showed that the airport generated $61 billion dollars in regional economic activity in 1998 (LA World Airports, 2002).

Over 40 percent of all maritime containers that arrived in the U.S. in 2001 came through the ports of LA-Long Beach. When these ports were closed for five days by the dockworkers strike in October 2002, the cost to the national economy was estimated at $1 billion per day (Hart and Rudman, 2002). The consequences of a terrorist explosion on a vessel container, which would likely close all U.S. ports for an indefinite period, would be immense. Container movements on airplanes would also be slowed and possibly stopped for an indefinite period. Our largest cities and metros, where most of the nation's major airports and seaports are located, would be most affected, at least initially.

Firms will likely take such potential disruptions into consideration in redesigning their supply chains and backing up their inventories. They will also likely move single concentrated operations near large ports and airports to multiple smaller city and possibly even non-urban locations as a hedge against terrorist attacks. In any event, costs will be raised, productivity cut, and jobs lost in these cities, weakening their overall competitive position in the fast-paced global economy.

Immigration and foreigner entry reforms

Evidence has revealed that the 19 terrorists responsible for the September 11 attacks took advantage of several loopholes in U.S. immigration laws and breaches in national security infrastructure (see Schemo and Pear, 2001; Johnson, 2002a). With broad-based public support, the Bush Administration and the U.S. Congress acted quickly in the attacks' aftermath to plug these loopholes and address infrastructure security shortcomings.

The most far-reaching reforms are contained in the USA Patriot Act of 2001 and the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2002 (Jencks, 2001, 2002). By imposing new constraints on the movement of foreigners into and out of U.S. metro areas, and the nation more generally, these reforms may well reduce what had been a significant competitive advantage for our major urban centers (Carr, 2002; Johnson, 2002a; DRI-WEFA, 2002).

In an effort to weed out potential terrorists, the federal government, under the USA Patriot Act, launched sweeps of workplaces where large numbers of undocumented immigrants were thought to be working. Sweeps of airports have garnered the greatest media attention. Until late 2002, for example, roughly half of the San Francisco International Airport (SFO) screening workers -- about 500 people -- were non-citizens. Pursuant to post-9/11 legislation stipulating that security workers must be U.S. citizens, all of the SFO non-citizen screeners were laid off in mid-October 2002, even though some of them had held their jobs for 15 or more years (Jouvenal, 2002; Davis, 2002). Other workplaces scrutinized for undocumented workers post-9/11 included hotels and motels, restaurants, sports and entertainment complexes, construction sites, and grocery stores (see Johnson, 2002a). These so-called "enforcement actions" have generated considerable controversy, especially in instances where there is no evidence of ties to terrorism, as in the case of undocumented Hispanic immigrants (Vigh, 2001; Dillon, 2001).

For the foregoing reasons, the enforcement actions may well lead to animosity and longer-term ill will among people from the very countries with whom the Bush Administration is now proposing to develop stronger trade relations as part of the government's overall counter-terrorism strategy (Vigh, 2001). These enforcement actions may also discourage foreigners from desiring to come to the U.S. as visitors or tourists in the future (DRI-WEFA, 2002).

Similarly, the Justice Department's decision, pursuant to the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2002, to launch a new program of finger printing and photographing certain foreigners at the U.S. border -- beginning with people from Muslim and Middle Eastern Countries--is likely to stem further the flow of foreign visitors.1 The economic impacts would be powerful, especially in New York and Los Angeles, which captured the largest shares of the overseas visitors market in 2000, as Figure 2 illustrates. Most of the 25.9 million overseas visitors were better educated, higher income individuals and their families who spent an average of $1500 per visit (DRI-WEFA, 2002).

Overseas Visitors to U.S. Metropolitan Areas: 2000 Market Share and Percent Change 1996-2000

FIGURE 2: Overseas Visitors to U.S. Metropolitan Areas: 2000 Market Share and Percent Change 1996-2000.


