• Free for qualified executives and consultants to industry

  • Receive quarterly issues of Area Development Magazine and special market report and directory issues


Leading Locations for 2012: Ranking MSAs for Economic & Job Growth

Area Development ranked 365 MSAs across 23 economic and workforce growth indicators. In the results we see that even amid the recessionary gloom, there were blooms of prosperity, and there are some places that have gotten back on their feet faster than others.

Summer 2012

    It's certainly not news that times have been tough across America's cities in recent years. The Great Recession may be officially over, but many communities are still suffering a painful hangover.

    Not these MSAs, though. Area Development's Leading Locations have found a way to thrive in the midst of adversity, to prosper while so many places have struggled. More than 9 million jobs vanished during the course of the downturn, and of the 365 MSAs - Metropolitan Statistical Areas - studied here, more than three-quarters still have fewer people working now than they did five years ago. But even amid that gloom, there were blooms of prosperity, and there are some places that have gotten back on their feet faster than others.

    This analysis of Leading Locations is informed by two dozen different economic and workforce indicators from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Bureau of Economic Analysis, and the U.S. Census American Community Survey. It ranks the 365 MSAs in a variety of ways, including an overall ranking that crunches 23 indicators, plus separate rankings of "Prime Workforce Growth," "Economic Strength," and "Recession-Busting" factors.

    What general conclusions can be drawn?

    The truth is, there are myriad explanations for why these MSAs have fared the way they have. But take a look at the top performers overall and you'll see a lot of locations closer to the nation's midsection than the coasts - Indiana, Texas, North Dakota, Wyoming, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, to name a few. That generally holds true among the top locations in the three factors lists as well.

    Otherwise, though, these top locations advanced for a variety of reasons. Some of the locations highest on the list are experiencing explosive growth in extraction of energy from shale or from the Gulf of Mexico. Green energy developments are fueling growth elsewhere. Other communities are benefiting from the "comeback" of U.S. manufacturing and the presence of major employers that have cracked the puzzle of exporting to those parts of the world where growth remains hot. Still others have top employers cashing in on life sciences or technology innovations. More than likely these locations are home to universities providing a young, prime work force and technology-transfer skills.

    Read on to see the Top 100 MSAs ranked based on overall results, as well as for a closer look at a dozen locations whose recent economic successes we chose to highlight...

    Top 100 Leading Locations for 2012
      • Rank
      • City/MSA
      • State
      • Population
      • 1.
      • Columbus
      • IN
      • 76,794
      • 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 thirdhighest 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.
      • Odessa
      • TX
      • 137,130
      • Odessa, TXOdessa tops the list of Area Development's Top 20 Southwest Cities. The city also placed 2nd among the Top 25 Small Cities in "Economic Strength" and 3rd in "Recession-Busting" factors, and 2nd among the Top 50 Small Cities overall.

        An oil boom is presently fueling local employment, filling jobs not just in energy but also across the economy, including in construction, hospitality, and business services. Some local companies have even set up "man camps" to house laborers, and in nearby Midland, major local employers and the city are considering going together on an apartment complex to meet the demand for housing. Unemployment is down to just above 4 percent, and building permits in 2012 topped $100 million by May.

        An array of investments dots the Odessa area map. One of the biggest is the Texas Clean Energy Project, worth more than $2 billion in investment, 1,500 construction jobs, and 200 high-paying operations positions. Given the way this boom is attracting residents, it's no surprise that projects also include everything from housing to churches to restaurants.
      • 3.
      • Lafayette
      • LA
      • 273,738
      • 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.
      • 4.
      • Bismarck
      • ND
      • 108,779
      • 5.
      • Fargo
      • ND-MN
      • 208,777
      • 6.
      • Midland
      • TX
      • 136,872
      • 7.
      • San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara
      • CA
      • 1,836,911
      • 8.
      • Casper
      • WY
      • 75,450
      • 9.
      • Morgantown
      • WV
      • 129,709
      • 10.
      • Columbia
      • MO
      • 172,786
      • 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.

