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Leading Locations for 2012: The "Recession Busting" Metros

Area Development Online Research Desk (August 2012)
The Leading Locations for 2012 report ranked 365 MSAs across a range of economic and workforce indicators.

To calculate overal ranking within the "Recession-Busting Cities" cayegory, we looked at only the economic indicators ranking change from 2009 (just around the height of the recession) against the most recent data for that indicator. This provides some measure of which cities have come back the furthest from that lowest point. In the case of Per capita Real GDP, for which the most recent data available is from 2010, we looked at the 3-year change from 2007 (the year many agree the recession began) through 2010 (as the recession began to wane). This provides a measure of an MSAs overall resiliency in productivity during the recession. The top performers include many Midwest cities that had nowhere to go but up and are now creating jobs and attracting business as U.S. manufacturing backshoring accelerates; energy cities that continue to grow as U.S. energy consumption and extraction shift domestically; and some coastal cities with strong creative classes and high-tech activity.


    Top 15 Cities - Recession Busters

      • City/MSA
      • State
      • Population
      • Overall
        Rank
      • 1.
      • Bismarck
      • ND
      • 108,779
      • 4
      • 2.
      • Midland
      • TX
      • 136,872
      • 6
      • Midland, TXMany American cities have a long way to go to catch up with where their employment was five years ago, before the Great Recession hit. Midland, on the other hand, has seen proportionately more job growth than nearly every other MSA. Its workforce is just over 75,000-about 3,000 more than a year before, roughly 6,000 higher than three years ago, and more than 10,000 greater than the tally five years ago. That steady, strong growth has a lot to do with the boom in the energy industry, which has long been largely responsible for building and sustaining the economy. Among Midland's largest private employers, there are a few manufacturers and customer service centers and a medical lab, but otherwise nearly all are involved in oil and gas, along with a newer foray into wind power.

        Midland certainly has nothing against diversification, though. In fact, 100 new jobs are on the way in aerospace, thanks to an XCOR Aerospace facility planned for the local airport next year. And even within its traditionally strong energy sector, there's room for alternatives, such as solar power generated by the many days of sunshine, as well as wind power blown in by strong local wind resources and Midland's partnership in the National Institute for Renewable Energy.
      • 3.
      • Odessa
      • TX
      • 137,130
      • 2
      • Odessa, TXOdessa tops the list of Area Development's Top 20 Southwest Cities. The city also placed 2nd among the Top 25 Small Cities in "Economic Strength" and 3rd in "Recession-Busting" factors, and 2nd among the Top 50 Small Cities overall.

        An oil boom is presently fueling local employment, filling jobs not just in energy but also across the economy, including in construction, hospitality, and business services. Some local companies have even set up "man camps" to house laborers, and in nearby Midland, major local employers and the city are considering going together on an apartment complex to meet the demand for housing. Unemployment is down to just above 4 percent, and building permits in 2012 topped $100 million by May.

        An array of investments dots the Odessaarea map. One of the biggest is the Texas Clean Energy Project, worth more than $2 billion in investment, 1,500 construction jobs, and 200 high-paying operations positions. Given the way this boom is attracting residents, it's no surprise that projects also include everything from housing to churches to restaurants.
      • 4.
      • Williamsport
      • PA
      • 116,111
      • 34
      • 5.
      • Columbus
      • IN
      • 76,794
      • 1
      • Columbus, INRanking 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).
      • 6.
      • Sandusky
      • OH
      • 77,079
      • 37
      • 7.
      • Elizabethtown
      • KY
      • 119,736
      • 45
      • 8.
      • Dubuque
      • IA
      • 93,653
      • 16
      • Dubuque, IADubuque had an enviable employment picture before the most recent recession hit, and afterwards, too. In fact, its five-year change in the jobless rate is among the nation's 10 best, and throughout the downturn, its share of citizens out of work was significantly lower than average. It helps to have a diverse economic base. John Deere's Dubuque Works manufacturing operation is the biggest local employer, but the top 15 also includes an IBM facility, Eagle Window & Door, Prudential Retirement, health care IT's McKesson Corp. and printer Quad/Graphics. Hormel opened an $80 million food products plant there in 2010.

