The Leading Locations for 2012 report ranked 365 MSAs across a range of economic and workforce indicators.
To calculate overall ranking within the "Prime Work Force" category, we re-ranked the cities based only on 7 selected indicators from the 23 indicators used to arrive at the overall rankings. The selected indicators measure the youthfulness and educational level of a cities workforce, inward migration trends of educated workers, and trends in average wages.
We believe our Leading Locations report provides a good measure of those MSAs that found a way to bounce-back strongly from the depth of the economic downturn. And, we feel a solid indicator of a region's economic vitality - and an even better predictor of that region's future success - is its ability to attract inward migration of an educated workforce.
Wage and salary growth measures the quality of the jobs being created and sustained. According to Garner Economics, "changes in earnings can be an early indicator of developing opportunities or challenges" within a region.
Not surprisingly, in most of the cities that rank well in our "Prime Work Force" indicators, you will find a strong university, providing the kind of technology-transfer capacity that attracts a talented labor pool, sparks entrepreneurial activity, and provides an attractive destination for the types of startups and advanced manufacturing companies that will propel metropolitan economies as the economy continues to bounce back and take shape.
Top 15 Cities - Prime Workforce Growth
- Durham-Chapel Hill
- It's known as the "City of Medicine," a reasonable nickname given the more than 300 medical and health-related companies in the Durham-Chapel Hill area. But as one component of the renowned Research Triangle Park, "City of Medicine" really tells just part of the story. That's because the nation's first science-focused business park targets not just medicine, pharmaceuticals and biotechnology but also information technology and other hot disciplines. Research is a prime driver of the economy, thanks to the presence of prestigious Duke University, which also happens to be the biggest local employer. But even that is just part of the story, as North Carolina Central University also is gaining on the research front, especially biotechnology research.
Durham-Chapel Hill did not escape the recession unscathed, but in the past year has enjoyed impressive recovery. Positive headlines cover not just Durham itself but its whole section of North Carolina. For example, Durham-based Semprius Inc. picked a community not far away for its first solar cell manufacturing plant. And Burlington Technologies Inc., also not that far from Durham, is adding more than 100 jobs at its specialty textiles factory.
- This 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.
- San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara
There's certainly a lot of economic success growing in Silicon Valley. It's not that the San Jose metropolitan area avoided the recent economic downturn, because employment took a significant hit. But the rebound has been phenomenal, with net employment up by more than 26,000 in just the past year. Some of those people are working for such companies as health-tech's SEA Medical Systems and videoconferencing vendor Polycom, which in 2012 opened headquarters there. Some are working in the green economy, which accounts for 4,000-plus local jobs. More jobs will arrive soon to man the regional U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, whose local opening could be seen as a nod to the innovation that happens just about every hour of every day in the San Jose area.
Indeed, knowledge-based technology is what really put the San Jose area on the map. More than 6,000 tech companies provide work for more than a quarter million people, and the headquarters here are a veritable who's who in technology, from Apple to Google to Yahoo to Hewlett-Packard to Cisco to eBay. IBM and Hitachi are big employers, too. With all of that innovating going on, it's hardly surprising that San Jose tops the nation in per capita GDP.
- Ranking 1st among the 100 Leading
Locations overall, the small Indiana city of
Columbus also led Area Development's Top 20
Midwest Cities and Top 25 Small Cities rankings. Among small cities, Columbus
placed 3rd in "Economic Strength" factors,
4th in "Prime Workforce Growth," and 5th
for its "Recession-Busting" indicators.
Columbus is the headquarters of Fortune
500 diesel engine and power generator
maker Cummins Inc., which employs more
than 7,000 locally. Japanese driveshaft manufacturer NTN employs 1,700 in
Columbus, auto emission control and
exhaust systems maker Faurecia maintains
production and North American R&D
there, and Dorel Juvenile Group makes
child safety seats and handles R&D in
Columbus. The city has averaged one corporate
expansion announcement a month
since 2010, creating 1,840 jobs, and current
employment figures there are the thirdhighest
on record. Columbus had the
nation's 4th-highest GDP growth in 2010
(the most recent figures available), and
though it's a one-county MSA with a population
of about 77,000, its GDP is greater
than that of 37 countries.
Among the significant 2011 headlines,
Japanese auto components maker Sunright
America announced plans to create 100
jobs, and Cummins announced an $18 million
investment with 600 new jobs at its
headquarters and tech center. Columbus
was recognized in February by the Christian
Science Monitor as the "top city for job
growth," the AARP last fall put it among the
top 10 "Affordable Cities," and its strong collection
of prominent architecture ranks 6th
in the United States (the top five cities with
strong collections of prominent architecture
are much larger).
- In the 4th spot among Area Development's Top 20 South-Atlantic Cities was
Fayetteville, which also placed 15th overall
among the Top 50 Mid-Size Cities and 4th
for its "Prime Workforce Growth" among
the Top 25 Mid-Size Cities. The city's
three-year and five-year employment
change remained in positive territory
through the recession, a feat envied by
many American cities. Fayetteville also was
14th among the Top 25 Mid-Size Cities for
its "Economic Strength" indicators.