Commercial real estate investment is also likely to be dampened in our major cities. One corporate relocation consultant indicated that the flow of investments from the Middle East slowed dramatically after the terrorist attacks due to extensive questioning and body searches of Middle Easterners at airport security and immigration check points when the Department of Justice targeted Muslim and Middle Eastern men for extensive questioning about possible ties to terrorist organizations (Manning, 2002).

There is another reason to think through the consequences of the post 9/11 immigration and foreign entry reforms for urban and national competitiveness. During the 1990s, immigrants and foreign green-card holders were key drivers for much of the nation's high-tech expansion (Johnson, 2002a). Studies have shown that well-educated Asian immigrants spawned approximately half of the high-tech start-ups in Silicon Valley during the 1990s (Saxenian, 2000). Foreigners also provided a huge portion of the talent in U.S. engineering schools and R & D sectors of firms (Johnson, 2002a).

Studies further suggest that numerous industries, including meat packing, agri-business, construction, and hospitality services would nearly collapse if undocumented immigrants were summarily swept up and deported (Johnson, Johnson-Webb, and Farrell, 1999). And, because of the aging of the post-World War II baby boom generation, population projections imply that if the U.S. is to sustain labor force growth, it will need a continuous influx of immigrant labor in the decades ahead (Johnson, 2002a,b; Bernstein, 2002; Baker, 2002).

In summary, post-9/11 laws and regulations have made it much more difficult for many immigrants to enter the U.S. Foreign visitor entry requirements have also been raised with extra security such as photographing, fingerprinting, and body searches, creating a sense of "unwelcoming" to business travelers and tourists of a substantial number of nationalities. This will likely take a toll on the future competitiveness and prosperity of U.S. cities as quality immigrant labor is diminished, real estate and business investment foregone, and as foreign leisure travelers choose other nations for their vacation and tourist activities.

Re-evaluations of locational risks and costs

Over the last three decades, corporate and municipal leaders have worked closely with commercial real estate developers to transform major city downtowns into national and global administrative, financial and transactional nodes. Huge and sometimes grandiose skyscrapers, typically housing headquarters of firms with global reach, have been erected as prominent symbols of U.S. economic success and influence in the international marketplace. Interspersed between or among the skyscrapers are smaller structures housing a range of businesses that provide an array of professional, technical, logistical and other support services to these global firms (Sassen, 2001).

Urban planners and local economic development officials also have encouraged cluster development in varying degrees of intensity beyond city boundaries. These outlying economic nodes include suburban office parks, regional shopping malls, edge cities or multi-functional centers, and exurban corporate campuses, which are linked by information technology and limited access highway corridors (Van Ambrugh, 2002; Kasarda, 2001a,b; Johnson, 1998; Rusk, 1998; Downs, 1998; Katz and Bernstein, 1998).

After 9/11, perceptions of locational risks changed dramatically -- among corporate leaders, their employees, and the insurance industry (Levine, 2002; Mills, 2002; Weston, 2002). For corporate leaders, "risk management has moved beyond its traditional spheres of technological and financial risk assessment and now permeates virtually all aspects of corporate decision-making," including safety and security, facility site selection, and relocation decisions (Levine, 2002). Not surprisingly, downtown high-rise office properties have generated the greatest concerns. In the immediate and near-term, this resulted in increased security costs and visitor screening (Lyne, 2002). For example, the Empire State Building in New York City has increased security personnel by over 250 and added scanning machines to all five entrances, costing several million dollars and creating serious delays and inconvenience for tenants and visitors alike (Dolan, 2002). This raises a question as to whether these entry delays and inconvenience together with employee fears will reduce current tenant propensity to renew their long-term leases in downtown high-rise office buildings when they expire in the years to come.

