Leading Locations for 2012: The "Recession Busting" Metros
Area Development 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
- Many 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.
- Odessa 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
- 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).
- Dubuque 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.
- 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.
- Columbia 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.
- No. 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
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.
- Owensboro 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
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."
- 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
- Fort Wayne
LEADING LOCATIONS FOR 2012 RESOURCES