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Leading Locations for 2013: The Southern MSAs

July 2013
The South’s low-cost environment — from taxes to labor to transportation — has been a big draw from companies. And its right-to-work environment has helped to keep those labor costs down. In fact, five of the six states in the region — Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee — have right-to-work laws on the books. Only Kentucky does not.

Among this year’s top 15 Southern Leading Locations, five are in Louisiana and five are in Tennessee. The number-one southern MSA is Lafayette, Louisiana, which is also tops among mid-size cities. Interestingly, Milken Institute ranked Lafayette first in current job growth in its 2012 Best Performing Cities Index. Steady growth in the healthcare and energy industries has contributed to this MSA’s economic growth.

As the auto industry continues to recover, that formidable industry sector is fueling growth across the South, especially in Kentucky and Tennessee. The number-two Southern MSA, Elizabethtown, Kentucky, is home to many auto industry suppliers, including makers of brake control systems (Akebono), automotive frames (Metalsa), and others. And Chattanooga, Tennessee — ninth among the South’s leading MSAs — is home to the huge Volkswagen assembly plant that began production in 2011.

The third-leading MSA in the South is Texarkana, Arkansas. As its name implies, this MSA actually straddles two states — Arkansas and Texas, a state that is consistently named as tops in the nation for job and economic growth.

Another Tennessee MSA — Nashville — is fourth among this year’s leaders. A recent KPMG study hailed Nashville as the second least costly city in which to do business among 13 U.S. metros with populations between one and two million.

    • City
    • State
    • 2010
    • Overall
    • 1.
    • Lafayette
    • LA
    • 273,738
    • 1
    • Lafayette, LAThe Lafayette MSA was ranked 24th out of 200 metro areas in the Milken Institute's Best Performing Cities Index for 2012 — a jump of 69 spots over last year's placement. The city also ranked first in current job growth and second in five-year wage growth on Milken's list. And, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Lafayette MSA experienced the largest increase in employment in the nation from December 2011 to December 2012 with an 8.6 percent gain.

      "The growth in Lafayette's economy over the past several years can be greatly attributed to steady growth in the energy and healthcare industries, which account for 40 percent of the area's GDP," says Lafayette Economic Development Authority president and CEO Gregg Gothreaux. "These industries remain relatively recession-proof and will continue to contribute to Lafayette's steady economic growth, while providing an impetus for our growing finance and entertainment industries."

      The vibrant energy sector is a big reason Louisiana Plating and Coatings decided to open a $9 million, 80,000-square-foot facility in Scott, just outside Lafayette, to provide comprehensive coating and plating services for its clients, including many oilfield servicing companies. The plant will employ 120 workers with an annual local payroll estimated at $3 million.
    • 2.
    • Elizabethtown
    • KY
    • 119,736
    • 18
    • Elizabethtown, kyRanked as the 57th-best place in the country for business and careers in 2012 by Forbes, Elizabethtown's economy is anchored by manufacturing and the nearby military base at Fort Knox. The Elizabethtown MSA, which includes all of Hardin and LaRue counties, has a total population of about 155,000. The GDP in the Elizabethtown MSA grew by 6.1 percent in 2011, placing it 11th out of 366 metros in the U.S. It three-year GDP growth rate from 2008–2011 was an impressive 30 percent — best in the state.

      Manufacturing industries include plastics and automotive. Akebono Brake, one of the world's top manufacturers of brake noise, vibration, and harshness (NVH) control systems for the automotive industry, located its North American headquarters in Elizabethtown. Another major employer, Metalsa Structural Products, makes frames for Ford F-150 and plans to undertake a $72 million expansion of its Elizabethtown operations.

      In 2011 Elizabethtown landed India-based Flex Films, a plastics company that makes polyester film for packaging. Its new plant, which started production in January 2013, is the company's first operation in the U.S. Its output of biaxially-oriented polyester (BoPET) film will be the largest of any plastics company in the country.
    • 3.
    • Texarkana
    • AR
    • 136027
    • 34
    • 4.
    • Nashville-Davidson--Murfreesboro--Franklin
    • TN
    • 1589934
    • 50
    • 5.
    • Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers
    • AR-MO
    • 463204
    • 56
    • 6.
    • Houma-Bayou Cane-Thibodaux
    • LA
    • 208,178
    • 57
    • 7.
    • Knoxville
    • TN
    • 698,030
    • 73
    • 8.
    • Baton Rouge
    • LA
    • 802,484
    • 85
    • 9.
    • Chattanooga
    • TN-GA
    • 528143
    • 86
    • 10.
    • Clarksville
    • TN-KY
    • 273,949
    • 87
    • 11.
    • Louisville-Jefferson County
    • KY-IN
    • 1,283,566
    • 88
    • 12.
    • Lake Charles
    • LA
    • 199,607
    • 90
    • 13.
    • Monroe
    • LA
    • 176,441
    • 99
    • 14.
    • Lexington-Fayette
    • KY
    • 472,099
    • 116
    • 15.
    • Jackson
    • TN
    • 115,425
    • 127

Leading Locations for 2013 Results

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