There is some evidence that market demand for super-high rise properties was on the wane prior to the terrorist attacks (Reason Public Policy Institute, 2001; Wright, 2001). But commercial real estate brokers and corporate relocation consultants report that since 9/11 an increasing number of their clients are expressing a heightened aversion to locating in so-called trophy properties, especially those taller than 30 stories, and "run of the mill" properties within the "shadow" of such facilities, or near other large gathering venues (stadiums, arenas, major retail establishments), energy generating facilities, and infrastructure projects (bridges, tunnels, natural gas pipelines, water and sewer plants; Lyne, 2001a,b; Kilborn, 2002; Feinberg and Clair, 2001; McCallister, 2001).

Even companies with operations in suburban and rural locations are changing their site preferences after 9/11. According to corporate relocation consultants, some are " opting for no interstate visibility...locations in the rear of business parks...[and] sites outside of airport flight patterns" (Lyne, 2002). Non-descript, dispersed, low visibility structures have become more in vogue not only for back-office functions but for high-level executive activities, as well, with multiple sites located on different power and communication grids serving to back up each other (Hughes and Nelson, 2002). Moreover, many firms reportedly are evaluating more carefully co-tenants after 9/11, avoiding buildings where they will have to share occupancy with a U.S. government agency or high-profile U.S. company. In short, "What may have been perceived as isolation in the past is [perceived as] safety and security [today]" (Kilborn, 2002).

Firm-level reassessments of facility and site location are driven, at least in part, by employees who have raised concerns about working in or within the shadow of super high-rise office buildings like the Sears Tower in Chicago. Reacting to employee concerns, some firms that were concentrated in Lower Manhattan prior to 9/11 reportedly turned down incentives to stay in the area and have made moves resulting in some cases in a doubling of the rent, "to keep people focused on their jobs and not on worrying about coming to work everyday" (Bagli, 2002b).

Firms are likewise re-evaluating their facility and site location in terms of safety and the higher occupancy costs associated with additional building security (McAvey, 2002). Most high rises erected prior to 9/11 were not designed for mass evacuations. According to building design experts, "the stairwells are too small, there are not enough of them, and [oftentimes] the stairwell door[s] open into the fire stairs, impeding passage" (Lyne, 2002). Also, as noted, in the post-attack environment, building owners are hiring more security guards, installing surveillance cameras, requiring screening badges for all building employees, and reducing the number of entry points. Along with the delay and hassle factor, this beefed-up security poses increased costs for tenants because, "almost all commercial leases contain pass-through provisions that leave [them] responsible for common areas maintenance costs" (Lyne, 2001d).

Paralleling the re-evaluation of risk among firms and their employees, especially those occupying high-rise buildings, the business of insuring commercial real estate changed dramatically after the terrorist attacks (Coleman, 2002; Beans, 2002; Harris, 2002; Hillman, 2002; Levy, 2002; Journal of Property Management, 2002; Starkman, 2002; Lyne, 2002; DeLisle, 2002). Prior to 9/11, insurance rates were on the rise -- increasing 20-25 percent on multi-year renewals -- as insurers sought to recover investment losses due to declines in the stock market and large scale payouts following several major disasters, e.g., Hurricanes Andrew and Fran, the Northridge Earthquake, etc. (Staff, 2002).

As illustrated in Table 3, insurance premiums skyrocketed after 9/11 for businesses and properties perceived to be high potential targets for future terrorism, including Class A high-rise buildings, stadiums and entertainment complexes, and convention centers (Walker, 2002). Exacerbating this problem, by February of 2002, 45 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico had approved terrorism exclusion provisions for property and casualty insurance, which meant it was unlikely that such coverage would be available to property owners in these states at renewal time (Warson, 2002).

The increased cost and the declining availability of terrorism insurance coverage sent shock waves throughout the commercial real estate industry (Mattson-Teig, 2002). It is affecting both new construction and resale markets, particularly in large cities, as, "financing is contingent upon full insurance coverage for collateral assets backing the loan or investment" (Hillman, 2002). Table 4 indicates that during the first half of 2002 at least $8.2 billion in commercial property developments were cancelled, delayed or altered due to the high price tag on terrorism insurance or its unavailability.

