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America's best-performing urban economy is now in Utah

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 1/10/2018 Paul Davidson

The Provo, Utah, area was ranked as the best-performing economy among large U.S. metro areas in 2017 as a reshuffling saw Florida and other Southern enclaves rise while California lost some of its luster, according to the Milken Institute.

“You saw that some of the coastal metro areas driven by technology are beginning to slow slightly and you’re seeing more growth in Raleigh and Dallas, which have competitive business climates and very highly educated work forces,” says Minoli Ratnatunga, Milken’s director of regional economics research.

California is suffering from climbing business costs, such as labor and rent, while places like Raleigh and Dallas are benefiting from lower expenses and a business-friendly environment.

California still boasts four of the top 25 metro areas in economic prowess, but that’s down from six in 2016. And Florida now claims six of the top 25 spots, with several among the biggest gainers in rank from 2016.

Milken ranked the cities based on job growth during the 12 months ending last August and over the past six years. It also ranked the cities on wage growth and high-tech output in recent years.

Here’s a look at the three best-performing large cities last year as well as the top three gainers and decliners:

Best-performing large metro areas

1. Provo, Utah. The region has become a technology hotbed, adding 5,500 jobs from 2011 to 2016. The hub is anchored by Adobe’s digital marketing unit, which employs more than 1,200. In 2017, the company said it would build a second facility next door, housing another 1,260 workers. Meanwhile, Brigham Young University provides a major pipeline of workers and start-ups. The university has spawned several tech ventures, including enterprise software firm Qualtrics, which is valued at $2.5 billion.

2. Raleigh, North Carolina. North Carolina State University is a centerpiece of the Research Triangle, and it includes more than 75 research centers that partner with businesses, nonprofits and government agencies in the area. SAS, a software firm that came out of the university system, last year announced new artificial intelligence capabilities, and the software publishing industry has added 2,500 jobs the past five years. In that period, computer and electronics manufacturing has doubled its workforce to 11,900. And businesses are attracted by low costs. Credit Suisse announced in May it would create 1,200 jobs in Raleigh over the next several years, with some moving from New York.

3. Dallas, Texas. Already a popular headquarters location for companies like Exxon Mobil, AT&T and Southwest Airlines, the region added more than 50,000 high-skilled jobs from 2011 to 2016 in the professional, scientific and technical sectors. The region’s population has exploded, with 58,600 more people arriving instead of leaving in 2016, pushing up housing costs. Texas Instruments has benefited from increased demand for automotive semiconductor chips.

Biggest gainers

1. Palm Bay-Melbourne. Florida. The area ranks 63, gaining 90 spots since 2016. It’s growing as a retirement haven and because of Patrick Air Force Base, which has spawned a cluster of defense contractors that are benefiting from increased defense spending.

2. Olympia, Washington.  Moved up 74 spots to 39. Fort Lewis Army base is generating a growing defense economy. The region is also a lower-cost bedroom community for the tech-heavy Seattle area and Tacoma, which contains a bustling seaport.

3. Hickory, North Carolina. Rose 64 places to 103. Once a textile and furniture manufacturing center, the area has revived as a hub of cloud computing and data centers for giants such as Apple and Google. It’s also attracting more retirees.

Biggest decliners

1. Bakersfield, California. Fell from 59 to 101. One of the largest oil producing counties was hit by the crude downturn a few years ago and employment still hasn’t fully recovered.

2. Wilmington, Delaware. Fell 73 spots to 166. The financial hub was buoyed by the recovering banking sector several years ago but that has lost steam. Regulations have restricted traffic at its port.

3. Laredo, Texas. Fell from 55 to 114. Like Bakersfield, the region was hobbled by the oil industry downturn a few years ago.


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