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The Leading Plains States Metros for Economic and Workforce Growth

Area Development ranks the Top MSAs in the Plains states for economic and workforce growth based on the overall results from our Leading Locations for 2012 study.

Steve Stackhouse-Kaelble (August 2012)
Top 7 Plains Cities

    • City/MSA
    • State
    • Population
    • Overall
      Rank
    • 1.
    • Bismarck
    • ND
    • 108,779
    • 4
    • Bismarck, NDThe capital city of North Dakota breezed through the recent recession in better shape than just about any other metro area in America; residents there must have read the national headlines and wondered if they were in the same country. Unemployment was below 4 percent when the downturn hit and it climbed to a bit over 5 percent before heading back down to where it was before-barely a blip compared with the rest of the country. The overall size of the workforce, meanwhile, just kept growing. Helping matters has been a roster of comparatively stable sources of employment. The state government is the biggest local employer, while four of the top 10 employers are involved in health care. MDU Resources Group, a diversified energy company, is on the list, as is Aetna.

      The good news keeps arriving in Bismarck. For example, Bobcat Co. is pumping more than $8 million into an expansion of its Manufacturing Support Center in Bismarck, which could add 150 jobs. Some of the area's accolades in recent years have included repeated top 10 rankings on Forbes' Best Small Places for Business and Careers (most recently in third place), second on New Geography's 2011 Best Cities for Job Growth, second place in a Harvard University measure of social trust, a high placement on Milken Institute's Best-Performing Cities list and an All-America City designation.
    • 2.
    • Fargo
    • ND-MN
    • 208,777
    • 5
    • Fargo, NDThe Fargo area has an agricultural heritage, but a lot more is growing there these days to feed a healthy economy. Its four biggest employers are in health care, insurance and education. Tractors and wheel loaders are manufactured at Case New Holland, and there are also plenty of local jobs in financial services as well as technology, thanks to the significant presence of Microsoft, which nearly always has some technology jobs available.

      As with other parts of the state, Fargo's employment situation weathered the recession well, with a jobless rate that stayed far below the national average and a workforce tally that grew nearly every year of the past five. One recent addition to the count resulted from a $50 million expansion at Caterpillar in West Fargo, the site of component remanufacturing for the drivetrains of the company's big off-highway equipment. Among the many efforts to grow the future is the Center for Biopharmaceutical Research & Production at North Dakota State University, which hopes to transition research into viable concepts and clinical trials. Among other accolades, Forbes counted Fargo second among its Best Small Places for Business and Careers.
    • 3.
    • Grand Forks
    • ND-MN
    • 98,461
    • 117
    • 4.
    • Lawrence
    • KS
    • 110,826
    • 156
    • 5.
    • Lincoln
    • NE
    • 302,157
    • 46
    • 6.
    • Manhattan
    • KS
    • 127,081
    • 17
    • Manhattan, KSThis northeast Kansas community has been an engine for job growth, chugging along nicely while the national economy faltered. In fact, the Kansas Department of Labor reports that it had the state's highest rate of job growth across the past decade, and as of 2010, those companies with active economic development agreements collectively had created 26 percent more jobs than they originally promised. Providing stability are the area's biggest employers, including Kansas State University and nearby Fort Riley. The so-called "Little Apple" is also the headquarters of GTM Sportswear, maker of sports uniforms and sweatshirts, and Manko Window Systems, among other manufacturers. Those who sew may know that countless patterns are made at McCall Pattern Co. in Manhattan.

      It's a relatively quiet community, but nevertheless gets plenty of positive attention. Forbes, for example, placed it fifth among the Best Small Places for Business and Careers. It was ninth on New Geography's 2011 Best Cities for Job Growth, and among the top places to retire identified by SmartMoney.
    • 7.
    • Rapid City
    • SD
    • 126,382
    • 72
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