TABLE 3: Examples of Property/Casualty Risk Insurance Price Hikes

Property 2001 2002
California Landlord (53 Offices & retail buildings) $373,000 $559,000
Midwest Manufacturing Plant $2.1m $5.4m
Northeast Manufacturing Plant $250,000 $550,000
Minneapolis Metrodome $283,000 $500,000
Miller Park Stadium (Milwaukee,WI) $225,000 $2.25m
NYC Intermodal Transportation
$6.0m ($1.5b) $18.0m ($500m)
NYC Terrorism Policy N/A $7.5m ($70m)
Combined Construction Group Ltd. $120,000 $1.2m

Source: Compiled by authors from various newspaper sources.


TABLE 4: Impact of Lack of Terrorism Insurance on Commercial Property Development

Deals Costs
Cancelled $3.7 billion
Postponed/Modified $4.5 billion
Total $8.2 billion

Source: Mortgage Banks Association, Survey of 25 Commercial Real Estate Firms (Murray, 2002).

Table 5 lists some of the commercial mortgage-backed securities projects that were placed on the rating companies' "watch list" due to the lack of terrorism insurance coverage ("Rising Insurance Rates," 2002; Grant, 2002; Mattison-Teig, 2002; Blackwell, 2002). The retail, industrial, and multi-family housing sectors also face rising insurance costs and coverage issues with those in major cities most impacted (Gair, 2002; Hotel, 2002).

TABLE 5: Securities Placed on Ratings Watch List for Lack of Terrorism Insurance Coverage

Securities on Ratings Watch List
280 Park Avenue Trust
1211 Avenue of the Americas Trust
1251 Avenue of the Americas Trust
1345 Avenue of the Americas Trust
1633 Broadway Trust
Four Times Square Trust
Host Marriott Pool Trust (incl. Marriott Marquis in Times Square)
Opryland Hotel Trust
Houston Galleria Trust

Source: National Mortgages News, 2002.

In fact, approximately two-thirds (65 percent) of the companies surveyed recently by the Risk and Insurance Management Society (RIMS) have no terrorism insurance and 71 percent found it virtually impossible to obtain coverage (Insurance Day, 2002b). The mushrooming cost and decreasing availability of terrorism coverage are forcing many property owners to self-insure, that is, to establish disaster funds using money that otherwise could be used for business investments and new job creation (Harrington, 2002; Mariani, 2002; Felsted, 2002).

The problem is not limited to commercial real estate or just large cities (Cohn, 2002). Studies reveal that municipalities are facing spiraling costs of insuring city halls, stadiums, public parks, and other public infrastructure like bridges, tunnels, and ports (Mann, 2002; McAvey, 2002; Levin, 2002). Property insurance rates reportedly have increased between 45 percent and 75 percent over the last year in small and medium-sized cities as well (Perez, 2002; Jones, 2002b; LMC, 2002; Beisiegel, 2002; CIAT, 2002).

Insurance rate hikes have been substantially higher in larger metro areas (Mattson-Teig, 2002). For example, as Table 3 revealed, the risk insurance package for Miller Park Stadium in Milwaukee, Wisconsin increased from $250,000 annually prior to 9/11 to $2.25 million annually afterwards (Walker, 2002). These added costs will likely reduce the attractiveness and competitiveness of large cities and metro areas, as the cost of doing business in them increases correspondingly.2

This problem arises in part because re-insurers, who typically backstop primary insurance carriers, raised their rates threefold following 9/11. In fact, as noted, most now exclude terrorism coverage, which leaves, "many [primary] carriers liable for 'first dollar' coverage with no backup from reinsurers" (Jones, 2002a, p. 26). Industry analysts contend that the only way to solve this problem is for the federal government to provide a financial backstop, as it does in the case of natural disasters (Pierce, 2002; Magu-Ward, 2002; Meiners, 2002). A GAO report concluded that the federal government's failure to address this problem would likely slow the economic recovery by placing thousands of businesses (especially small businesses) at the risk of bankruptcy, layoffs, and loan defaults (Hillman, 2002).

