AMERICA’S BEST CITIES FOR GLOBAL TRADE | Global Trade Magazine
Site Selection
  September 21st, 2017 | Written by

AMERICA’S BEST CITIES FOR GLOBAL TRADE

OUR SIXTH ANNUAL COMPILATION PROVES SIZE DOES NOT MATTER

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  • The global economy has stretched into virtually every city in the United States, no matter the size.

Another year, another list of the Top U.S. Cities for Global Trade. If there’s one thing that strikes us about this list over the past couple of years is that the reach of the global economy has not just stretched to other shores but into virtually every city in the United States, no matter the size.

Consider that when we first started doing this list years ago, nearly every city on it could be categorized as a Big City, you know, the New Yorks, L.A.s and Houstons of the world. As you browse this year’s categories you’ll notice that in Best Site Selection you’ll not only find Las Vegas, Nevada (population 632,912), but Alexandria, Louisiana (47,832); in Best Airport/Ports, not just gargantuan L.A.-Long Beach metro (13,310,447) but gutty, resourceful Port Arthur, Texas (55,427).

In fact, some businesses appreciate the vibe of a smaller city that may be lighter on its feet, which is one reason we’re debuting in this issue a new category: Best Small Market.

Of course, all of the cities mentioned here are terrific in using their resources and ingenuity to create an atmosphere that not only listens to but anticipates a business’ needs. When it comes to global trade, that’s one size that fits all.

BEST ACCESS TO INTERNATIONAL BANKING

BIRMINGHAM, ALABAMA

Population: 212,157

Unemployment rate: 5.4 percent

Major financial institution(s): BBVA Compass, Regions Financial

We assume the “Magic City” got that name in part for its ability to remake itself economically. The once steel-heavy local economy, which earned Birmingham the moniker of the “Pittsburgh of the South,” has been transformed into one of the most important banking centers in the region, and it continues to grow. It was only a few years ago that another major bank which calls Birmingham home, Regions Financial, merged with AmSouth Bancorporation, also headquartered in the city, to form the eighth largest bank in the U.S. by total assets. A dozen smaller banks call Magic City home.

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS

Population: 673,184

Unemployment rate: 3.3 percent

Major financial institution(s): Fidelity Investments, Santander Bank

Beantown is also Banktown. Financial services are so key to the city that, this year, Global Financial Centres Index ranked it as not only having the fourth most competitive financial center in the U.S., it ranks among London, Tokyo and Hong Kong as one of the top 10 such centers in the world. Part of the reason is innovation: Boston-based Fidelity Investments helped popularize the mutual fund in the 1980s and, with the likes of Santander, the city remains a center for venture capital outfits.

CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA

Population: 842,051

Unemployment rate: 4.3 percent

Major financial institution(s): Bank of America

It may come as a surprise to you that Charlotte ranks with New York City and San Francisco when it comes to banking assets. (Or maybe it doesn’t surprise you at all, you know, considering six Fortune 500 companies are headquartered here.) Bank of America is the nation’s second largest financial institution by total assets. The third largest by assets, Wells Fargo, years ago acquired Wachovia, which used to call Charlotte home, and is now the regional headquarters for Wells Fargo’s East Coast and also serves as its headquarters for capital markets activities, including investment banking.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK

Population: 8,537,673

Unemployment rate: 3.9 percent

Major financial institutions(s): All of them (kidding!) Let’s just go with Wall Street

New York is just the most: the most people, the most money, the most Fortune 500 companies, the most important business and banking center in the United States. And then there is Wall Street, home to the New York Stock Exchange and the NASDAQ. New York not only is the principal commercial banking center in the U.S., it’s the top globally when it comes to public equity. You know all that. What you might not know is that New York is so successful in attracting foreign investment that one in 10 private sector jobs in the city is with a foreign company.


SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA

Population: 864,816

Unemployment rate: 2.7 percent

Major financial institution(s): Wells Fargo, Charles Schwab

Long considered the finance capital of the western United States, San Francisco’s numerous brokerage and banking firms have played a key role in U.S. firms’ current and developing relationship with Asian firms and banks. Today, because the city is a gateway to Silicon Valley, San Francisco has a particular focus on the technology sector and is seen around the world as the global center of the venture-capital industry.

