Struggling Economy No Problem for 10 Strong U.S. Cities

The national unemployment average rose to 9% in the second week of May as many cities continue to struggle out of the recession. More than 100 metro areas …

The national unemployment average rose to 9% in the second week of May as many cities continue to struggle out of the recession. More than 100 metro areas are burdened with even higher rates, some as high as 25%; however, 10 U.S. cities are prospering, and seemed to have skirted the negative effects of the recession. These modern-day boomtowns include Austin (Texas), Augusta (Georgia), Madison (Wisconsin) and Washington, D.C. For more on this continue reading the following article from The Street.

The U.S. unemployment rate crept back up to 9% last week, but some cities are feeling the pain far worse than others.
Roughly 112 metro areas in the U.S. are still dealing with 10% unemployment or greater. That’s down from 166 at the same time last year, but tell that to folks in El Centro, Calif., where nearly one in every four people is unemployed. The Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario area in California is still dealing with nearly 14% unemployment, while the 13.3% unemployment in Las Vegas is not only driving up foreclosures, but driving down traffic to its McCarran airport. Passenger numbers fell off 2.6% last year.

On the other side of the recovery, more than 210 cities are below the average U.S. rate and 65 areas dipped below 7%. If you’ve got a sweet gig at the University of Nebraska or have a steady buyer for your grain or corn-based ethanol, count yourself among the lucky residents of Lincoln, Neb., who aren’t part of the city’s absurdly low 4.1% unemployment rate. That’s still up from 3% just two years ago, however, and is only a hair better than the 4.2% rate in Bismarck, N.D.

It takes more than just a low unemployment rate in a small town to show the world you’ve weathered years of recession-fueled financial woes. With help from the Census Department, the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Bureau of Economic Analysis, TheStreet found 10 U.S. cities that not only withstood the economic downturn, but seemingly ignored it:
Austin, Texas

Reported GDP in 2009: $73 billion
Reported GDP today: $78.4 billion
Unemployment: 6.8%
Population change 2000-10: 20.4%

The locals want to keep Austin weird, and having a glut of jobs and a growing city definitely qualifies as weird during a period of financial turmoil. Heavy hitters such as Dell(DELL), the University of Texas, Whole Foods(WFMI) and Forestar Group(FOR) have helped by doling out jobs, and newcomers such as Samsung have added to the city’s work force. But a town that’s staked its reputation on art-and-music-fueled funkiness seems to expand every time the South By Southwest music, technology and movie festival rolls through.
Washington, D.C.

Reported GDP in 2009: $366.6 billion
Reported GDP today: $407.5 billion
Unemployment: 5.8%
Population change 2000-10: 2.8%

With government jobs, lobbying and contracting gigs linked to those government jobs, a huge law community, a heavy tourist draw and the bolstering presence of universities such as Georgetown, George Washington, Howard and American and companies including Danaher(DHR) and Pepco Holdings(POM), D.C. and its surrounding areas were doing just fine before the recession. When the government decided the best way to upend that recession was to beat it over the head with money until it went away, that certainly didn’t hurt the city’s cause.

Augusta, Ga.

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Reported GDP in 2009: $17 billion
Reported GDP today: $18.4 billion
Unemployment: 8.4%
Population change 2000-10: 0.3%

It’s not all of the sun-baked fellows in the galleries yelling "It’s in the hole" at the Masters Tournament or the tourists getting a taste of the city’s powerfully hot summers that have kept the city growing and its unemployment numbers on the wane since 2009. Instead, Augusta steeled itself against the recession in the best way a city can — by building its economy around a recession-proof industry. In Augusta’s case, the medical, biotech and military communities provided a stable base as the rest of Georgia crashed. The state’s unemployment mark still sits at 9.8%, above the national average, but a large medical community and an Army Signal Corps facility allowed Augusta to keep its cool.
Madison, Wis.

Reported GDP in 2009: $31.2 billion
Reported GDP today: $34.8 billion
Unemployment: 5.7%
Population change 2000-10: 11.6%

If that 5.7% unemployment rate looks enticing, you should have been in Madison during the recession in 2009, when unemployment was at 3.5%. That’s not a headline from The Onion, either, as the University of Wisconsin, the state government (protests and all) and the surrounding medical and biotech communities have largely shielded Madison from the recession’s effects. Companies such as Spectrum Brands(SPB) seem fairly happy here as well, which has created a business base that makes Wisconsin grads slightly more inclined to stay.
Boulder, Colo.

Reported GDP in 2009: $16.2 billion
Reported GDP today: $17.6 billion
Unemployment: 6.9%
Population change 2000-10: 5.8%

The University of Colorado gets all the credit for keeping jobs around but, like Austin, Boulder’s hippie roots and artistic bent do a nice job of keeping the foot traffic moving and keeping the place just a little quirky. This helps spice up the job mix a bit by placing ad firm Crispin Porter + Bogusky, Celestial Seasonings tea and plastic sandal maker Crocs(CROX) to the list of employers, but the area still relies heavily on scientific institutions such as the Center For Astrophysics and Space Astronomy, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Space Science Institute, as well as straitlaced companies including IBM(LMT), Lockheed Martin and Ball Aerospace & Technologies to keep the party going.

