To identify the Best Cities of 2009, Kiplinger’s teamed with Kevin Stolarick, research director at the Martin Prosperity Institute, a think tank that studies economic prosperity. Stolarick evaluated U.S. cities for their growth potential, looking not just at the overall number of jobs but also at the quality of those positions and the ability of cities to hold on to them when the economy softens.
“Although downturns are felt by everyone, our research has shown that the impact is less severe for those in the creative class—people who are paid to think,” says Stolarick. “People in fields such as science, engineering, architecture, and education are catalysts of vitality and livability in a city.”
“We know that most of our readers work in such professions,” says Kiplinger’s senior editor Robert Frick. “Our list is tailor-made to be of interest to our readers,” he says, adding, “These cities are places where they may find not only a job, but also the company of people like themselves.”
Kiplinger’s Best Cities of 2009:
1. Huntsville, AL—This northern Alabama city represents critical mass for the nation’s missile-defense and aerospace industries as well as medical and life-sciences sectors. In addition, Huntsville owes much of its red-blooded vitality to the U.S. Army, which employs more than 14,000 people at the 38,000-acre Redstone Arsenal.
2. Albuquerque, NM—Albuquerque’s desire to bring good jobs to its residents is represented by its budding film industry, which has grown from 100 people eight years ago to 3,000 today, many of whom are locals trained for the new jobs. It’s had even more success in attracting companies in the solar-energy industry—such as Schott North America, which has its flagship solar-panel plant in the area.
3. Washington, DC—The federal government employs one in eight workers in the Washington area and fuels nearby companies in almost every industry—law firms, lobbyists, and aerospace and defense companies in particular. High-tech firms in northern Virginia and biotech companies in Maryland offer many employment opportunities.
4. Charlottesville, VA—From the University of Virginia to the downtown promenade, the Charlottesville community is an unexpected blend of Southern charm and liberal edge with a strong business base. UVA employs one-fourth of the local workforce—and the faculty’s research often results in private spinoff companies.
5. Athens, GA—The Classic City is home to the University of Georgia, the city’s largest employer. It is also a hub of regional medical services, including Athens Regional Medical Center, St. Mary’s Health Care System, and Landmark Hospital, providing health care and jobs not only for the community but also for nearby counties. International manufacturing companies, such as Carrier and DuPont, also have operations in Athens.
6. Olympia, WA—Employing about half of the city’s working population, the state government is the keystone of Olympia’s economy. Education is another big driver of the city’s growth and character. Evergreen State College, a liberal-arts school specializing in the social sciences and visual and performing arts, helps fuel the creative spirit, and Saint Martin’s University, a private school located in neighboring Lacey, is known for engineering and applied sciences.
7. Madison, WI—With a jobless rate three percentage points below the national average, Madison’s ready-made economy feeds off of its two largest assets: the University of Wisconsin and the Wisconsin state capital. But these two institutions account for only 20% of Madison’s jobs; the rest come from its strong mix of tech and biotech firms.
8. Austin, TX—Last year, the Texas capital added 3,300 jobs, the biggest bump in the country. The increase covered a broad swath, from professional services, education and hospitality to health care and government. Give most of the credit to government and higher education. State government employs 170,000, a fifth of the city’s workforce, and the University of Texas at Austin alone employs more than 6,000 people.
9. Flagstaff, AZ—The Old West charm of Flagstaff is infused with new energy—both from its residents and from the college students at Northern Arizona University. The university adds jobs to the city’s economy, plus arts and entertainment to its cultural scene. The government is big business in Flagstaff (which is the Coconino County seat), as is tourism—a result of the city’s proximity to the Grand Canyon.
10. Raleigh, NC—Raleigh has an enviable economic base, built on three universities and Research Triangle Park, where employers in everything from biotech to computers still thrive. Although Raleigh’s unemployment rate has doubled in the past year, to 8.6%, it’s still much lower than the 10.8% rate for the state as a whole.
Kiplinger’s Best Cities package offers these special features online at www.kiplinger.com/money/bestcities:
· Narrated walking-tour slide shows with Kiplinger’s editors and writers
· A Which City is Best for You? calculator to help readers determine the city which best matches their goals and tastes
· A spreadsheet that lets readers see where their own city ranks in different key categories
More on Ranking Methodology
Kiplinger’s included data on population growth, unemployment rate, income growth, and cost of living to determine city rankings. Martin Prosperity Institute research director Kevin Stolarick came up with a formula that identifies cities with stable employment—even in tough times. Based on the formula, Kiplinger’s looked for places with a professional, high-quality workforce that will help generate new jobs and businesses once the recession ends. Also included in the formula is a “creative class” measure, which comes from Stolarick’s work with Richard Florida, academic director of the Martin Institute and author of The Rise of the Creative Class. This measure reflects the number of creative-class workers—including educators, writers, and scientists—living in the area. Further research involved traveling to cities and interviewing insiders about prospects for continued prosperity. The rankings factor in both the data and the results of Kiplinger’s reporting.
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