Despite the prognosis of these adverse economic impacts, Congress did not fully embrace the federal insurance backstop idea for more than a year following the terrorist attacks (Labaton and Treaster, 2002). Indeed, it was not until after the Fall 2002 elections, when the Republicans swept most of the Senate and House races -- purportedly on the basis of their strong stance on post-9/11 national security issues (PR Newswire, 2002)--that such legislation was enacted into law.

The Terrorism Risk Insurance Act of 2002 provides, "for the federal government to pay up to $100 billion in terrorism losses annually for three years" (Treaster, 2002). The Bush Administration believes that the new law, "will aid the economy by allowing the resumption of thousands of building projects stalled by lack of such insurance" (Fram, 2002). Others proponents contend that the law, "could free up $15 billion in construction and real estate business and 300,000 jobs," although some analysts argue that these figures are overblown (Fram, 2002).

Notwithstanding the passage of the Terrorism and Risk Insurance Act of 2002, real estate developers and property owners in U.S. cities still have to contend with accelerating costs of insurance coverage as well as increases in deductibles in the post-9/11 environment (Sherman, 2003; Said, 2002). In 2002 alone, New York City's insurance premiums for large accounts (greater than $1 million) increased 73.3 percent, for medium-sized premiums ($50,000 to $1 million) 49.5 percent, and for small premiums (less than $50,000) 39.3 percent (Matthews, 2002). Industry analysts conclude that, "insurance rates will continue to rise in 2003 and into 2004 on a national basis before this so-called hard market has run its course" (Matthews, 2002).

Commercial real estate analysts predict a lagged effect of these developments on leasing activity in U.S. cities and metro areas (TenantWise, 2002). The general consensus is that the real effects will not be evident until at least 2004 when many multi-year commercial real estate leases will begin to expire. This raises several related yet critical questions about the impact of 9/11 on the economic prospects of U.S. cities and their downtown office markets (Lyne, 2001c; Glaeser and Shapiro, 2002; Leonard, 2001; New York Metropolitan Transportation Council, 2002; Hughes and Nelson, 2002; Dittmar and Campbell, 2002; Giglio, 2002).

  1. Will major corporations continue to concentrate high proportions of their employees in a single downtown location or will they attempt to reduce their exposure to potential terrorist attacks by dispersing their operations and employees across multiple locations linked and backed up by the latest information technologies?
  2. Will they keep their headquarters office at prestige downtown addresses in cities like New York, Chicago, and San Francisco, yet relocate many executives, as they have back office employees, to suburban and smaller city locations?
  3. Will office building size and style as well as location be influenced in post-9/11 search for security and anonymity?
  4. Will rising security and insurance costs along with building entry delays and other entrance hassles lead to a reconsideration of the net benefits of a downtown high-rise location?
  5. Even if downtown office complexes are occupied in the future at near capacity levels, will lease rates be lower and discounts higher to attract and retain tenants?

Answers to these questions will require carefully designed longitudinal research. To rigorously assess the economic impacts of the terrorist attacks, this research will have to monitor business demographics (i.e., firm births, firms deaths, expansions, contractions, in-migrating firms, and out-migrating firms) by location, and assess their employment and leasing dynamics by type and sector of establishment across a representative sample of U.S. metro areas. Investigators should monitor establishment turnover and employment change across various metropolitan geographic sub-areas, including the CBD, the balance of the central city, the inner-ring suburbs, the outer-ring suburbs, and the exurbs, as well within the vicinity of properties (e.g., skyscrapers, sports and entertainment complexes) and public facilities (e.g., airports, seaports, electric power stations, etc.), which are deemed to be high-potential targets for future terrorist activity.

