Ten powerful major market economies in the South that don’t get enough national attention
In order for a major market (over 750,000 population) to maintain economic growth, its economy must be diverse and it must create a pro-business climate. For these southern cities, the future looks very bright.
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Louisiana’s state capital continues to outpace much larger markets with its growing, diverse economy. Recently, Baton Rouge was ranked as the number two major market of the year for corporate relocations.
Baton Rouge has become a magnet for software companies, as well as fabricated materials manufacturing and the chemical and new energy sector. That growth has led to the Baton Rouge Area Chamber being cited as one of the top ten economic development organizations nationwide for the fifth consecutive year – something only Houston and Chicago had accomplished previously.
All signs suggest that Baton Rouge will continue to be an economic force for years to come.
Birmingham is not only the economic engine of Alabama, it is rapidly becoming a financial hotbed for the whole country. Birmingham ranks as the ninth largest banking center in America, home to Regions Financial Corp. and the North American headquarters of BBVA Compass Bank.
But Birmingham’s economic strength comes from a variety of industries. The Birmingham region produces nearly $59 billion annually, and has become home to more than 700 technology-based companies. Nearly 520,000 workers are employed in the metro area, mostly in trade, transportation, utilities, manufacturing, professional and business services, and health care.
An extremely accessible community that also boasts not only a nationally-recognized university, but a highly-trained workforce, Birmingham’s cost of living makes it an extremely attractive option for relocations and new business starts.
Greenville/Anderson/Mauldin, South Carolina
Recently selected by Forbes as one of America’s Top Ten Engineering Capitals, the Greenville area is ahead of the curve when it comes to addressing an acute labor shortage in manufacturing technology. And education is at the forefront of that effort.
At A.J. Whittenberg Elementary, students perform most of their engineering-focused classwork on tablets. Fisher Middle School and NEXT High School round out a complete K-to-12 program available to nurture homegrown engineering talent for new and expanding companies in South Carolina’s Upstate region.
Clemson University and Greenville Technical College cooperated to break ground this January on the new Center for Manufacturing Innovation. This campus is designed to provide the skill sets necessary to develop the next generation of technology leaders. And, to top it all off, CBS News has named Greenville one of 2015’s Hottest New Vacation Destinations.
Hampton Roads, Virginia
In the past decade, 43 manufacturers have established operations in Hampton Roads, creating more than 2,800 new jobs and investing $900 million. The reason is simple – Hampton Roads is an immensely pro-business locale.
Hampton Roads benefits from having a renewable source of labor from its local military installations. More than 100,000 active duty military personnel serve in all branches of the U.S. armed forces there. That means 6,000 service members exiting the military annually who decide to remain in the area. It is a highly skilled workforce that grows each year.
The state-of-the-art Port of Virginia is the best natural deep water harbor on the East Coast. The port features 20 shipping lines offering weekly service to Europe and Asia, and is the third largest volume port on the East Coast. That accessibility extends domestically, as well, as Hampton Roads is within a day’s drive of 97 million customers.
Knoxville has become a destination for tech startups, as well as manufacturing companies. The result has been a substantially growing economy that continues to gain steam. During the 2013-14 fiscal year, the Knoxville area added nearly 3,300 new jobs and more than $515 million in capital expenditures.
Accessibility and low cost of doing business have long been the hallmarks of this area, but the area continues to grow because it has developed the kind of infrastructure, incentives and technological assets to attract and sustain corporate relationships.
The University of Tennessee is nationally acclaimed for its engineering, business and law schools. And one of the country’s five national labs is located in Oak Ridge. All of which make Knoxville an attractive option for a wide variety of companies.
Little Rock/North Little Rock/Conway, Arkansas
Little Rock may only be a city with a population just under 200,000, but Arkansas’ capital is at the crossroads of America. More than 40 percent of the nation’s population and buying power is within a 550-mile radius, and, as a result, more and more companies are seeing this as the perfect place to locate.
Low cost of living, coupled with competitive wages and a right-to-work environment have helped attract companies to Little Rock in recent years. Twenty-eight Fortune 500 companies are now operating within the area. It doesn’t hurt that Kiplinger’s named Little Rock the number one place to live among metro areas under 1 million people (2013).
Louisville has emerged as one of the nation’s centers for healthcare. Not only is Humana the largest employer in the area, but the city recently invested $88 million in a new rehabilitation center and health sciences research and commercialization park.
But Louisville’s economy is far from one-dimensional. It is home to a number of nationally-recognized brands, primarily in the restaurant and retail industries. Companies are attracted there for the area’s low cost of living and excellent infrastructure. In addition, Louisville is the seventh largest inland port in the U.S. No wonder the economy in Louisville is growing at a much faster rate than most of the country.
China’s Shandong Tranlin Paper Company announced last June that it would invest $2 billion in a paper and fertilizer plant in the Richmond area. It was the biggest announcement of a busy economic development year for Richmond – one that included Stone Brewing investing $70 million in a facility and Teleperformance bringing a 500-person customer service center there.
But it wasn’t really anything new to Richmond. This city has been building a climate that works for business for years. Home to a wide variety of companies, from biotech and energy companies to health care, banking and manufacturing, Richmond has become a very attractive option. The Wall Street Journal named it a Top Ten Metro Area for Business. Having four Fortune 500 companies make Richmond their home only strengthens the city’s economic climate, too.
Macy’s chose Tulsa for its 1.3 million-square-foot, $180 million fulfillment center. The facility is expected to employ more than 1,000 people. This announcement fits perfectly with the trend in Tulsa, where job creation numbers continue to go up annually. Primarily, Tulsa is known for its aerospace manufacturing and aviation presence, as well as health care, energy and manufacturing. The Macy’s announcement just increases the area’s visibility. As does the ongoing work to create a financial services hub for Verizon there. The hub will add up to 500 new jobs in Tulsa.
One of the major attractions of Tulsa is that the local cost of doing business is 15 percent below the U.S. average and cost of living is 12 percent below. Job growth continues to accelerate, buoyed by an increasing number of corporate investments.
Winston-Salem, North Carolina
Winston-Salem has substantially diversified its local economy in recent years, moving from primarily a manufacturing hub to include logistics and distribution, financial services and data centers, life sciences and green industries.
Biotech and life sciences are thriving in this area, thanks to a combination of proximity to a nationally-recognized medical school (Wake Forest University) and the regional office for the North Carolina Biotechnology Center. The Wake Forest Innovation Quarter is a 240-acre research park campus in the city that combines university-based medical research and private enterprise.
Winston-Salem is at the center of the Piedmont Triad Region, home to more than 1.6 million people, and a growing number of nationally-known brands including Hanesbrands Inc., GMAC Insurance, Pepsi Bottling Ventures, AT&T and Wachovia/Wells Fargo.