BEST AIRPORTS/PORTS


ANCHORAGE, ALASKA

Population: 298,695

Unemployment rate: 5.7 percent

Ports: Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport/Port of Anchorage

Ted Stevens International is one of the busiest cargo airports in the world; FedEx and UPS both operate major hubs there for cargo heading to and from Asia. The airport accounts for about 10 percent of the city’s employment, directly or indirectly. For the Port of Anchorage, 2017 is a significant year since it marks the start of a seven-year, $550 million modernization project that will replace aging terminals, install new cranes, improve seismic safety and optimize facilities’ efficiency.

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND

Population: 621,849

Unemployment rate: 6.1 percent

Ports: Baltimore-Washington International Airport/Port of Baltimore

The Port of Baltimore, a spry 311 years old, is not only historic—the site of the writing of a little ditty called “The Star Spangled Banner”—but deep. Literally. It’s one of the busiest deep-water (50 feet or more) ports in the U.S. It’s also 150 miles closer to key Midwestern markets than any other Atlantic Coast port; it has lower transportation costs between its terminals and inland points of cargo origin. Baltimore-Washington International Airport is a major cargo carrier for the mid-Atlantic region.

GALVESTON, TEXAS

Population: 50,550

Employment rate: 4.8 percent

Ports: Scholes International Airport/Port of Galveston

Self-sustaining, operating without a cent of taxpayer funding, the Port of Galveston is able to pull its own weight with profitable private-public relationships and projects. For example, the port, which is equipped to handle all manner of cargo from containers, dry and liquid bulk, breakbulk, RO/RO, refrigerated and project, recently opened a new vehicle distribution center for BMW Group with a capacity to handle 32,500 cars annually. This was the result of the port’s partnership with Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics Vehicle Services America.


INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA

Population: 864,771

Unemployment rate: 2.8 percent

Port: Indianapolis International Airport

Of the 100 largest cities in the United States, Indianapolis is the most centrally located, placing it within 650 miles of 55 percent of all Americans; that works out to more than 50 million households. Not surprisingly, FedEx chose to put its second largest hub at Indianapolis International Airport. Opened in 1988, it’s been expanded three times. Though Indianapolis doesn’t have a water port to call its own, it’s within a three-hour drive of the three that serve the state.


LOS ANGELES/LONG BEACH METRO, CALIFORNIA

Population: 13,310,447

Unemployment rate: 5.2 percent

Ports: Los Angeles International Airport/Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles

The Los Angeles/Long Beach port system is the 800-pound gorilla, elephant in the room and Godzilla’s older brother of global shipping. Consider this: The Port of Long Beach lays claim to the honor of being the second biggest container port in the U.S. The largest? The Port of Los Angeles, where 43 percent of all cargo coming into the U.S. arrives. And, oh yeah, there’s another port down the road called Los Angeles International Airport, which is not only the largest and busiest airport on the West Coast but consistently one of the five busiest cargo airports in the country.


MIAMI, FLORIDA

Population: 453,579

Unemployment rate: 4.8 percent

Ports: Miami International Airport/Port Miami

Miami has been nicknamed both the “Capital of Latin America” and the “Cargo Gateway of the Americas” because of its close, busy and very profitable relationship with Central and South America. Miami International is the primary connecting cargo point between Latin America and the rest of the world. UPS and FedEx each base their major Latin America operations at the airport. Port Miami is the largest container port in Florida, always in the top 10 in the U.S., handling also breakbulk, vehicles and industrial equipment.


OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA

Population: 420,005

Unemployment rate: 4.3 percent

Ports: Oakland International Airport/Port of Oakland

Despite the fact that the Port of Oakland consolidated a number of its shipping terminals in early 2016, the port did a record level of volume last year. The port, perpetually in the top 10 when it comes to moving shipping containers, handled the equivalent of 1.83 million loaded 20-foot containers in 2016, a 7.6 percent increase from 2015, surpassing the previous record of 1.82 million 20-footers set in 2013. According to port officials, a year-long growth clip in exports—particularly agricultural products—has driven the overall increase in cargo volume, as well as an increase in imports.