Reported GDP in 2009: $335.3 billion
Reported GDP today: $356.6 billion
Unemployment: 6.9%
Population change 2000-10: 8.1%

Texas as a whole took the recession a whole lot better than most states, but when your town’s main strengths are technology and energy and its most well-heeled tenants include AT&T(T), Texas Instruments(TXN), Southwest Airlines(LUV), Tenet Healthcare(THC), Celanese(CE) and Atmos Energy(ATO), you’ve got a city built for survival. Forget about a real estate bust also, as the larger Dallas-Fort Worth metro area has grown 25% since 2000 — making it the fastest-growing major city in the U.S. Judging by the nearly 57 million people that came through Dallas-Fort Worth Airport last year, making it the fourth-busiest in the U.S. behind Atlanta, Chicago O’Hare and Los Angeles, more are on the way.
Albany, N.Y.

Reported GDP in 2009: $36.3 billion
Reported GDP today: $39.6 billion
Unemployment: 7.2%
Population change 2000-10: 2.3%

Government jobs in New York State aren’t what they once were, but a quarter of the Capital District’s work force is still gainfully employed by the state, giving Albany the lowest unemployment rate in New York. Health care providers such as Albany Medical Center and St. Peter’s Health Care Services and universities including Union College, Siena College and the State University of New York at Albany have kept the area both recession-resistant and afloat.

In fact, the overwhelming majority of Albany residents managed to keep both their jobs and their homes during the recession, as Albany’s recession rate last year was a paltry 0.27%, according to RealtyTrac. That great compared with the 2.23% rate for the U.S. and far better than the 10.9% rate experienced by homeowners in ex-boomtown Las Vegas.

Reported GDP in 2009: $276.5 billion
Reported GDP today: $298.3 billion
Unemployment: 7.1%
Population change 2000-10: 4.8%

Judging by the way the Red Sox spent during the offseason, there’s no shortage of cash in Greater Boston. Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston University, Boston College and the 48 other colleges and universities in the area provide a healthy job base, as do Massachusetts General Hospital, Partners Healthcare and the city’s sprawling medical community. But the presence of financial companies such as Fidelity Investments and State Street Financial, biotech companies such as Biogen Idec(BIIB), Genzyme(GENZ), Sanofi Aventis(SNy) and Novartis(AG) and tech companies such as Akamai(AKAM) helped Greater Boston breeze through the recession and gain population in the process. According to the Brookings Institute’s Metro Monitor, Boston actually gained state government jobs during the recession, saw three quarters of consecutive job growth through 2010 and regained more than a quarter of the jobs it lost between its pre-recession high and post-recession low. 

Pittsburgh, Pa.

Reported GDP in 2009: $103.5 billion
Reported GDP today: $111.6 billion
Unemployment: 7.4%
Population change 2000-10: -8.6%

Yes, the city’s shrinking, but those who are staying are employed and generally happy about it. The University of Pittsburgh and its medical center still provide most of the job base and U.S. Steel(X) and PPG Industries(PPG) still give the cities ties to its industrial roots, but PNC Financial Services'(PNC) growth and Google’s(GOOG) expanding presence are the biggest symbols of a continuing shift toward the tech sector that mixes new businesses with old stalwarts such as H.J. Heinz(HNZ) and Dick’s Sporting Goods(DKS). There are now roughly 1,600 tech companies in Pittsburgh taking up space in former mills and industrial plants, and combined with championships for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Penguins in the past three years (a Major League Baseball team is rumored to call the city home as well), that’s a lot for Pittsburgh to be proud of.
Elko, Nev.

Reported GDP in 2009: N/A
Reported GDP today: N/A
Unemployment: 7.9%
Population change 2000-10 (Elko County): 7.8%

It’s not the most burgeoning town at less than 20,000 people, but Elko was bulletproof during the recession thanks to its biggest business: gold mining. As the price of gold increased from $561.50 per ounce in 2006 to more than $1,560 per ounce today, mining companies Barrick(ABX) and Newmont(NEM) got 15,000 to 17,000 application for mining work in Elko that would have doubled the town’s population if that many jobs were available.

The reason Elko has even a 7.9% unemployment rate, which is still far less than Nevada’s 13.2% rate, is because there just isn’t enough work for the job seekers looking to cash in on Nevada’s gold rush. For those already here, however, the median income is the highest in the state, the town’s casinos and cultural events keep drawing in the tourists and its four brothels make sure everybody’s cashing in on the area’s windfall.

This article was republished with permission from The Street.


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