By Joel Kotkin and Mike Shires
The latest edition of our list shows many things, but perhaps the most important is which cities have momentum in the job creation sweepstakes. Right now the biggest winners are the metro areas that are adding higher-wage jobs thanks to America’s two big boom sectors: technology and energy.
Our rankings are based on short, medium and long-term employment performance, and take into account both growth and momentum -- whether growth is slowing or accelerating. (For a detailed description of our methodology, click here.) Consequently, areas that have made the strongest recoveries from deep setbacks often do well. Nowhere is this clearer than in the case of the San Francisco-San Mateo-Redwood City metropolitan division, our top-ranked large metro area (urban regions with more than 450,000 jobs). Over the last year, employment in the San Francisco area expanded a remarkable 4.1%, and is up 3.3% since 2008.
A decade ago, the San Francisco area was reeling from the collapse of the last dot-com bubble; the damage was so deep that today it has only 0.6% more jobs than in 2001. Its sharp recent growth is primarily in the information sector, which has expanded a torrid 21.3% since 2009.
Much the same can be said about San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, better known as Silicon Valley, which is No. 7 on our large metro area list due to 3.4% job growth last year, and 2.3% growth since 2008; it is also propelled by 25% growth in information jobs since 2007. Yet looking at the longer term, the Valley, like San Francisco, is still rebounding from a deep downturn connected to the dot-com disaster of a decade ago. In fact, the Valley is still down almost 40,000 jobs from 2001.
Is California Pulling Ahead Of Texas?
Some East Coast boosters of the Golden State are making this claim, but we don’t see it in this year’s numbers. Besides the tech-rich Bay Area, home to two of our top 10 large metro areas, there are no other major California cities near the top. Most of the state's big metros are in the poor to middling range over the long term; only Riverside-San Bernardino (45th place on our big cities list) has 10% more jobs than a decade ago. Los Angeles, the state’s dominant urban region, has lost some 120,000 jobs since 2001.
In contrast, the Texas juggernaut rolls on. Growth there has not only been steady, it’s been widely spread across the state. Texas boasts a remarkable four major metros in our top 10, led by Ft. Worth-Arlington (No. 4), Houston-Sugarland-Baytown (No. 5), Dallas-Plano-Irving (No. 6 ) and Austin-Round Rock, which slips from first place last year to 10th. The state’s other big city, San Antonio, comes in at a very healthy No. 12.
All these metro areas have more jobs than they did a decade ago -- often a lot more. Since 2001, employment in Houston has expanded 20%; in Ft. Worth, it's up roughly 16%; Dallas; 11%; Austin, a remarkable 26.5%; and San Antonio, 18.4%.
The Energy Boomtowns
The unconventional oil and gas boom has helped turn Texas into an economic juggernaut, particularly world energy capital Houston, but growth has also been strong in tech, manufacturing and business services. You see this same kind of blending of energy and other sectors in other strong growth economies elsewhere in the U.S., such as No. 3 Salt Lake City, No. 9 Denver and No. 15 Oklahoma City.
But the real evidence of energy’s power can be seen in smaller metro areas. Oil-rich Midland, Texas, places first on our list of smaller metro areas (those with less than 150,000 jobs) and also first overall among the country’s 398 metropolitan areas. Nipping at its heels in second place in both categories is Odessa, Texas. On our medium-size cities list, energy towns with strong growth include No. 4 Corpus Christi, Texas; No. 5 Bakersfield, Calif.; and No. 6 Lafayette, La.
Affordability + Quality of Life = Success
But you don’t have to be a huge tech hub or energy capital to generate new jobs. The No. 2-ranked place in our big metro ranking, Nashville-Davidson-Murfreesboro-Franklin, Tenn., reflects the power of economic diversity coupled with ample cultural amenities, pro-business policies and a mild climate. Nashville’s 3.8% expansion in employment last year, and 7% growth since 2008, has been propelled by business services, education and health. There’s also been a recent recovery in manufacturing, up over 9% last year, as well as retail and wholesale trade. Like the Texas cities, Nashville has registered long-term growth as well, with 112,000 jobs added since 2001, a nice 16.6% increase.
Much the same can be said about Charlotte-Gastonia-Rock Hill, N.C., No. 8 on our big city list, whose job base grew 3.3% last year. Virtually every business sector has been on the rebound since 2009, including financial services, despite Bank of America’s continuing troubles. Overall the local economy has added 100,000 jobs since 2001, up almost 13%.
Steady, diverse growth can be seen in other low-cost and business-friendly towns such as our No. 11 big metro area, Raleigh Cary, N.C.; No. 13 Columbus, Ohio; and No. 15 Indianapolis. The shift towards stronger growth in areas away from the coasts has continued, at least in the more attractive metro areas.
Who Doesn’t Have It?
Of course, any list has its share of losers as well as winners. Sadly this includes long-suffering old industrial cities such as our last-placed big metro area, Newark-Union, N.J., which is followed, in order, by Saint Louis, MO-IL; Cleveland-Elyria- Mentor, Ohio; and Providence-Fall River-Warwick RI-MA. All but Providence, which stayed about even, slipped from last year’s rankings.
But not all factory towns are headed in the wrong direction. No. 51 Detroit-Livonia-Dearborn advanced an impressive 11 places from last year’s list. The key here has not been the much talked about attempt to turn downtown Detroit into a cool place, but the resurgence of the auto industry. Manufacturing employment, concentrated in the region’s suburbs, is up over 18% since 2009 after decades of tumultuous losses.
Also flailing a bit have been many of our largest, and most often celebrated, metros. Believe it or not, Detroit comes in one place ahead of Chicago-Joliet-Naperville ,Ill., which continues to promote itself as one of the nation’s great comeback stories, but in reality has continued to lose ground. You can tell the same tale about No. 46 Philadelphia, Pa., No. 41 Portland-Hillsboro-Vancouver OR-WA, and No. 37 Miami, which dropped a staggering 16 places despite the much celebrated recovery of its condo market. Selling to South America flight capital (legal or otherwise) and sun-deprived Europeans does not seem to be doing enough to revive the region’s overall economic vigor.
There are also some signs that the big beneficiaries of the Bernanke-Obama-Bush economic policy may be losing some momentum. New York City, the major winner from the “too big to fail” banking bailout, fell seven places from last year to No. 18. Even Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, D.C., the nation’s prime beneficiary of crony capitalism and fiscal bloat, has lost steam, falling 10 places to No. 26 -- a big decline from its No. 6 rankings in 2010 and 2011. We are usually loath to celebrate declines, but Washington’s loss, reflecting a slowdown in government growth, may be evidence that some equilibrium between the public and private sectors is slowly being restored.