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Leading Locations for 2014: The "Recession-Busting" MSA's

A look at how three MSAs ranked in the top 15 of the “Recession-Busting” category in Area Development's 2014 Leading Metro Locations report are arising from the difficulties of the Great Recession and putting themselves on new growth arcs.

Q2 2014
Leading Locations for 2014 Resources
Cities and regions across the United States were hit hard by the global financial collapse of 2008 and the subsequent Great Recession, which slashed budgets for many and put them in dire straits. Unlike the federal government, city and state governments can’t run big or long-term deficits. Consequently, economic development efforts were among the endeavors that suffered in many localities.

But as the U.S. economy has haltingly recovered, many cities also have recovered their wherewithal when it comes to development efforts. And more companies than at any time since before the recession are beginning to open their pocketbooks for projects — whether they’re energy companies participating in the U.S. drilling boom, technology companies expanding to satisfy booming global demand, service outfits continuing to change life as we know it, or American manufacturers that are benefiting from “reshoring” of production and other positive factors. Let’s look at how three MSAs ranked in the top 15 by Area Development as 2014 “Recession-Busting” MSAs are arising from the difficulties of the Great Recession and putting themselves on new growth arcs.

These days it’s difficult to associate economic growth with Alaska, which is long past the peak of capitalization on its oil resources. And because most communities in Alaska are highly dependent on state and federal government spending, the recession and topsy-turvy course of U.S. government outlays over the last few years have left the state off balance. But Fairbanks — the No. 3 recession-buster — has emerged atop the rest of the state and is weathering such difficulties better than most other Alaska communities. The anticipated growth in the military and construction sectors has helped out. Despite the Defense Department’s travails, 400 more soldiers are expected for nearby Fort Wainwright. Meanwhile, Fairbanks companies are participating in a mini-boom in exports from Alaska to other Asia-Pacific Rim companies, especially those in China and South Korea.

Southeastern Tennessee is getting more attention as a development hotspot lately. Chattanooga, for instance, has a big Volkswagen assembly plant and a cutting-edge broadband network for business. Meanwhile, nearby Cleveland, Tenn. (No. 8 recession-buster), relies on a diverse mix of traditional factors to expand its economy. They include a balance of thriving industries, a seasonable climate, a picturesque location, an ample workforce of qualified people, and access to four different interstate highways within an hour and a half. As a result, Cleveland ranked No. 25 in the 2013 Milken Institute report on the Best Performing Small Cities, ranking especially highly in one-year job and wage growth.

Southeastern Michigan gets all the attention as a manufacturing hub, but southwestern Michigan has been historically strong in various types of manufacturing, including medical devices and office furniture. And now, led by a pair of close but relatively small cities (Holland-Grand Haven, the No. 13 recession-buster), the region is coming back far more quickly from recession than the Detroit area. A number of factors contribute, including how the picturesque area on Lake Michigan’s eastern shore benefits from the strong uptick in tourism in Michigan, and particular kinds of manufacturing, such as advanced lightweight materials.

Holland-Grand Haven also last year placed No. 1 in an analysis by Farmers Insurance as the “Most Secure” small or medium-sized metropolitan area in the U.S. Measuring criteria including economic stability, crime statistics, extreme weather, housing depreciation, air quality, life expectancy, and employment, the insurer put a big fat, analytical imprimatur on the vaunted local “quality of life” that Holland-Grand Haven residents long have touted.

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