        The successes of Dubuque are certainly no secret. It was second place among the 2012 City Cultural Diversity Awards from the National League of Cities, placed 15th among small metros on the Milken Institute's 2011 Best-Performing Cities Index, was one of the 100 Best Communities for Young People named in 2011 by America's Promise Alliance, and was among Fast Company's Top 10 Smartest Cities on the Planet in 2011. It also has been named an All-America City.
      • 9.
      • Fargo
      • ND-MN
      • 208,777
      • 5
      • 10.
      • San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara
      • CA
      • 1,836,911
      • 7
      • San Jose, CA 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.
      • 11.
      • Columbia
      • MO
      • 172,786
      • 10
      • Columbia, MOColumbia placed 2nd in the Top 20 Midwest Cities, with solid performance in most of the metrics studied. It also ranked 2nd among the Top 25 Mid-Size Cities for its "Recession-Busting" indicators, and 5th for its "Economic Strength" factors among this group. Employment numbers were respectable throughout the recent recession and really took off in the past year. The city has maintained a jobless rate well below the state average for years.

        only to the flagship campus of University of Missouri but also to Stephens College and Columbia College, plus campuses of a few more institutions. Major industrial sectors include life sciences, human and animal health, and information technology. Two significant insurance operations also employ more than a thousand people apiece.

        The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs maintains a large presence in Columbia, and the veteran-focused sector also includes the VA Mortgage Center, which last year landed state incentives to support the addition of as many as 300 jobs.
      • 12.
      • Lafayette
      • LA
      • 273,738
      • 3
      • Lafayette, LANo. 1 among the Top 20 Southern Cities and 3rd overall among Area Development's 100 Leading Locations was Lafayette, Louisiana. It topped the "Economic Strength" indicators among the Top-25 Mid-Size Cities, and was 3rd among this same group for its "Recession-Busting" factors.

        It's home to the University of Louisiana- Lafayette, plus numerous significant players in oil and gas. Lafayette Parish has seen $1.3 billion in business investments since 2005, and 2011 was its best year ever, with more than $330 million invested and 2,700 jobs created. Among the many headlines, Halliburton last year picked Lafayette for a 150 job, $65 million plant to produce components for oilfield service operations.

        The city is accustomed to accolades, being named Forbes' "Best Mid-Sized City for Jobs" in 2012. Sentier Research this year reported that the Lafayette MSA had the fastestgrowing income among all U.S. metro areas, and its jobless rate under 5 percent this spring was the lowest in Louisiana. It also was Southern Living's 2012 "Tastiest Town in the South" and the "Best Small Town for Food" in the 2011 Rand McNally/USA Today "Best of the Road" rankings.
      • 13.
      • Owensboro
      • KY
      • 114,752
      • 25
      • Owensboro, KYOwensboro placed 4th on Area Development's Top 20 Southern Cities, with a 9th place ranking for its "Recession Busting" factors among the Top 25 Small Cities. Its three-year employment growth as a percentage of population was 23rd-best among all of the 100 Leading Locations.

        Helping Owensboro prosper is a diversified economy, as evidenced by announcements from both the tobacco and financial sectors: Pinkerton Tobacco and U.S. Bank are investing in the MSA. Other major employers (in addition to the local health system) include a Unilever Foods pasta sauce plant, a Specialty Foods Group meat-processing plant, and transportation manufacturers Toyotetsu MidAmerica and Metalsa. Four institutions of higher education serve the area, and even as the nation trudged through recession, the community's eMerging Ventures Center for Innovation was nurturing two dozen startups, winning $50 million in investments, and creating 70 jobs with pay averaging nearly $100,000.

        The New York Times last year spotlighted Owenboro's downtown revitalization; New Geography placed it 22nd among its "Best Small Cities for Job Growth in 2012," and Bloomberg BusinessWeek called it the "state's best place to raise kids."
      • 14.
      • Charleston-North Charleston-Summerville
      • SC
      • 664,607
      • 14
      • Charleston, NCRanking 2nd among Area Development's Top 20 South-Atlantic Cities was the Charleston-North Charleston-Summerville 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 Martin.

        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 Cities."
      • 15.
      • Fort Wayne
      • IN
      • 416,257
      • 51
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