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America’s Fastest Growing (and Shrinking) Economies

It's been a slow recovery, but according to a recent report, U.S. economic growth is expected to pick up in the coming years. The nation’s economy grew by 1.9% in 2013. This year, the economy is projected to grow by 2.7%, and in 2015, it is forecast to grow by another 3.2%.

As nationwide growth accelerates, more and more local economies are expected to grow as well. While as many as 97 local economies shrank last year, the gross metro product (GMP) of only seven metro areas is expected to decline this year. In the case of Shreveport-Bossier City, Louisiana, the economy shrank more than 5%. On the other side of the spectrum, the economy of Midland, Texas, grew by 7.5%, the most in the nation. Based on data published by the U.S. Conference of Mayors and produced by IHS Global Insight, these are the nation’s fastest growing and fastest shrinking economies.

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Many of the nation’s economies that contracted the most do not share much in common. These cities are geographically diverse, located from the Northeast to the Gulf Coast and the Midwest. They also have very different economies. Charlottesville, Virginia, and Binghamton, New York, are home to large universities, while in Decatur, Illinois, the largest employers are in the manufacturing sector.

While not all the metro areas with the fastest growing GMPs in 2013 share the same traits, many are benefitting from the U.S. energy boom. Midland and Odessa, Texas, benefit directly from energy production in their areas, while Fargo, North Dakota and Pascagoula, Mississippi are hubs of oilfield and shipping, respectively.

An important factor that can boost a local economy is trade, either with other parts of the U.S. or with other countries, Alec Friedhoff, senior research analyst at the Brookings Institution, told 24/7 Wall St. “Most of these places all have similar levels of locally-serving jobs -- doctors, dentists, barbers, that kind of thing -- but the question is how are these places bringing in [outside] income,” Friedhoff said. Midland and Odessa, the nation’s two fastest growing economies last year, both produce oil, which is always in high demand, while shipbuilding is a major contributor to the Pascagoula economy.

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Local economies often rely on one production or trade sector. As long as the sector is booming, it can be a source of economic and job growth, but there can be a downside to this reliance. Local economies often follow the cycles of large companies manufacturing products for the global markets in their backyards, according to Friedhoff. “If you’re a small metro area depending on a vulnerable export sector, once that industry goes, you’re in big trouble,” Friedhoff said. In one prominent example of this, Caterpillar cut hundreds of jobs in Decatur last year in response to a global slowdown in the mining industry. Decatur’s economy shrank by nearly 5% last year, and no metro area had a larger proportional job loss.

In Metro areas where economic growth is strong, jobs frequently follow. Many of the nation’s fastest growing metro areas also had rapid job growth. Both Bismarck, North Dakota, and Midland were among the top 10 cities in each measure. Just one top rated metro area, Trenton-Ewing, New Jersey, had slower job growth than the U.S. overall. Unemployment was also typically low in many of the fastest growing areas, with all but one having lower unemployment rates than the U.S. November rate of 7%. Also, the four metro areas with the lowest unemployment rates that month were among the 10 fastest growing economies in the nation.

For slumping economies,however, the story was often quite different. Some of the metro areas with the largest GMP drops had extremely high unemployment rates. Among these was Yuma, Arizona, where an eye-popping 30.6% of the labor force was unemployed. Yet, both Lafayette, Louisiana, and Charlottesville, Virginia, had two of the lowest unemployment rates in the U.S. as of November despite their economies contracting last year.

Based on the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ most recent economic report, produced in conjunction with forecasting company IHS Global Insight (IHS), 24/7 Wall St. identified the metropolitan statistical areas with the largest growth and contraction in real gross metropolitan product during 2013. Figures for 2013 GMP growth are estimates. Employment changes for 2013, as well as forecasts for 2014, are also from the report. Unemployment rates are from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), are seasonally adjusted and reflect figures from October. We also utilized employment data from the BLS, as well as economic statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2012 American Community Survey.

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These are America’s fastest growing (and shrinking) economies.

Fastest Growing Economies

10. Trenton-Ewing, NJ
> 2013 GMP change: 4.2%
> 2013 change in employment: 2.0% (tied-65th best)
> Projected 2014 GMP change: 1.5% (69th worst)
> Unemployment rate: 6.4% (143rd lowest)

The Trenton area’s economy grew at an increasingly fast pace in each of the last three years. The area's GMP growth rate rose from 2.2% in 2011 to 4.2% last year. Employment rose by 2% last year, slightly higher than the national growth rate. However, the area’s economic news has not been all positive. The area's GMP growth rate is expected to decrease to 1.5% in 2014, less than the IHS projected U.S. growth rate of 2.7% in 2014. Super Bowl XLVIII, being held at East Rutherford, New Jersey, is expected to benefit many parts of northern New Jersey, as well as New York City. Trenton, however, may not profit as much as other towns despite its relative proximity.

