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 Fall 2015


Ten smoking-hot small market economies in the South

This winter hasn’t cooled the economic growth happening throughout the South. Nowhere is this truer than in these ten smaller cities (under 250,000 in population), where new industry and technology have created “smoking-hot” economies.

Abilene, Texas
One of the truly great attractions of this city is its proximity to the world’s largest wind farm, the Horse Hollow Wind Energy Center. The farm continues to draw businesses looking to go green or develop new ways to connect with the emerging economy around being ecologically responsible.

For a town whose economy was originally based on livestock and agriculture, Abilene has developed into a diverse and thriving location. Dyess Air Force Base is the community’s largest employer, in addition to providing economic stability to the city’s growing number of small local businesses.

Abilene has attracted several recent business relocations. CarbonLite Recycling has agreed to invest $35 million in a manufacturing facility that will recycle about 100 million pounds of beverage bottles annually.

Abilene is about the green economy, and all signs point to more opportunity rising from it in the years ahead.

Auburn-Opelika, Alabama
Opelika, Ala., is home to medical products company Baxter, which, in late 2014, announced plans to expand its state-of-the-art manufacturing facility by more than 230,000 square feet and to hire an additional 200 workers.Opelika is positioned to attract the most data-hungry companies in the world. It is the only municipality in the state of Alabama to own and operate a 100 percent fiber-optic network. That network is capable of delivering up to one gigabit of data to businesses and homes in the area.

That technological power has made business stand up and take notice. Since 2005, the area has announced more than $950 million in capital investment, which has resulted in nearly 2,500 new jobs. Opelika has become a hub for auto suppliers with a diverse local economy.

It helps, too, that the city is located within an hour’s drive of Atlanta, home to one of the busiest airports in the world, and less than 15 minutes from Auburn University, with its 26,000 students. Opelika is a city that is positioned for impact now and into the future.

Charlottesville, Virginia
CFA Institute, a leading association of investment professionals, chose downtown Charlottesville, Va., for its global operations center.More than just a university town, Charlottesville has become home to four Fortune 1,000 firms, as well as a diverse local economy built on life science, technology, education and financial services. As the city’s population has expanded in recent years, more than $500 million in capital investment has poured into the residential and commercial sectors in the past three years.

As might be expected, Charlottesville offers all the advantages of a large university town. Not only are there plenty of cultural and economic amenities that go with having a major academic institution (University of Virginia), there is the accessibility of research facilities and educational opportunities. Charlottesville offers a topnotch workforce, because it has a diverse economic base and an award-winning university. All of which suggest the area’s recent economic successes will only continue.

Columbus/Starkville/West Point, Mississippi
Known as the “Golden Triangle,” Clay, Lowndes and Oktibbeha Counties in Mississippi have been on a major growth curve economically in recent years. As a matter of fact, the region has won $4.7 billion in investment and 5,700 jobs in the last decade.

The newest breakthrough is the Yokohama Tire facility being opened in West Point later this year. The project involves a $300 million initial investment by the company in a 931,000-square-foot facility. It will add about 500 jobs during the first phase, and the facility is expected to produce up to 1 million tires annually. . .part of a growing trend that should only continue in the area.

Thanks to a $20 million technology initiative undertaken by the Golden Triangle Development LINK, this region seems primed to provide the kind of infrastructure that will receive even more interest from businesses looking to expand or relocate.

Fort Walton Beach/Crestview/Destin, Florida
Okaloosa County, Fla., attracts millions of visitors annually to its renowned beaches. While this obviously brings a great deal of money into the local economy, the area is attracting significant other business in recent years.

The world’s largest Air Force base, Eglin, is located in the area, bringing not only large numbers of military personnel, but also numerous technology and defense contractors. This includes large investment from major players in the industry, including Boeing, BAE Systems, Lockheed Martin and L3 Communications.

Even beyond the gorgeous beaches, the area attracts economic investment with a pro-business local government, excellent local schools, and a steady stream of young, technically astute military retirees.

More than just a recreational playground, this area is a business magnet.

Houma/Bayou Cane/Thibodaux, Louisiana
With more than 108,000 people living in the area, the Parish of Terrebonne, La., has consistently boasted one of the lowest unemployment rates in the state. The local economy is diverse, ranging from oil service to seafood to automotive industry to tech.

Located at the intersection of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway and the Houma Navigation Canal, the area is easily accessible not only from most of the U.S., but also Central and South American markets.

Recently, a boom in the oil industry has fueled local economic growth. Business is so good that the area is ranked as the sixth fastest growing wage area in the country. The increase in drilling activity in the Gulf of Mexico and the growth in demand for shipyard workers have further enhanced the area’s many exciting growth trends.

Joplin, Missouri
Joplin, Mo., is centrally located near U.S. 69, I-49 and I-44, and near the population center of the United States. It is an area rich with a productive workforce, reasonable operating costs and an exceedingly high quality of life.

Missouri added more than 44,000 new jobs in 2014. In January 2015, Governor Nixon announced Cook Portable Warehouses was building a new manufacturing facility in Joplin, with a capital investment of more than $2 million. The facility will create 80 new jobs this year.

It is a clear signal that the area’s investment in training its young workforce will continue to pay off.

Longview, Texas
Indevco Plastics announced in January that it is launching its first petrochemical packaging manufacturing facility in Longview, Texas. The multinational industrial company is the latest in a growing list of manufacturers making Longview home. In December 2014, Tractor Supply Company announced it is building a $5 million facility in the area that will bring 15 to 25 new jobs with it.

Longview offers low transportation costs because of its accessibility. It is home to a diverse local economy in the medical, transportation and retail industries. Drawing a 330,000-person workforce from a 12-county region, Longview has a highly skilled workforce and takes advantage of Texas’ status as a Right to Work state.

Morgantown, West Virginia
Morgantown, W.Va., is consistently ranked as one of the best small metropolitan areas in the country for lifestyle and business climate. As a college town, Morgantown offers a rapidly growing technology presence. Recently, Forbes named the city one of the “Best Small Metros for Business and Careers.”

With an enrollment of more than 30,000 students, the presence of West Virginia University is clearly felt in the area. Development of the WVU Research Park has further enhanced Morgantown’s status as a growing hub of technology and business.

Much of the area’s recent growth has been in the healthcare, professional and business services areas. With the area’s quality of life and low cost for doing business, along with the deep economic investment made in the university in recent years, it is likely that these won’t be the only industry sectors growing in Morgantown in the years ahead.

San Angelo, Texas
With a cost of living 12 percent below the national average, San Angelo is an attractive option. It is home to Goodfellow Air Force Base, which continues to attract defense and telecommunications companies to the area.

In 2010, Kiplinger’s named San Angelo one of the “Best Cities of the Next Decade” for its diverse economy, skilled workforce (and connection to Angelo State University locally). Oil and agricultural research also remain significant industrial sectors.

Forbes also named San Antonio the fourth best small city in the country for jobs. Looks like this Texas town will continue to attract attention.

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