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Comeback Cities for 2011

Jerry Idaszak, Neema P. Roshania and Laura Kennedy

Hundreds of cities across the country were hammered by the recession, many experiencing double-digit declines in employment, throwing thousands of their residents out of work.

For some particularly hard-hit metro areas, 2011 will bring a dramatic turnaround -- new investment by businesses, growth in the number of jobs and a re-blooming of hope.

Recovering all the ground they lost will take years and many of the cities are still suffering with unemployment that exceeds the national average. But these cities are enjoying a surprising and welcome upward bounce.

©Courtesy VW of America

Chattanooga, Tenn.

Population: 514,718
Current unemployment rate: 9.1%
Forecast job growth for 2011: 3.4%

The renaissance of car-making in the U.S. will also brighten the picture on Tennessee's eastern half. Employment in Chattanooga fell by just over 10% from its peak in 2008. But it will bounce up strongly this year. A large new Volkswagen assembly plant will employ up to 3,000, with auto parts and components makers also opening shop. Plus Amazon.com is considering Chattanooga for the location of two large warehouses that would employ a few thousand.

Data for Chattanooga metropolitan area.

©Courtesy Nissan USA

Nashville, Tenn.

Population: 1,520,649
Current unemployment rate: 8.8%
Forecast job growth for 2011: 2.8%

Home to music stars and professional athletes, the Nashville metro area will see the accounting and financial services industries add jobs this year, as well as an increase in employment at the U.S. corporate headquarters of Japanese car-maker Nissan. After plunging 7.3% during the recession, employment will climb this year by nearly 3%.

Data for Nashville-Davidson-Murfreesboro-Franklin metropolitan area

Orlando, Fla.

Population: 2,023,605

Current unemployment rate: 11.7%

Forecast job growth for 2011: 2.9%

Hard-hit during the recession, tourism is improving in central Florida, with more jobs at hotels and restaurants. Health care is growing, too. And a plan is under way to create a life science cluster of medical care and research, focusing on the needs of children and on veterans. After declining by almost 10% in the recession, employment in this tourist mecca will increase by 3% this year.

Data for Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford metropolitan area

Jacksonville, Fla.

Population: 1,294,684
Current unemployment rate: 11.5%
Forecast job growth for 2011: 2.8%

About 8.5% of this city's jobs disappeared during the Great Recession, but financial services firms, especially large banks, are hiring again. Other industries adding workers: hotels, health care, restaurants and warehousing.

Data for Jacksonville metropolitan area

©Courtesy Siemens USA

Charlotte, N.C.

Population: 1,641,257
Current unemployment rate: 11.1%
Forecast job growth for 2011: 2.8%

Growth in the energy and power industries will give this city a lift in 2011. A power turbine factory being built by Siemens will account for about 1,800 new area jobs. An additional 3,000 or so will come from other energy endeavors plus financial services and even construction -- more apartments are being built.

After declining by more than 8% from its 2008 high point, employment in the Charlotte metropolitan area will grow almost 3% this year.

Data for Charlotte-Gastonia-Rock Hill metropolitan area

Flint, Mich.

Population: 1,641,257

Current unemployment rate: 12.5%

Forecast job growth for 2011: 2.6%

The health care and life sciences industries are giving long-suffering Flint a shot in the arm. Diplomat Specialty Pharmacy relocated its headquarters from the suburbs to the city, using a former auto assembly site for its offices, while both the city's public hospital, Hurley Medical Center, and McLaren Regional Medical Center are bulking up.

Meanwhile, Flint's traditional employer, the auto industry, is no longer at idle. General Motors -- the community's single largest employer -- plans to start a third shift at its assembly plant in Flint for a net increase of 750 jobs, phased in over the summer. Flint's employment fell nearly 12% during the downturn, and is forecast to rise about 2.6% this year.

Data for Flint metropolitan area

See All 11 Comeback Cities for 2011


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