9. Columbus, IN
> 2013 GMP change: 4.3%
> 2013 change in employment: 3.5% (13th best)
> Projected 2014 GMP change: 3.8% (14th best)
> Unemployment rate: 5.5% (72nd lowest)

Columbus’ economy has had exceptionally strong growth in the last few years. The area’s economy grew by nearly 10% in 2012, the fifth fastest rate in the U.S. And although the area's economic growth rate of 4.3% was slower last year, it was still among the fastest rates in the nation. The area is highly dependent on manufacturing, and according to a 2012 report from Economic Modeling Specialists Intl., it highly "exemplifies the intriguing potential, and inherent risks, that come with relying on the manufacturing sector.” Engine and motor vehicle parts makers are a huge part of the area’s economy, where manufacturing jobs accounted for nearly 20,000 of the 53,000 total jobs as of November.

8. Cheyenne, WY
> 2013 GMP change: 4.4%
> 2013 change in employment: 3.6% (10th best)
> Projected 2014 GMP change: 1.1% (34th worst)
> Unemployment rate: 4.6% (32nd lowest)

Cheyenne is Wyoming’s capital and its most populous city. While the city's economy grew by a fast 4.4% clip last year, its expansion hasn't been consistent in the last few years. Cheyenne's economy actually contracted by 1.2% in 2011, even as the GMP of more than 260 of the nation’s 363 metro areas grew that year. Last year's high growth rate isn’t expected to continue this year. IHS Global Insight estimated that the area's output will increase by just 1.1% in 2014, lower than the 2% growth rate estimated for the vast majority of metro areas.

7. St. Joseph, MO-KS
> 2013 GMP change: 4.5%
> 2013 change in employment: 1.8% (92nd best)
> Projected 2014 GMP change: 2.3% (tied-144th best)
> Unemployment rate: 5.2% (61st lowest)

The St. Joseph metro area’s economy grew by almost 10% in 2012. And while the area failed to grow at the same pace last year, the unemployment rate in the area, as of November, was just 5.2%, well below the national rate. The area is a major center for agricultural sciences and animal health businesses. According to IHS estimates, construction activity in area is expected to increase substantially in the next few years, while wages are expected to rise steadily as well.

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6. Bismarck, ND
> 2013 GMP change: 4.9%
> 2013 change in employment: 3.0% (25th best)
> Projected 2014 GMP change: 3.5% (27th best)
> Unemployment rate: 2.4% (the lowest)

North Dakota has been going through one of the largest economic booms of any state in the last few years due to increased activity in the Bakken formation. Bismarck has reaped the benefits of this boom. The metro area’s GMP grew by 8.5% in 2012, the seventh largest growth rate of any metropolitan area that year. As of November, no metropolitan area had a lower unemployment rate than Bismarck, where just 2.4% of the labor force was without a job. According to The Bismarck Tribune, the pace of the oil boom in the region has slowed but is still expanding rapidly. IHS estimates Bismarck's GMP will increase by 3.5% this year, still one of the largest increases of any metro area.

5. Fargo, ND-MN
> 2013 GMP change: 5.0%
> 2013 change in employment: 3.2% (20th best)
> Projected 2014 GMP change: 3.2% (44th best)
> Unemployment rate: 3.0% (2nd lowest)

Although on the other side of North Dakota from the Bakken formation, Fargo has also benefited from the state’s oil boom. In each of the past two years, the Fargo metro area’s economy has grown by at least 5%. Employment growth has been solid as well, at around 3% per year in the last two years, while the unemployment rate in the area is projected to be just 3% in 2014. Casselton, a small town outside Fargo, has become a major hub for oil transportation, which has shifted to trains because the U.S. lacks pipelines to move oil from North Dakota. However, a recent 400,000 gallon oil spill in the town has prompted safety concerns.

4. Sioux Falls, SD
> 2013 GMP change: 5.2%
> 2013 change in employment: 2.0% (tied-65th best)
> Projected 2014 GMP change: 2.9% (70th best)
> Unemployment rate: 3.1% (tied-3rd lowest)

While South Dakota has not benefited from the oil boom as North Dakota has, parts of the state still recorded robust growth last year. The economy of Sioux Falls, the state's largest city by population, grew by 5.2% last year, and it is projected to grow another 2.9% this year. One of Sioux Falls’ strengths has been its financial sector. Citibank has a substantial presence there, as do several other banks. As of November, 11% of the metro area’s jobs were in the finance sector. The city’s population has been growing, and Sioux Falls set a city record for construction in 2013 at $588.2 million worth of building permits issued.

