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South and South Atlantic Metros Emerge as Leading Locations

A focus on workforce has placed metros in the South and South Atlantic regions among this year’s leading locations, although past metro leaders still make an appearance.

Q4 2019
Editor’s Note: A change in methodology has led to some newcomers in the top of the rankings while past leading metros still make an appearance. Specifically, GMP data was unavailable and is omitted as an indicator in this year’s report. Also, all economic indicator rankings from BLS are based on one-year, three-year, or five-year changes and not snapshots of the most recent unemployment indicator. We are using 16 total indicators this year instead of 21 as in years past. These changes have served to make the report rankings a reflection of change and growth more than ever before. Without the GMP data the report is also more slanted toward labor and workforce quality and growth.

Newcomers in the top 30 of this year’s rankings highlight a shift away from Pacific and Mountain region’s dominance. In 2016 and 2017, one community from the South and South Atlantic regions made the top 20. In 2018, there were none. But 2019 sees seven metros in the top 20, and 11 in the top 30, from these regions.

Familiar locations, such as the San Francisco area MSA, make up the top tier. And Reno, Nev., a mainstay in the top 20 since 2015, climbed three spots to the No. 1 ranking. But the top 20 looks much different after that. Decatur, Ala., leapt from No. 373 to No. 11, and its neighbor to the east, Huntsville, Ala., came in at No. 13 — a jump of 100 spots from last year. South Carolina also placed two metros in the top 20: Spartanburg (No. 8) and Hilton Head Island-Bluffton-Beaufort (No. 12). Both made significant climbs at No. 74 and No. 215 respectively from 2018.

Sometimes the new recruitment press release doesn’t live up to the hype. That doesn’t appear to be the case in Alabama, where a slew of investments in the rocket industry over the last few years are now registering on economic indicators. Decatur is No. 1 in economic strength, No. 3 in five-year economic growth, and No. 5 in year-over-year growth.

Spartanburg is benefiting from a diversified industrial economy resulting in manufacturing job growth (8.1 percent from 2015 to 2017) and low unemployment (3.3 percent in 2018). The approach of expanding on a core industry, in this case automotive, again is proving successful. Spartanburg has methodically climbed the ranks since 2016 (No. 137).

While a definite shift occurred in the rankings, it can’t yet be called a trend. The next few years will be telling if the South and South Atlantic can maintain their growth.

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