PORT ARTHUR, TEXAS

Population: 55,427

Unemployment rate: 11.6 percent

Port: Port of Port Arthur

Foolish is the person who wonders if Port Arthur will be able to recover from the effects of Hurricane Harvey. The area bounced back from Hurricanes Audrey and Rita and Humberto and Ike, and usually leading the recovery is the Port of Port Arthur. One of North America’s top breakbulk and bulk ports, the port has consistently led economic improvements in the city that include several large projects involving energy infrastructure such as LNG terminals at Golden and Sabine passes.


SEATTLE/TACOMA, WASHINGTON

Population: 3,733,580

Unemployment rate: 4.0 percent

Ports: Seattle-Tacoma International Airport/Ports of Seattle and Tacoma

Seattle-Tacoma International is the fastest growing airport in the country and the sixth fastest growing airport in the world. Now the ninth busiest airport in the U.S., it consistently ranks in the top 20 in cargo moved. The Port of Seattle and Port of Tacoma combined in 2014 to create the Northwest Seaport Alliance, which is now the fourth largest container gateway in North America. Last year, the Alliance saw its container traffic increase an impressive 28 million metric tons.


TAMPA, FLORIDA

Population: 377,165

Unemployment rate: 3.9 percent

Ports: Tampa International Airport/Port Tampa Bay

Much loved for its architecture, design and efficiency, Tampa International Airport has also been turning heads with its double-digit growth in annual cargo hauling. Port Tampa Bay is the largest port in Florida in terms of tonnage. The closest maritime center to the Panama Canal, it’s a gateway to Latin America. As the canal was expanded, so was Tampa’s harbor; a federally funded harbor-deepening project made it accessible to super cargo ships.

BEST EXPORT ASSISTANCE

BATON ROUGE, LOUISIANA

Population: 227,715

Unemployment rate: 5.2 percent

Closest port: Port of Greater Baton Rouge

Baton Rouge’s push to either introduce or improve the export fortunes of local outfits has paid off handsomely as the city is among the fast growing export hubs in the United States with annual export growth coming in at just under 10 percent. What’s more the city’s exports, led by the likes of chemicals, petroleum products and synthetics, have totaled about $15 billion in the past decade. That kind of growth moved the Brookings Institution to name Baton Rouge the top metro area for “export intensity.”


COLUMBUS, OHIO

Population: 860,090

Unemployment rate: 3.5 percent

Closest port: John Glenn International Airport

Working out of Columbus State Community College, the Small Business Development Center’s Export Assistance Network provides export assistance for new-to-export businesses as well as existing exporters looking to expand overseas markets. This effort to not only strengthen individual companies but diversify the local economy include export readiness assessment, market research and strategies, export compliance education along with pilot programs especially designed for new-to-export companies.


HOUSTON, TEXAS

Population: 2,303,482

Unemployment rate: 5.1 percent

Closest port: Port of Houston

The Houston juggernaut applies to all things business, whether it’s encouraging local businesses, attracting new ones or setting the standard for public-private partnerships. And so it is when it comes to encouraging and empowering local businesses to export. Houston regularly ranks at or near the top nationally when it comes to total goods exported, beating out the likes of New York and Los Angeles. That kind of performance happens with an effort that saw local exports grow by a whopping 47 percent between 2009 and 2015.

KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI

Population: 481,420

Unemployment rate: 4.1 percent

Closest port: Kansas City International Airport

Kansas City’s focus on international commerce is varied and long-standing. Witness the fact that every month, more than 20 of the region’s internationally affiliated groups come together to talk about, among other things, global trade and streamlining all organizations’ efforts toward helping Kansas City companies export. Each spring, the Kansas City International Steering Committee also plans the annual World Trade Day program. And then there are trade show missions and the Global Market Access Program that supports companies to reach foreign markets.