3. Pascagoula, MS
> 2013 GMP change: 6.2%
> 2013 change in employment: 3.1% (23rd best)
> Projected 2014 GMP change: 2.3% (tied-144th best)
> Unemployment rate: 9.0% (54th highest)

Shipbuilding is a major industry in South Mississippi and the Pascagoula area. Located in Pascagoula, Ingalls Shipbuilding claims to be the state's largest manufacturing employer, with 11,000 workers. The U.S. energy boom has benefitted Pascagoula as well. Shipments of liquefied natural gas through the Port of Pascagoula have been rising, although exports are still approved by the U.S. government on a case-by-case basis. Although the area’s economy grew by an impressive 6.2% last year, growth has been volatile in recent years. Pascagoula’s economy shrank by 5.6% in 2011. Additionally, the unemployment rate remained fairly high, at 9% as of November.

2. Odessa, TX
> 2013 GMP change: 6.7%
> 2013 change in employment: 5.2% (2nd best)
> Projected 2014 GMP change: 3.1% (50th best)
> Unemployment rate: 3.7% (11th lowest)

Similar to North Dakota, the energy sector contributed to rapid economic growth in parts of Texas, in large part due to the development of hydrofracking technology. Odessa has been at the heart of the West Texas oil boom, with 2012 drilling activity surpassing early 1980s levels -- when the area last experienced a major boom -- according to the Dallas Morning News. Employment in the region grew by more than 5% in 2013 alone. In the past 10 years, employment in the mining, logging, and construction sector has roughly tripled.

1. Midland, TX
> 2013 GMP change: 7.5%
> 2013 change in employment: 6.3% (the best)
> Projected 2014 GMP change: 3.9% (10th best)
> Unemployment rate: 3.1% (tied-3rd lowest)

While they are technically in separate metropolitan statistical areas, Midland and Odessa are less than 25 miles apart. Midland, like Odessa, has reaped the benefits of the West Texas oil boom. According to the Dallas Morning News, the city’s population has expanded so rapidly that there is a severe housing shortage. If the IHS estimate for 2014 is correct, the Midland area will have among the top 10 GMP growth rates four years straight. Midland was also the fastest growing in the past two years. Its GMP grew by 14.4% in 2012 and by 7.5% in 2013. Between November 2009 and November 2013, the number of nonfarm jobs in the metro area increased by 35%, versus just 5.5% for the U.S. overall.

Fastest Shrinking Economies

9. Charlottesville, VA
> 2013 GMP change: -2.2% (tied-7th worst)
> Change in employment: -1.9% (tied-5th worst)
> Projected 2014 GMP change: 2.3% (tied-144th best)
> Unemployment rate: 4.6% (32nd lowest)

Charlottesville’s economy contracted by 2.2% in 2013 after failing to grow in 2012. This year, however, may be relatively strong for the area. Employment is projected to rise by 1.4%, while GMP is expected to grow by 2.3%. While these figures aren't strong relative to the U.S. overall, they are a step in the right direction. Despite the two consecutive years of a shrinking economy, the area's unemployment rate of 4.6% is considerably lower than many other metro areas. Charlottesville is home to the University of Virginia, a major employer in the area.

8. Pocatello, ID
> 2013 GMP change: -2.2% (tied-7th worst)
> 2013 change in employment: -0.3% (43rd worst)
> Projected 2014 GMP change: 1.5% (69th worst)
> Unemployment rate: 6.4% (143rd lowest)

Pocatello’s economy shrank for the second consecutive year, with GMP contracting 2.2% in 2013 after dropping 1.7% in 2012. Additionally, the area shed jobs last year even as the U.S. continued to add jobs. Pocatello has lately had to deal with the bankruptcy of solar panel component maker, Hoku Corporation. The city attracted Hoku with nearly-free land leases that ended up costing taxpayers considerable sums of money. While job growth and output are projected to pick up in 2014, the area is expected to continue to lag behind the rest of the U.S.

7. Salisbury, MD
> 2013 GMP change: -2.2% (tied-7th worst)
> 2013 change in employment: -1.9% (tied-5th worst)
> Projected 2014 GMP change: -3.8% (2nd worst)
> Unemployment rate: 8.6% (66th lowest)

While nearly every metro area is projected to grow in 2014, Salisbury’s economy is expected to shrink by 3.8% this year, more than any other metro area except for Cumberland, Maryland. The area's employment level, which already declined by 1.9% last year, is expected to shrink more than any other metro area this year as well. When Superstorm Sandy hit the East Coast in 2012, the city of Salisbury declared a state of civil emergency. According to Moody’s, the area's businesses and inhabitants have been spending and investing less than in previous years due to the storm and the delayed federal disaster aid.

