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Inward Investment Guides

The Leading Southern Region Metros for Economic and Workforce Growth

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

Steve Stackhouse-Kaelble (July 2012)
Top 7 Southern Cities

    • City/MSA
    • State
    • Population
    • Overall
      Rank
    • 1.
    • 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.
    • 2.
    • Nashville-Davidson-Murfreesboro-
      Franklin
    • TN
    • 1,589,934
    • 15
    • Nashville, TNEducation and medicine are major forces in the Nashville economy, with Vanderbilt University and its medical center at the top of the list of local employers. Near the top is HCA, the leading hospital company, along with Saint Thomas Health Services. But it's by no means a one-dimensional economy. The automotive business, for example, benefits from the strong influence of the Nissan assembly plant in Smyrna, not far away. Nashville is also the global headquarters of Asurion, provider of insurance coverage for cell phones and similar equipment. And Electrolux has manufacturing and R&D operations in nearby Springfield.

      The business news has been brimming with good news from Nashville in recent months. For example, IQT Inc., a business process outsourcing firm, picked Nashville for its U.S. headquarters and a 900-job call center. And online retailer Amazon is opening a distribution center in the area, worth about a thousand jobs. Nashville makes frequent appearances on business rankings, including Forbes' "Best Places for Business & Careers," Business Insider's "15 hottest American Cities of the Future" and Thumbtack.com's analysis of the ease of starting a business, which Nashville placed fifth. Kiplinger, meanwhile, put Nashville at the top of a list of U.S. metropolitan areas "poised to become job-creating machines in the years ahead."
    • 3.
    • Knoxville
    • TN
    • 698,030
    • 18
    • 4.
    • 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."
    • 5.
    • Elizabethtown
    • KY
    • 119,736
    • 45
    • 6.
    • New Orleans-Metairie-Kenner
    • LA
    • 1,167,764
    • 66
    • New Orleans, LAIt's a city that made worldwide headlines when Hurricane Katrina blew through and caused unbelievable devastation, and the media were around again in 2010 when a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico caused significant environmental and economic damage. Who could have imagined New Orleans would become one of the hottest stories in job growth in the country? Greater New Orleans Inc. reports some $20 billion in investments in a half dozen target sectors, from the foundational energy, international trade and advanced manufacturing sectors to the areas in which the region aims to diversify, such as software, bio-sciences and sustainable industries.

      Helping to spur major growth are development incentives along with low costs. There are plenty of resources for companies looking for grow in a big way. The health of the energy sector helps, too. Education and health care remain strong, with the list of top employers including Louisiana State University Health, Tulane University, University of New Orleans and North Oaks Health System. Northrop Grumman Ship Systems employs thousands, according to Greater New Orleans Inc., as does the local Harrah's casino. NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility has long had a powerful economic role in the area.
    • 7.
    • Chattanooga
    • TN-GA
    • 528,143
    • 68
  • Chattanooga, TNPlacing 7th on the list of Area Development's Top 20 Southern Cities, Chattanooga ranked 22nd among the Top 25 Mid-Size Cities in "Recession-Busting" factors. And bust the recession it has, with new investments over the past five years from Amazon to Volkswagen. Last year, VW opened its billion-dollar plant there, and this spring the company announced the hiring of 800 more people. In all, VW and others such as Alstom, Sanofi-Aventis, and Amazon.com dropped about $3 billion into the Chattanooga economy during the recent recession.

    Journalists and analysts have also spotlighted the community's pluses. Outside Magazine named Chattanooga the "Best Town Ever" this year, and CNNMoney.com put it on the list of "8 Cities That Want Your Business." Forbes named Chattanooga as one of the top 10 cities where home values were expected to rise in 2011, and last year Where to Retire profiled Chattanooga as a "Top Retirement Town."
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