LAS CRUCES, NEW MEXICO

Population: 101,759

Unemployment rate: 5.6 percent

Closest port: Las Cruces International Airport

A focus on helping local businesses connect and do business with free trade agreement countries has helped Las Cruces dramatically increase its exporting footprint. It was just 2015 that this city led the nation with export growth of 210 percent, which worked out to $913 million and a total export output of $1.3 billion. Las Cruces exporters, who are particularly strong in computer and electronic parts, appliances and fabricated metal, do loads of business with NAFTA and European Union members.


MINNEAPOLIS/ST. PAUL, MINNESOTA

Population: 3,551,036

Unemployment rate: 4.0 percent

Closest Port: Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport

You would think that when this region, in 2011, ranked as the 14th-largest export market in the U.S., officials would be congratulating themselves. Instead, they focused on the fact they ranked 67th out of the 100 largest metro areas for export growth. In response, they developed the Minneapolis-Saint Paul Export Plan, which seeks to double regional exports, expand export reach by increasing the number of exporting companies and increase “global orientation and fluency” in the Twin Cities. By 2015, the area could point to a 23 percent increase in exports since 2005.


PORTLAND, OREGON

Population: 639,863

Unemployment rate: 3.1 percent

Closest port: Port of Portland

Technology has become such a major component of the city’s economy, with more than 1,200 tech companies, that it’s led to the nickname “Silicon Forest.” Computers and computer parts are among the top exported products, though the city has a varied economic footprint—athletic shoes are big also—with all sorts of companies benefiting from programs for first-time exporters, including step-by-step instruction about how to get started, as well as help for the experienced exporting vets that include information, market analysis and research.


TOLEDO, OHIO

Population: 278,508

Unemployment rate: 5.9

Closest port: Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport

Local agencies offer a wide range of programs and assistance ranging from educational to cultural to language assistance. Toledo officials not only do a great job of helping to train exporters and potential exporters, but they conduct searches for international partners and identify financial assistance sources such as the Ohio International Market Access Grant for Exporters, which provides such assistance for small businesses promoting their products and services in international markets.

BEST INTERMODAL ACCESS


CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA

Population: 134,385

Unemployment: 2.8 percent

Major railroad/roadway: CSX/I-26

This Southern charmer—it was recently named by Travel and Leisure magazine the best city in the world … THE WORLD!—also knows how to get it done workwise. Its diverse economy is rooted in tourism and shipping, the latter figuring to grow more as plans move forward to develop an inland port to support growth of Charleston’s intermodal container volumes and expand access to markets in neighboring states and throughout the Northeast and Midwest and ensure Charleston becomes the preferred East Coast port.


DECATUR/HUNTSVILLE/ALBERTVILLE, ALABAMA

Population: 735,550

Unemployment rate: 4.6 percent

Key railroad/roadway: CSX, I-565

Its economy made up of tech, aerospace, manufacturing and defense jobs, this is a fast growing area. Witness the fact that Huntsville’s Cummings Research Park is the second largest of its kind in the nation and the Port of Decatur has grown to be the largest/busiest on the Tennessee River. Helping that growth have been intermodal transfer points for switches between barge, road and rail and storage facilities. Directly connected to the Norfolk Southern and CSX, the port has direct access to interstates and regional highways.


JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA

Population: 880,619

Unemployment rate: 4.1 percent

Key railroad/roadway: CSX, I-10

The addition of a $30 million intermodal container transfer facility provides on-dock rail service to Jaxport’s north Jacksonville seaport terminals. Along with the deepening of Jacksonville’s harbor to 47 feet, the facility is one of several major capital projects at the port aimed at serving a growing Asian import customer base looking to access the U.S. interior. The Asian container trade, up nearly 20 percent over the past couple years, remains the fastest-growing segment of the port’s business.