6. Binghamton, NY
> 2013 GMP change: -2.3%
> 2013 change in employment: -0.4% (38th worst)
> Projected 2014 GMP change: 0.0% (tied--4th worst)
> Unemployment rate: 7.7% (111th highest)

Binghamton has suffered from a large, decades-long population decline, as well as from the loss of manufacturing jobs and shrinking headcount at large industrial employers. In 2011, the city has had to contend with a major flood that damaged thousands of buildings and caused roughly $1 billion in damages to the metro area’s two counties. The area’s economy has contracted in each of the last three years, and GMP is not predicted to rise in 2014. As of 2012, Binghamton University -- one of the State University of New York’s four university centers -- is a major employer and contributor to the area’s economic output.

5. Steubenville-Weirton, OH-WV
> 2013 GMP change: -2.6%
> 2013 change in employment: -2.6% (2nd worst)
> Projected 2014 GMP change: 2.2% (161st best)
> Unemployment rate: 9.3% (40th highest)

After moderate growth in 2011 and 2012, Steubenville’s economy shrank by 2.6% last year. With falling employment in 2013, and decades-long population decline, the Steubenville region has been struggling for some time. The typical home in the Steubenville metro area was worth $83,400 in 2012, less than half the national median home value that year. A recent plan to build a pipeline in the area, however, could provide a much needed boost to the economy.

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4. Lafayette, LA
> 2013 GMP change: -3.2% (tied-3rd worst)
> 2013 change in employment: 2.0% (tied-65th best)
> Projected 2014 GMP change: 2.1% (156th worst)
> Unemployment rate: 4.8% (38th lowest)

Employment in Lafayette rose by 2% last year, better than the national employment growth rate that year. Similarly, Lafayette's most recent unemployment rate was 4.8%, among the lowest in all metro areas measured. Like many Louisiana regions, Lafayette’s economy has been stimulated in the past by the oil and gas industry. In 2012, oil and gas companies Schlumberger and Wood Group Production Services were among the region's top-employers. Lafayette is also home to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. According to a 2012 study by the U.S. Conference of Mayors and IHS, Lafayette’s GMP was expected to grow by 7.5% that year. However, the groups’ most recent report indicates the area’s economy shrank by more than 8% in 2012, and then by 3.2% in 2013.

3. Yuma, AZ
> 2013 GMP change: -3.2% (tied-3rd worst)
> 2013 change in employment: -1.9% (tied-5th worst)
> Projected 2014 GMP change: 1.3% (48th worst)
> Unemployment rate: 30.6% (the highest)

The unemployment rate in Yuma as of November was the worst in the nation at more than 30%. Much of the local economy is dependent on the strong military presence in Yuma. One explanation for the continuing decline could be federal budget cuts affecting government jobs in the area. The area’s economy has also relied heavily on seasonal industries, such as agriculture and tourism. As a result, it may be difficult to accurately capture the state of the region’s economy. However, other factors point to a struggling economy in the Yuma metro area. More than one in five houses, for example, were vacant in 2012, compared with just more than 12% nationwide.

2. Decatur, IL
> 2013 GMP change: -4.8%
> 2013 change in employment: -4.2% (the worst)
> Projected 2014 GMP change: 0.8% (17th worst)
> Unemployment rate: 12.7% (7th highest)

The Decatur area’s GMP fell by nearly 5% in 2013 and employment dropped by a nation-leading 4.2% last year. As a result, the area's unemployment rate rose from 10.1% in November of 2012 to 12.7% in November of 2013. Contributing to this was the decline in the number of manufacturing jobs in the area, which fell by more than 15% in the 12 months through November 2013. As the global mining boom slowed in 2013, Caterpillar cut hundreds of jobs in Decatur, and recently Archer Daniels Midland announced plans to move its headquarters, along with 100 jobs, upstate to Chicago.

1. Shreveport-Bossier City, LA
> 2013 GMP change: -5.2%
> 2013 change in employment: -1.3% (10th worst)
> Projected 2014 GMP change: 1.6% (82nd worst)
> Unemployment rate: 6.9% (180th highest)

For the second consecutive year, the Shreveport area shrank more than any other metro area in the nation. The area's GMP fell by 11% in 2012. The economy’s rate of decline slowed somewhat last year, but it still contracted by more than 5%. One explanation for the dramatic declines could be General Motors’ decision to close its large assembly plant in Shreveport in 2012. The plant, which manufactured Hummers and various truck models prior to the shutdown, employed 3,000 people at one time.

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