Micro-level databases that provide annual employment information down to the establishment or street address level (such as Dunn and Bradstreet Market Identifier files or State Employment Security Commission ES-202 files), though not without certain methodological shortcomings, should permit researchers to assess such outcomes (Veraway, 1980; MacDonald, 1985). Ideally such secondary data research should be supplemented by surveys and case studies of corporate relocation activities (e.g., Tenant Wise, 2002). It is through such monitoring and analysis that evidence will accumulate on whether the negative consequences of 9/11 for major cities turn out to be as serious as we have postulated.

IV. Qualifications and Concluding Reflections

We must note that a number of studies conclude that 9/11 will not significantly affect the longer-term economic prospects of U.S. cities and metro areas (Glaeser and Shapiro, 2002; Dittmar and Campbell, 2002; Rivlin and Berube, 2002). Based in large part on historical examples of wars and urban terrorism, which did not trigger either wholesale commercial or population deconcentration, Glaeser and Shapiro (2002) argue that 9/11 probably will not have the detrimental impacts on cities suggested herein. Dittmar and Campbell (2002) also assert that, "[t]he events of September 11 are unlikely to encourage sprawl, or migration between dense metro areas and other parts of the country." Based primarily on mass transit ridership data and commercial real estate trends prior to and immediately after 9/11, they go on to argue that, "[i]n fact, many trend lines are beginning to point the other direction, and if anything the uncertain economy may lead to a slowing of sprawl and a renewed emphasis on reinvestment in existing places." Rivlin and Berube (2002) posit that, "[t]he growth and development of cities will continue to be shaped by complex economic, social and technological forces, among which terrorism plays a very minor role." A report by Jones Lang LaSalle (2002) concludes that, "wholesale changes in corporate business locations do not seem likely. The benefits of urban areas (employee base, transportation support services, etc.) will continue to attract corporate tenants. "

We believe that past instances of warfare (WW II, in particular) and urban terrorism (IRA bombings in London and terrorists incidents in Israel) offer useful but incomplete insights into the likely impact of 9/11 on major U.S. cities. U.S. transportation and communications infrastructures now allow immense freedom in location, especially in administrative, financial, information-processing and business service functions that now constitute the bulk of major city employment bases. The 9/11 aftermath, which inhibited people and product flows to large cities, raised security and insurance costs of downtown locations, and heightened employee perceived vulnerability of working in or near large central city properties, we believe, will combine to accelerate employment deconcentration that has characterized the U.S. urban system for over a half century.

Fear of terrorism in U.S. cities is certainly much different in the post 9/11 era, and legitimately so. Despite substantial efforts to upgrade building security and emergency preparedness in cities, vulnerability to terrorist attacks is perceived to be as great as ever and unlikely to diminish in the foreseeable future (Dao, 2002). It is broadly recognized that today, terrorists (at least the leaders or brain trust of these organizations) are better educated, better financed, and better organized than ever. Contemporary terrorists also have access to better information and communications technologies and non-conventional weapons of mass destruction than their counterparts in the past, which provides them considerable flexibility in delivery options and targets. Given this state of affairs, defending U.S. urban centers and the nation more generally becomes a far more difficult -- some have argued futile -- undertaking (Carr, 2002). 3

Writing in The New York Times, Mitchell (2002) captured the essence of the homeland defense challenge when she posed the following question: "How...does one secure a target-rich nation entered by roughly 1.3 million people, over 340,000 vehicles, and close to 59,000 cargo shipments every day?" The current strategy involves instituting tougher airport and border security measures (Jencks, 2001, 2002). But, as a Council on Foreign Relations study reveals (Hart and Rudman, 2002), America remains dangerously unprepared to prevent and respond to a catastrophic terrorist attack on U.S. soil." 4

