Data Viz of the Week: What Are Metropolitan Statistical Areas?

Metropolitan Statistical Areas, or MSA’s, is a term often used when describing data geography. MSA’s are defined as:

Geographic entities delineated by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for use by Federal statistical agencies in collecting, tabulating, and publishing Federal statistics.  A MSA contains a core urban area of 50,000 or more population. Each metro area consists of one or more counties and includes the counties containing the core urban area, as well as any adjacent counties that have a high degree of social and economic integration (as measured by commuting to work) with the urban core.

How and why are MSA’s useful?

MSA Legend

The following are just a few examples of how MSA’s are used:

  • The Bureau of Economic Analysis uses MSA’s to create change-over-time economic analysis;
  • Businesses use MSA’s to inform marketing strategies and target populations;
  • Departments of Economic Development use MSA’s in site selection processes to determine locations of new industries and labor market regions (LMR);
  • The Federal Office of Rural Health Policy uses MSA’s as part of their criteria in defining rural areas;
  • Large businesses use MSA’s to help determine sales territories.

What do MSA’s look like on a map?

You can view a list of all recognized MSA’s here. You can also add MSA’s to any map you make on Community Commons by using our reference maps.


Click on a MSA to learn more about the area.

MSA More Info

Click on a MSA to learn more about the area.



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