Since 2000, Fayetteville's industrial sector
recorded investments totaling more than
$850 million and creating nearly 6,000 jobs.
The healthcare business remains quite
robust, with the announcement this spring
of a 1,200-job facility by the Department of
Veterans Affairs. The Fayetteville business
scene is diverse, with such headquarters as
M.J. Soffe, Union Corrugating, Nitta Gelatin,
OmniSource, Morty Pride, and Hercules
Steel, plus operations representing everything
from Goodyear Tire and Rubber to
Maidenform to Northrop Grumman to DuPont, which has continued to invest in its
According to Fayetteville's chamber,
recent rankings have placed the community
among the top-five defense industry locations,
2nd highest in the state in per capita
income, among the nation's top-five most
affordable housing markets, and among.
- Jefferson City
- This part of Washington State placed 5th
among the Top 25 Mid-Size Cities in
"Prime Workforce Growth" and 10th among
this same group of cities for its strong
"Recession-Busting" indicators. The so-called
"Tri-Cities" also placed 4th overall among Area Development's Top 10 Pacific Cities.
On the surface, the Tri-Cities seem almost
laid back, with stunning scenery, 300-plus
days of sunshine a year, and most of
Washington's highly regarded, $3 billion
wine business. However, amid that science
and technology thrive, led in terms of
employee count by the U.S. Department of
Energy's Pacific Northwest National
Laboratory and DOE contractors such as
CH2M Hill Hanford Group, Bechtel
National, Mission Support Alliance, and
Washington River Protection Solutions.
ConAgra Foods, meanwhile, processes
frozen potatoes in the area, and Tyson Foods.
- San Diego-Carlsbad-San Marcos
- Shining brightly on a wide range of measures, the Pittsburgh area made it through the recession remarkably well, with employment growth among the best in the nation across the last three years as well as a five-year span. It's an incredible turnaround from the economic woes of about three decades ago, and what was once an economy that relied heavily on steel has been diversified with a focus on innovation, including in the energy sector. Just one example is the decision in March 2012 by Shell Oil to build a multibillion-dollar ethane refinery near Pittsburgh, promising some 10,000 industry jobs and about that many construction jobs. Meanwhile, the area is also home to Westinghouse, where thousands of jobs are linked to commercial nuclear energy.
Some of the biggest employers in the Pittsburgh area are in health care, education and government, and nearly 18,000 jobs are supported by financial giants PNC and Bank of New York Mellon. And steel certainly hasn't gone away, as United States Steel Corp. remains a major local employer. The region's successes have attracted the attention of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which in July 2012 hailed Pittsburgh's job growth as exceeding the national average. As for quality of life, Farmers Insurance Group in late 2011 ranked Pittsburgh the safest big city, and The Washington Post in early 2012 hailed it as the new "In" city.
- Oklahoma City
- Oklahoma City is a solid "Recession
Buster," ranking 4th among the Top 25 Big
Cities in those factors and also 4th in
"Prime Workforce Growth" and 6th in
"Economic Strength" factors among this
same group of MSAs. It also placed 4th
among Area Development's Top 20 Southwest
Cities as well as among its Top 50 Big
That's no surprise to national economic
observers: Garner Economics this year
reported Oklahoma City had the highest
annual earnings growth rate among large
metro areas; Business Journals ranked it the
3rd "Best City for Small Business"; Forbes called it the 4th "Best City for Jobs"; and
KPMG ranked it the nation's "Most Cost-
Effective City." And in The Wall Street
Journal, Thumbtack.com said the area is No.
1 in overall regulatory friendliness.
Education, energy, and the military are
among top local employers: examples
include Tinker Air Force Base, the
University of Oklahoma, the Federal
Aviation Administration's Mike Monroney
Aeronautical Center, Chesapeake Energy
Corp., and OG&E Energy Corp. Since 2006,
the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber has
helped new and expanding businesses
- Charleston-North Charleston-Summerville
- Ranking 2nd among Area Development's Top 20 South-Atlantic Cities was the
MSA, earning its place on the strength of a 2nd place showing in "Recession-Busting"
indicators, 5th place ranking in "Prime
Workforce Growth," and 9th place ranking
in "Economic Strength" factors among the Top 25 Big Cities. The MSA ranked 21st
among the 100 Leading Locations for its
employment growth net 3-year change.
From mid-2009 through mid-2011, the
area landed $1.4 billion in new capital
investment and nearly 5,500 new jobs. In
May, The Brookings Institution ranked
Charleston first in the nation in manufacturing
job growth. The MSA's new Boeing
assembly plant recently marked the first 787
Dreamliner flight from South Carolina; the
plant will ultimately create more than 4,000
direct jobs. Another 200 jobs are on the way
at an $85 million power cable plant planned
by French manufacturer Nexans. Top local
employers beyond Boeing include Google,
Daimler, BAE Systems, Robert Bosch, Force
Protection, Blackbaud, and Lockheed
Forbes placed Charleston 5th among midsized
metro areas on its "Best Cities for
Jobs" listing in May; in 2011, The Wall Street
Journal named it tops in the nation for
growth in college degrees, and last year
CNN listed it 3rd among the "World's Best
LEADING LOCATIONS FOR 2012 RESOURCES