We suggest that this low level of preparedness together with rising business costs and the continuing fears of future attacks on the U.S. urban centers will have a significant impact on both the nature and the level of employment and business activity in U.S. cities. More specifically, we propose that:

  1. Corporate leaders will make strategic decisions not to concentrate all or most of their assets in a single large city location, be they operational infrastructure, products, or people.
  2. The increasing costs of major downtown locations due to substantially rising insurance and security-related expenses will further encourage corporate decisions to disperse business functions.
  3. Employee fears of working in high-rise office properties as well as the increased hassle associated with gaining access to them due to the heightened security will play a significant role in lease renewal, site selection, and overall corporate spatial planning.
  4. Safety, once associated with highly visible locations with large concentrations of people and workers, will, in the post-9/11 environment, be increasingly associated with smaller, dispersed, lower density, more anonymous settings.

It is highly unlikely that large U.S. cities will lose their position as the premier administrative, financial, logistical, and commercial nodes in the global economic system. Yet, we believe that the rationale for forces underlying decentralization have never been greater. Post 9/11 impediments to efficient movement of people and products to and from cities, employee fears and hassles of working in downtown high-rises and large, dense settings, and rising downtown location costs should weaken the competitiveness of large cities and accelerate employment deconcentration trends manifested in two ways: (1) greater business relocation and employment redistribution down the urban hierarchy from large to small and medium-sized cities (Bagchi-Sen, 1997; Glasmeier and Kibler, 1996); and (2) increased employment shifts within metro areas from central cities to the low density outer suburbs and the exurbs (Beauregard, 1995; Ding and Bingham, 2000; Glaeser and Kahn, 2001; Mills, 2002; Kasarda, 1995; Flint, 2002: Hughes and Nelson, 2002). 5 Given many of the industries that were indirectly affected by the attacks, it is likely that the urban blue-collar workforce will continue to bear a major brunt of the job losses associated with the resulting business relocation and employment shifts (Neff, 2002; MLR, 2002; Kornblum, et. al., 2002). 6 Combined, these developments could exacerbate--in both racial/ethnic and geographical terms--inequality in U.S. cities and metro areas. 7

Of course, no one has a crystal ball, so results will have to play out during the coming decade before solid conclusions can be drawn. But, as previously noted, longitudinal establishment-level data bases do exist in the private and public sectors (e.g., Dun and Bradstreet and State ES-202 files) that will enable detailed monitoring and documentation of post-9/11 spatial impacts. Such geospatial monitoring will provide important information on post-9/11 urban employment and commercial location trends, which should be of considerable value to planners, policy-makers, social science researchers, and business analysts alike.


  1. A Dallas-based immigration attorney notes that "increased security concerns and tightened immigration procedures are making it more difficult for foreigners who want to invest in the United States to qualify for permanent or extended residence, or ultimately become naturalized citizens." He goes on to note that "[a] greater strictness on immigration status after entry, moving from temporary visitor status to citizenship, and a heightened scrutiny of special visas are the main problems foreigners have to face. "In particular", he adds, "many foreigners who have occupied second homes in the United States are now faced with the need to re-enter, sometimes as often as every 30 days. Unless they can successfully resolve problem with visas and residence status, many will ultimately sell their U.S. property" (Moore, 2002).

  2. As a pertinent aside, some religious groups, especially Jewish charities and organizations, which tend to be concentrated in large cities, contend that insurance companies are unfairly targeting them with rate hikes (Insurance Day, 2002). Some of the affected groups reportedly have been forced to cut staff and services in order to pay the premiums (Goldsmith, 2002).

