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8 Cities with Surprising Job Growth

Though we expect job creation nationwide to continue its sluggish pace, some areas will fare much better than others.

Here are eight metropolitan areas that we think are poised to become job-creating machines in the years ahead.

We zeroed in on metro areas of at least 1 million people and a track record of above-average population and job growth coming out of the 2008-2009 recession.

[More from Kiplinger: 10 Great Cities for Starting a Business]

Our analysis also considers demographic trends and industry growth that point to rapid job creation. We think each of these eight cities will outpace the nation's 7% job growth average between now and 2017, a forecast based on U.S. Department of Labor projections plus our reporting.

They're not the usual suspects -- the Houstons, Austins and Seattles that are riding high because they're well-known homes to lots of energy or tech firms. Take a look:

Nashville

Metro area population: 1.6 million
Current unemployment rate: 6.5% (vs. 8.2% nationally)
Job growth next five years: 18%
Number of new jobs: 140,000

Nashville wins the prize for fastest two-year job growth among all the metro areas on our list -- four times as fast as the U.S. as a whole. Vanderbilt University, the largest employer, will continue to add a variety of health care, education and service jobs. Nissan North America will add manufacturing jobs at its auto assembly plant and office jobs at its Nashville-area headquarters.

[More from Kiplinger: 10 of Today’s Hottest Jobs]

The capital of country music has a vibrant tech sector fueled by its highly regarded universities, and is becoming a center of data processing functions for cloud computing. The city will continue to be the freight transportation center for the state and the region, adding thousands of service jobs. It's the crossroads for truck and rail transport and a major center for UPS operations by land and air.

San Antonio

Metro area population: 2.2 million
Current unemployment rate: 6.2%
Job growth next five years: 16%
Number of new jobs: 150,000

Sure, nearby Austin, the state capital, is booming, but San Antonio's metro area is 20% larger in population and will add jobs nearly as fast over the next five years. Cheaper housing and commercial space lure many high-tech companies toward San Antonio, and the city is the hub of Central Texas' energy sector, especially its fast-growing natural gas segment. Major employers poised to expand include Valero, NuStar and Tesoro. Meanwhile, insurer USAA is the area's largest and fastest-growing private employer.

Orlando, Fla.

Metro area population: 2.2 million
Current unemployment rate: 8.2%
Job growth next five years: 15%
Number of new jobs: 150,000

The East Coast home of Mickey Mouse will be the fastest-growing job market of three Florida cites recovering most quickly from the state's housing crash. (The other two are Jacksonville and Fort Lauderdale.) Disney, Universal and new resorts and hotels will dominate job growth, but health care is the fastest-growing industry, creating a wide array of professional, transportation, sales and personal service jobs.

[Related: Six Careers That Are Built to Last]

High tech is a surprisingly large and growing sector in Orlando. AT&T and Siemens are major employers. But Lockheed Martin, which employs 13,000 people, will be cutting jobs now that NASA's Space Shuttle program has ended.

Raleigh, N.C.

Metro area population: 1.2 million
Current unemployment rate: 7.4%
Job growth next five years: 14%
Number of new jobs: 75,000

Raleigh and its environs will continue to be a magnet for high-tech and biotech job creation. Major employers adding the most jobs will be Duke University, the University of North Carolina, IBM, Cisco, GlaxoSmithKline, Nortel, Verizon and Lenovo. As the capital of a state with healthy finances, Raleigh will also steadily add government jobs. Moreover, it's a regional hub for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, supporting thousands of related private-sector jobs.

Portland, Ore.

Metro area population: 2.2 million
Current unemployment rate: 7.8%
Job growth next five years: 12%
Number of new jobs: 130,000

After devastating job losses in the recession, Portland has made a spectacular recovery, fueled by the tech mini-boom and the area's attractiveness to young people. Anchored by Intel and its 16,000 employees, Portland will maintain its moniker as the Silicon Forest for its more than 1,200 high-tech firms, most of them small to medium-size.

[More from Kiplinger: INTERACTIVE MAP:  Where to Find the Best Jobs in the U.S.]

High tech will continue to be the fastest-growing sector, but other major job gains will come in sportswear. The presence of Nike, Adidas and Columbia Sportswear has spawned many smaller sportswear-related firms that are hiring designers, marketers and salespeople. The industry has also given rise to a vibrant graphic design sector. Portland, the third-largest seaport on the West Coast, will also continue to grow as a major transportation and shipping center.

Oklahoma City

Metro area population: 1.3 million
Current unemployment rate: 4%
Job growth next five years: 10% to 12%
Number of new jobs: 50,000 to 70,000

The nation's natural gas boom is propelling Oklahoma City's growth. The area is home to large gas firms Devon Energy and Chesapeake Energy, as well as scores of privately held exploration and energy services outfits, such as Kirkpatrick Oil and Mustang Fuel. It's also the state capital and the site of Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma's medical school, all large and growing employers.

Phoenix

Metro area population: 4.3 million
Current unemployment rate: 6.6%
Job growth next five years: 8% to 10%
Number of new jobs: 100,000 to 150,000

A solid transportation infrastructure and low labor costs make the Valley of the Sun a strong magnet for firms fleeing higher-cost California. The Greater Phoenix Economic Council notes that 30% of relocations in 2011 were from California. And a silver lining in the wake of the housing crash: inexpensive real estate.

[Related: 5 Jobs With the Most Layoffs]

The city is an emerging player in the making and distribution of lower-end electronics: major employers include Motorola, Honeywell and Avnet, all of which are hiring. Other Fortune 500 firms looking for help are mining giant Freeport-McMoRan, US Airways and PetSmart.

Atlanta

Metro area population: 5.4 million
Current unemployment rate: 8.5%
Job growth next five years: 8%
Number of new jobs: 180,000

It won't expand as fast as the others on our list, but Atlanta's size and diversity will make it a good place to relocate and look for work. One key to Atlanta's bright future is the nexus between transportation and online retailing. UPS and AT&T Mobility, with its 100 million wireless customers, are both based there, and they will be key players in America's consumer-spending shift from bricks to clicks.

[Related: How Recent Grads Can Land Jobs]

Home Depot, UPS, Coca-Cola, and Delta Airlines are among Fortune 500 giants based in Atlanta. Delta Airlines and AirTran are likely to shrink their workforces, as is struggling retailer Home Depot. But regional energy giant Southern Co. and Newell Rubbermaid, maker of many things for the kitchen and garage, see expansions.

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