Ten sizzling mid-market economies in the South
Throughout the South there are communities on the move. . .cities where economic growth and development are outpacing the rest of the country. And this trend isn’t happening just in the bigger cities. For some of the South’s midsize communities (250,000 to 750,000 in population), the local economy is positively on fire.
Nicknamed “Rotor City, USA” for its V-22 Osprey hybrid aircraft assembly plant, Amarillo is home to a diverse set of companies spread throughout the food, healthcare, tech and defense industries.
In December 2014, the Amarillo Economic Development Corporation voted to approve a grant of up to $3 million for Bell Helicopter to expand operations in the area. It was the latest in a series of moves that has created a steadily growing economic climate in the community. The result has been continued increase in property values and in retail sales. Increases in oil drilling in the Panhandle region have also resulted in driving economic growth locally.
Asheville, North Carolina
Asheville has long been known as a destination for outdoor recreation and the arts. Tourists flock to the Biltmore Estate and wind down the Blue Ridge Parkway. In recent years, Asheville has also become known as “Beer City USA,” for the 19 breweries now located there. But more than culture and entertainment have attracted new business there.
With major company announcements from GE Aviation ($126 million) Linamar ($315 million) and New Belgium ($175 million) in the past five years, the area is literally booming. Companies are locating to Asheville because of the skilled and trained workforce (especially in advanced manufacturing) and the pro-business climate.
When you think of the tech industry, you may not immediately associate it with Augusta. But this Georgia town is rapidly becoming a hub for tech, thanks to the U.S. Army’s Cyber Center of Excellence, which has been moved to Augusta’s Fort Gordon.
The Center is the hub for all military cybersecurity strategies, and is expected to create more than 5,000 jobs in the Augusta area. It also means a number of other associated companies are locating there, too – Sabre Systems, General Dynamics, MacAulay-Brown and Chiron Technology have all moved operations to the Augusta area. And Unisys has created 700 new jobs downtown.
The growth is not just confined to the tech industry, either, as recent expansions at DSM, Elanco, Kellogg and Solvay have created a rich and diverse local economy.
Over 1,400 consumer brands have located offices in Northwest Arkansas, a hotbed of talent and reasonable cost of living. As a matter of fact, three Fortune 500 companies (Wal-Mart, Tyson Foods and J.B. Hunt) have their headquarters there.
Because of the area’s rapid economic growth, it is on the verge of becoming one of America’s 100 largest metropolitan statistical areas (MSA). That growth has led to development of a rich network of amenities, including a billion-dollar mixed-use facility, a minor league baseball stadium, 7,000-seat entertainment venue, regional greenway/trail system and the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.
Companies love the area’s central location, transportation accessibility and rich quality of life.
With more than a dozen years of economic prosperity, Lafayette is a model for economic stability. Its strategic location, world-class workforce, pro-business climate and amazing quality of life make it a hard-to-beat location. That’s why few were surprised last year when technology companies CGI, Perficient and Enquero created 1,000 new jobs locally. With that announcement, the tech industry has become the fourth pillar in a solidly diverse local economy.
A cooperative local environment between business, education, government and community leaders has created a significantly pro-business climate in Lafayette. The result is that the development of the tech industry just adds to the substantial presence of the healthcare, energy and entertainment sectors.
Lake Charles, Louisiana
Lake Charles is literally going “boom.” Recently, they secured $73 billion in industrial projects. South African chemical company Sasol Ltd., alone, has invested between $16 billion and $21 billion to develop a facility there. As a result, residents are bracing for more construction, a large influx of new residents, and more economic success than they have ever seen. Thousands of workers will be required to pull it all off.
Primarily driven by the chemical and petrochemical industry, the boom is absolutely unprecedented for this area. Local leaders are currently constructing plans to house the new workers expected to flow into the area over the next few years. . . a problem a lot of cities would like to have.
Laredo has the distinction of being the only U.S./Mexico border city positioned at the convergence of all land transportation systems. It is where water, rail and highway meet, making Laredo a strategic hub for transport and commerce. In the past few years, cross-border production sharing and increased trade between our two nations have opened the door for Laredo to substantial economic growth.
Laredo is the number one inland port on the U.S./Mexico border, as well as the number one railroad interchange point. As a result, 40 percent of all U.S./Mexico trade crosses through the Port of Laredo, including more than 10,000 daily commercial truck crossings. As a result, Laredo consistently has the lowest unemployment rate of any city along the border.
With Mexico’s recent significant economic reforms, it looks certain that Laredo will remain the primary choice for companies looking to connect across the border.
Lexington is home to quite a bit more than bourbon, bluegrass and horses. Thanks to its local connections to the University of Kentucky, it has become a growing center for research, technology, renewable energy and digital media. The fact that 40 percent of local residents 25 and older have obtained college degrees only strengthens the notion that this is a highly qualified workforce.
This year will continue the trend of economic expansion locally. The university continues a long-term plan for enrollment and capital investment, Toyota continues to increase its presence there, and Lockheed Martin is expected to benefit from continued defense spending at the federal level.
“For small startups I found Lexington an even better place to be than Stanford,” said Bruce O’Hara, director of research operations at Gismo Therapeutics Inc., a biotech startup developing oral therapeutics for the treatment of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
Lubbock is the 11th largest city in Texas, making it large enough to offer the amenities of a larger city and small enough for business to gain easy access to community leaders and personalized service. Home to Texas Tech University, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, Lubbock Christian University and Lubbock County Community College, it is a community with more than 52,000 college students.
On that point, Texas Tech benefits Lubbock additionally by being the only college in the country with a comprehensive university, a health sciences center, an agriculture college and a law school in one location. It is the second largest contiguous university campus in the U.S. For the local economy, this is not only a boost for retail and service companies, but also provides a large, highly trained workforce for the research, tech and associated industries.
Lubbock has become an ideal place to start and grow a business, thus earning the nickname, “Hub City of West Texas.”
Recently, Springfield was recognized as the No. 4 “recovery leader in the United States,” because of surges in job creation and pay in one year. This came on the heels of the city’s unemployment rate dropping consistently in 2014. . .falling significantly below national averages with nearly 4,000 new jobs being created. All of which prompted NewGeography.com to tab Springfield as the 15th Best City for Job Growth.
A significant number of manufacturing expansion projects have been driving growth there, led by a strong stainless steel industry and a niche in remanufacturing. But, Springfield is also home to a diverse economy – it is home to two nationally recognized retail chains, Bass Pro Shops and O’Reilly.
Springfield is the third largest metro area in Missouri, with an economic impact that touches ten counties. And that impact is growing.