LITTLE ROCK, ARKANSAS

Population: 198,541

Unemployment rate: 2.8 percent

Key railroad/roadway: Union Pacific/I-440

Little Rock Port is an intermodal river port with a large industrial business complex that attracts both domestic and international manufacturers and shippers. It is served by the Little Rock Port Authority Railroad, a switching railroad whose line extends from its junction with the Union Pacific Railroad and the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Co. The railroad not only provides direct intermodal connections with the port terminal on the Arkansas River but allows shippers to access global market areas via the Arkansas/Mississippi rivers systems through the international port at New Orleans, Louisiana.


MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE

Population: 652,717

Unemployment: 4.9 percent

Key railroad/roadway: BNSF, I-40

Memphis is the second-busiest cargo port on the Mississippi River, the fourth busiest inland port in the country, and, because of the two heavy-duty railroad crossings situated at the river, a large volume of rail freight moves through the city. Major north-south rail lines that run through Memphis connect it to such major hubs as Chicago, Houston, Louisville and New Orleans. BNSF’s 185-acre expansion of its innovative intermodal facility will include using rail-mounted wide-span cranes and an automated gate system. The expansion increases the facility’s capacity from 250,000 annual cargo lifts to more than 1 million annual lifts.


NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA

Population: 391,495

Unemployment: 5.4 percent

Key railroad/roadway: Union Pacific, I-10

The city and its port have put a real emphasis on continuing to develop and expand its intermodal capabilities. Last year, the port’s $25 million improvement project transformed a 12-acre railyard into a more modern rail intermodal container transfer facility with a capacity of moving 160,000 TEUs per year by rail. The port also took over the running of the New Orleans Public Belt Railroad, which operates 26 miles of track and connects the six Class 1 railroads serving the port.

PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA

Population: 303,625

Unemployment rate: 4.7 percent

Key railroad/roadway: Norfolk Southern, I-376

Pittsburgh’s rail history dates back to the ‘50s—the 1850s—and it includes the likes of the Conway Rail Yard, for a long time the busiest railyard in the country and still the second-busiest. Add to that history the construction of the $60 million Pittsburgh Intermodal Rail Terminal. The project, which redeveloped the former Pittsburgh & Lake Erie (P&LE) Railroad Yard that operated for more than 100 years on the 70-acre site, will offer premier shipping logistics to manufacturers and distributors in western Pennsylvania.


SAVANNAH, GEORGIA

Population: 146,763

Unemployment rate: 4.9 percent

Key railroad/roadway: CSX/I-95

The city and its port have made investments not only in road and rail expansion but new cranes and deeper water, all of which increase capacity and improve efficiency. Savannah offers shippers direct access to rail ramps on-terminal, eliminating costly drays to distribution centers or other destinations. It also guarantees on-dock intermodal connections, allowing for more daily departures, faster train turnover and on-time service. Savannah has the fastest westward transit times in the South Atlantic region, including overnight service to a five-state area.


VIRGINIA BEACH/NORFOLK/NEWPORT NEWS, VIRGINIA

Population: 1,724,876

Unemployment rate: 4.4 percent

Major roadway: I-64

So, these folks in Virginia think so much about intermodal services that even though the Port of Virginia has a whopping 37 percent of its cargo leaving by rail, the folks there are still not satisfied. Port officials have set a target of 40 percent. And they just may make it given the port’s proximity to the Midwest, a 24-hour train ride away, as well as its connections to both East Coast Class I railroads with double-stack capacity, have increased its intermodal lifts from 28.4 percent in 2012 to 30.3 percent in 2016.

BEST LARGE MARKET

ATLANTA, GEORGIA

Population: 472,522

Unemployment rate: 5.1 percent

Sales tax: 8.9 percent

The city has a diverse and talented labor pool—Atlanta ranks third in the country for STEM employment growth—especially when it comes to millennials; there are approximately 325,000 university and tech college students that are job ready. Local university Georgia Tech is reputed for producing top startup talent. Add to this a relatively low cost of doing business, reduced regulation and aggressive incentives and it’s no surprise that the city is not only a hub for tech companies, but it has the third highest concentration of Fortune 500 companies.