        It's the ultimate college town, home not 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.
      • 11.
      • Austin-Round Rock-San Marcos
      • TX
      • 1,716,289
      • 12.
      • Pittsburgh
      • PA
      • 2,356,285
      • 13.
      • Oklahoma City
      • OK
      • 1,252,987
      • Oklahoma City	, OKOklahoma City is a solid "Recession Buster," ranking 4th among the Top 25 Big Cities in those factors and also 4th in "Prime Workforce Growth" and 6th in "Economic Strength" factors among this same group of MSAs. It also placed 4th among Area Development's Top 20 Southwest Cities as well as among its Top 50 Big Cities overall.

        That's no surprise to national economic observers: Garner Economics this year reported Oklahoma City had the highest annual earnings growth rate among large metro areas; Business Journals ranked it the 3rd "Best City for Small Business"; Forbes called it the 4th "Best City for Jobs"; and KPMG ranked it the nation's "Most Cost- Effective City." And in The Wall Street Journal, said the area is No. 1 in overall regulatory friendliness.

        Education, energy, and the military are among top local employers: examples include Tinker Air Force Base, the University of Oklahoma, the Federal Aviation Administration's Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center, Chesapeake Energy Corp., and OG&E Energy Corp. Since 2006, the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber has helped new and expanding businesses invest $459 million and create 32,490 jobs. Among many headlines, Boeing in 2010 and 2011 announced plans to relocate military and government support operations from elsewhere, adding more than 1,300 jobs, and Devon Energy Corp. is building a 50-story headquarters that will house 2,600 employees.
      • 14.
      • Charleston-North Charleston-Summerville
      • SC
      • 664,607
      • Charleston, NCRanking 2nd among Area Development's Top 20 South-Atlantic Cities was the Charleston-North Charleston-Summerville MSA, earning its place on the strength of a 2nd place showing in "Recession-Busting" indicators, 5th place ranking in "Prime Workforce Growth," and 9th place ranking in "Economic Strength" factors among the Top 25 Big Cities. The MSA ranked 21st among the 100 Leading Locations for its employment growth net 3-year change.

        From mid-2009 through mid-2011, the area landed $1.4 billion in new capital investment and nearly 5,500 new jobs. In May, The Brookings Institution ranked Charleston first in the nation in manufacturing job growth. The MSA's new Boeing assembly plant recently marked the first 787 Dreamliner flight from South Carolina; the plant will ultimately create more than 4,000 direct jobs. Another 200 jobs are on the way at an $85 million power cable plant planned by French manufacturer Nexans. Top local employers beyond Boeing include Google, Daimler, BAE Systems, Robert Bosch, Force Protection, Blackbaud, and Lockheed Martin.

        Forbes placed Charleston 5th among midsized metro areas on its "Best Cities for Jobs" listing in May; in 2011, The Wall Street Journal named it tops in the nation for growth in college degrees, and last year CNN listed it 3rd among the "World's Best Cities."
      • 15.
      • Nashville-Davidson-
      • TN
      • 1,589,934
      • 16.
      • Dubuque
      • IA
      • 93,653
      • 17.
      • Manhattan
      • KS
      • 127,081
      • 18.
      • Knoxville
      • TN
      • 698,030
      • 19.
      • State College
      • PA
      • 153,990
      • 20.
      • Trenton-Ewing
      • NJ
      • 366,513
      • 21.
      • Washington-Arlington-Alexandria
      • DC-VA-
      • 5,582,170
      • 22.
      • Longview
      • TX
      • 214,369
      • 23.
      • Boston-Cambridge-Quincy
      • MA-NH
      • 4,552,402
      • 24.
      • Holland-Grand Haven
      • MI
      • 263,801
      • 25.
      • Owensboro
      • KY
      • 114,752
      • 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."
    • Next: Leading Locations for 2012 - MSAs Ranked 26-50

Exclusive Research