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The Leading Midwest States Metros for Economic and Workforce Growth

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

August 2012
Top 7 Midwest Cities

    • City/MSA
    • State
    • Population
    • Overall
    • 1.
    • 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 third highest 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).
    • 2.
    • 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.
    • 3.
    • 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.
    • 4.
    • Holland-Grand Haven
    • MI
    • 263,801
    • 24
    • 5.
    • Waterloo-Cedar Falls
    • IA
    • 167,819
    • 29
    • 6.
    • Ames
    • IA
    • 89,542
    • 30
    • Ames, IAThe Iowa community of Ames ranked 6th among Area Development's Top 20 Midwest Cities and 30th among the 100 Leading Locations. Ames placed 15th for its "Prime Workforce Growth" among the Top 25 Small Cities.

      Iowa State University is the top employer in Ames and also a prime draw for investment. The Iowa Department of Transportation supports numerous jobs, as do local healthcare providers and the federal government's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, while the manufacturing sector is represented by such names as Sauer-Danfoss, 3M, Becker Underwood, and Barilla.

      Relocating and expanding businesses have invested $200 million and created 1,000 jobs in the past five years. this year named Ames the 25th "Best Place for New College Grads," while Where to Retire ranked it the 8th "Best Place to Retire." It was's 56th "Best Small City for Job Growth" in 2012, and the tech sector will note that in 2011 Forbes ranked Ames 13th
    • 7.
    • Sandusky
    • OH
    • 77,079
    • 37

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