AUSTIN, TEXAS

Population: 947,890

Unemployment rate: 3.0 percent

Sales tax: 8.25 percent

A hub for high and biotech as well as pharma, hometown University of Texas provides a ready source of talent for its tech and defense industry. True to its South-by-Southwest collaborative ethos, Austin has become a thriving center for small business, which has much to do with its supportive community atmosphere as its attractiveness to folks with an entrepreneurial spirit. Consider that from 2010 to 2013, Austin led the nation in the growth of the number of small businesses in the area. Austin had 44,163 small businesses in 2013, about 2,342 for every 100,000 residents, best in the nation.

CHICAGO/NAPERVILLE/ROSEMONT, ILLINOIS

Population: 9,472,676

Unemployment rate: 4.8 percent

Sales tax: 10.25 percent

It was about 10 years ago that the Wall Street Journal surmised that the Chicago metro area has been able not only to weather economic storms but flourish throughout its history because of its ability to “repeatedly reinvent itself.” Reputed to have the most balanced economy of any major metropolitan area, Chicago is home to the headquarters of 57 Fortune 1000 companies and has seen a boon in new or expanded corporate facilities. Home to the third largest labor pool in the U.S., the region also ranks third in the number of folks working in science and engineering.


CINCINNATI, OHIO

Population: 298,800

Unemployment rate: 4.0 percent

Sales tax: 6.5 percent

The Queen City is a pretty nice place to put down stakes, both personal and professional. The city has a relatively low cost of living and a high level of quality. It has been attractive not only to new college graduates who find a ready amount of opportunities in health care, retail and automotive industries but businesses looking to start up or expand. Greater Cincinnati ranks in the top five nationally for new and/or expanded business facilities with more than 125 projects of at least $1 million.

DALLAS, TEXAS

Population: 1,317,929

Unemployment rate: 4.1 percent

Sales tax: 6.25 percent

Big D has a diverse and well-balanced economy with multiple points of strength that include aerospace, financial services, life sciences and defense. It has become a major inland port as Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport has developed into one of the largest and busiest airports in the world. Like so much of Texas, Dallas has benefitted from a very friendly, very helpful business climate that seeks to limit regulation and streamline bureaucracy. Employment in the Dallas metro area has expanded an impressive 20 percent over the past five years.

DENVER, COLORADO

Population: 682,545

Unemployment rate: 2.1 percent

Sales tax: 7.65 percent

Denver and neighboring Boulder, home to the University of Colorado, have one of the most educated workforces that has stuck around as Denver’s annual job growth of 2.3 percent is almost twice the national average. That, a central location in the country and a quality of life rich in natural beauty and healthy activities have led many companies to locate or relocate there. For example, Swiss investment manager Partners Group, with offices in New York, San Francisco and Sao Paulo, chose Denver last year for its Americas headquarters, bringing with it plans to hire several hundred employees with an average wage of $220,000.

DES MOINES, IOWA

Population: 215,472

Unemployment rate: 3.6 percent

Sales tax: 6 percent

A major center for the U.S. insurance industry, Des Moines is also a significant hub for financial services. Those industries have been joined by considerable growth in tech and engineering as they have witnessed a near-30 percent job growth over the past 15 years. Some of that growth has come about due to such heavyweights as Facebook, which has four data centers in the area, and Microsoft, which has invested about $2 billion there, having been attracted by a talented workforce, good quality of life and a relatively low cost of doing business.

SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH

Population: 193,744

Unemployment rate: 3.0 percent

Sales tax: 6.85 percent

Salt Lake City has long been a place that offers top workforce talent as well as tons of incentives and streamlined regulations that make it attractive to industries across the spectrum. The city has seen an impressive 31 percent job growth in technology over the last decade with STEM employment up about 18 percent in that time. The city’s environment is not only attractive to businesses but employees who find the city affordable. Witness the fact that while only 45 percent in Silicon Valley can afford to buy a home, about 75 percent of Salt Lake City residents can afford to buy a median-priced house.


SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA

Population: 1,025,350

Unemployment rate: 3.5 percent

Sales tax: 9.25 percent

No one is going to claim that San Jose is a great place to be when it comes to affordability and ease of doing business. The capital of Silicon Valley is one of the most expensive places to live and do business in the world. But it is undeniable it is THE big leagues. San Jose residents produce more U.S. patents than any other city, and 35 percent of all venture capital is invested there and in the surrounding Silicon Valley. And while we all know the Big Boys that call the city home, San Jose is also a destination for myriad small or startup companies. In fact, more than 50 percent of business loan applications there were made by companies operating less than three years.

BEST NAFTA ACCESS

ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO

Population: 559,277

Unemployment rate: 5.4 percent

Main port: Albuquerque International Sunport

The city lies at the center of the New Mexico Technology Corridor, a concentration of high-tech private companies and government institutions along the Rio Grande. Not surprisingly, computer and electronic products dominate exports from the area. And it leads in exports to free trade agreement countries, especially those under NAFTA. Over the past 10 years, exports to free trade nations have grown by nearly 200 percent with the majority of that coming from Albuquerque and Las Cruces, which make up more than 90 percent of the state’s exports.

BISMARCK, NORTH DAKOTA

Population: 72,417

Unemployment rate: 2.3 percent

Main port: Bismarck Municipal Airport

Though it barely ranks in the top 500 nationally for population, Bismarck is actually a fast-growing city that has seen nearly 20 percent growth since 2010. Much of that growth is due to a booming economy, as witnessed by the teeny unemployment numbers displayed above. And a good deal of that boom has to do with its export relationship with Canada, where a majority of its exports find their way. In fact, Bismarck very much reflects the great relationship between Canada and North Dakota; of the state’s $4.2 billion in exports, about $3.2 billion head directly north.

BUFFALO, NEW YORK

Population: 256,902

Unemployment rate: 6.3 percent

Main port: Buffalo Niagara International Airport

In just one day’s movement, goods from Buffalo can reach about 65 percent of Canadians and 70 percent of Canadian manufacturing firms. In terms of rail service, Buffalo is one of the nation’s largest railroad centers with access to major U.S. and Canadian lines. and within 90 miles of the city is the Hamilton International Airport-Canadian, which offers customs clearance that is much faster than that available in Toronto, along with an on-site U.S. Customs service. From a sixth to a quarter of U.S.-Canadian trade clears customs at Buffalo.


CORPUS CHRISTI, TEXAS

Population: 325,733

Unemployment rate: 5.7 percent

Main port: Port of Corpus Christi

Located on the Gulf of Mexico and near the Mexican border, Corpus Christi is home to the fifth largest U.S. port (tonnage) and is the deepest inshore port on the Gulf. Much of the local economy is predicated on oil and petrochemicals and has seen an explosion in trade with Mexico. In fact, while the city’s exports to the world grew an impressive 66 percent ($7.7 billion to $12.8 billion), its trade with No. 1 trade partner Mexico grew nearly 90 percent to $1.59 billion.

DETROIT, MICHIGAN

Population: 672,795

Unemployment rate: 8.4 percent

Main port: Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport

Canada lies just across the Detroit River, a distance of about half a mile, and the close proximity has served both regions well. Exports from Detroit to Canada have risen nearly six percent to nearly $130 billion. What may surprise you is that Detroit has a long-standing great trade relationship with NAFTA partner Mexico. In fact, in 2015, Detroit actually exported more goods in terms of value to Mexico than Canada. Exports to Mexico in 2015 accounted for nearly 40 percent of all Detroit exports.

EL PASO, TEXAS

Population: 683,080

Unemployment rate: 4.6 percent

Main port: El Paso International Airport

Between 2009 and 2015, El Paso’s exports great an incredible 217 percent. Most of that is because of its relationship with Mexico. In fact, El Paso has ranked near or at the top of U.S. cities exporting to Mexico. Consider that by July of this year the city had done about $58 billion in trade with other countries, more than $53 billion of which was with Mexico alone. Exports are only a piece of a rich pie since El Paso’s international ports of entry also handle multiple billions of dollars of imports from Mexico as well as other countries.