  3. We should acknowledge here that an extensive research record exists on emergency preparedness and response planning for natural disasters in urban areas (e.g., Kunreuther and Roth, 1998; Chang, 200; Tobin and Montz, 1997; Zeigler, Johnson, and Brunn, 1996; Suarez-Villa and Walrod, 1999). Some might argue that the lessons learned from such events can be used to successfully buttress preparedness for a terrorist attack. We are skeptical of the direct transferability of these lessons for the following reasons. Threats of natural disasters are, in large part, predictable not only in terms of geographical location (e.g., specific areas of the U.S. are known to be hurricane-, flood-, or earthquake-prone), but also periodicity (e.g., a hundred year flood), speed of onset, and human response (hypo-vigilant behavior typically characterizes responses to warnings of impending disaster) (Zeigler, Brunn, and Johnson, 1983). Because of their reliance on deception and surprise to kill innocent people, and disrupt, destabilize, or destroy the social, economic, and political fabric of U.S. society, terrorists are unpredictable on all of these dimensions and therefore are likely to create far more public anxiety than the threat of a natural disaster, which is typically viewed as an act of God. Prior research on hazards and disasters of technological origin suggest that, in terms of public perceptions and human response, a terrorist attack may be more akin to the threat of a nuclear reactor accident, which, as was observed during the incident at Three Mile Island in 1979, is likely to generate a high level of hyper-vigilant behavior, including spontaneous evacuation, owing to the high level of uncertainty and ambiguity surrounding the nature, magnitude, and geographic scope of the threat (Zeigler, Brunn, and Johnson, 1983; Johnson and Zeigler, 1983; Zeigler and Johnson, 1984; Johnson and Zeigler, 1986a,b). And finally, whereas the duration effects of natural disasters are usually short-term, we believe 9/11 will remain firmly etched in the minds of the U.S. public for years to come, owing to vivid repeated images of the planes crashing into the World Trade Center Towers. Further, we believe the fear of future terrorist attacks will remain great due to: (1) widespread public knowledge post 9/11 that over 300,000 U.S. landmarks are potential targets for terrorism; (2) highly visible symbols of heightened security at airports, seaports, office buildings, and vulnerable landmarks, which serve as constant reminders of the ever-present terrorism threat; (3) government intelligence gathering on potential terror threats and security breaches at U.S. facilities and border checkpoints, which will periodically prompt the Department of Homeland Security to elevate the nation's terrorism threat level; and (4) round-the-clock media coverage of terrorist plots and incidents in other parts of the world.

  4. Hart and Rudman (2002) contend that one of the greatest risk is that, "...only the tiniest percentage of containers, ships, trucks, and trains that enter the United States each day are subject to examination -- and a weapon of mass destruction could well be hidden among this cargo." Elsewhere, we have outlined a four-fold, comprehensive strategy, which will address this problem and other risks identified in the Council on Foreign Relations Report without constraining international commerce and trans-border population movements (Johnson, 2002a)

  5. For example, a Wall Street disaster contingency plan, developed by, "the Federal Reserve Board, Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Office of the Controller of safeguard the critical financial markets from future terror attacks or other disruptions," calls for the development of, "out-of-region backup sites that would be separated, at great distances, from New York locations." It has been estimated that, if this plan is fully implemented, 20-25 percent of New York City's financial services jobs would be lost (Feiden, 2002). Brenner (2002, p.8) reports that Manhattan-based firms are establishing four types of back-up sites outside of New York City: hot sites, which are ready to be used immediately in an emergency; sister sites, which are used by some employees but have excess capacity if an act of terrorism or a natural disaster disables the company's primary sites; warm sites, which have no desks, computers, or telephones, but have all the hook ups in place and can become operational in 24 to 48 hours; and cold sites, which consist only of a building shell and would take longer to be ready for use.

  6. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, "among the workers laid off because of the terrorist attacks, 39 percent, or 44,756 workers, had been employed in the scheduled air transportation industry. An additional 28 percent, or 32,044 workers, had been employed in hotels and motels" (MLR, 2002).

  7. For a detailed discussion of the forces responsible for growing inequality in U.S. cities and metro areas during the 1990s, see Johnson and Farrell (1998) and Bobo, Oliver, Johnson, and Valenzuela (2000).


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