FORT LAUDERDALE, FLORIDA

Population: 178,752

Unemployment rate: 4.0 percent

Main port: Port Everglades

Like neighboring Miami, Fort Lauderdale has become known not only as a gateway to Mexico but to all of Latin America. In fact, the city has emerged as one of the fastest growing markets for global trade with nearly half of local businesses engaged in or supporting international commerce of some kind. A growing list of nationally recognized corporations have established business operations in Fort Lauderdale with corporate or Latin American headquarters, including: AT&T, AutoNation, Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft Latin America.

LAREDO, TEXAS

Population: 257,156

Unemployment: 4.5 percent

Main port: Laredo Port of Entry

Perhaps no city has been more affected and/or benefitted more from the North American Free Trade Agreement than Laredo. Consider that more than 47 percent of U.S. international trade headed for Mexico and more than 36 percent of Mexican international trade headed for the U.S. crosses through the Laredo port of entry, which consists of four international bridges crossing the Rio Grande into the Mexican states. Laredo’s economy revolves around commercial and industrial warehousing, imports and exports.

PEORIA, ILLINOIS

Population: 114,265

Unemployment rate: 5.6 percent

Main port: General Wayne Downing Peoria International Airport

The fact that Peoria accounts for 14 percent of Illinois exports is considerably impressive when you consider that it’s doing business in the same state as a little town called Chicago. And yet Peoria has seen its exports steadily grow as international trade has risen more than 40 percent this year to $5.47 billion, the largest portion of that heading north to Canada. Trade with Canada is up 40 percent on its own.

SAN DIEGO, CALFORNIA

Population: 1,406,630

Unemployment rate: 3.6 percent

Main port: Port of San Diego

The city shares a 15-mile border with Mexico that includes two border crossings. In fact, San Diego is home to the busiest international border crossing in the world at the San Ysidro port of entry. A primarily commercial border crossing exists in the Otay Mesa region, the largest commercial crossing on the California-Baja border. That crossing handles the third-highest volume of trucks and dollar value of trade among all United States-Mexico crossings.

BEST QUALITY OF LIFE


CHATTANOOGA, TENNESSEE

Population: 177,571

Unemployment rate: 4.4 percent

Median home price: $157,200

It’s not that people love Chattanooga, it’s that people LOVE Chattanooga. When, a couple years ago, Outside magazine published a list of the best places to live, Chattanooga not only placed first but under the headline “Why Chattanooga is the Best Town Ever.” Those reasons include a low crime rate and cost of living, tons of outdoor activities—its official nickname is Scenic City—and low unemployment owing to the fact that it has tons of logistical jobs. Yes, that would include the Chattanooga choo-choo.


FAIRFAX, VIRGINIA

Population: 24,013

Unemployment rate: 2.9 percent

Median home price: $518,900

Small in size but big in amenities, Fairfax attracts big time performers, its median family income is six figures and its per capita rate of sole proprietors regularly ranks near the top nationally. Located just 15 miles west of Washington, D.C., Fairfax is close to major universities such as George Mason and has a strong economy, in part because it has a tradition of attracting and encouraging startups. But honestly, all we needed to hear were these four magic words: annual Chocolate Lovers Festival.


FRISCO, TEXAS

Population: 168,140

Unemployment rate: 3.6 percent

Median home price: $393,300

Frisco has been the beneficiary and recipient of the good and growing fortune of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. As that area has prospered, more people have found their way to nearby Frisco. The town grew from 33,714 in 2000 to 116,989 in 2010. Attracting them are good schools, natural beauty—it’s designated a “Tree City USA”—and a strong local economy. In fact, the Dallas Cowboys recently relocated their headquarters there.


IRVINE, CALIFORNIA

Population: 266,122

Unemployment rate: 2.4 percent

Median home price: $775,000

Yes, the median price is a little—all right, a lot—on the high side, but it doesn’t seem to be discouraging many from moving into this iconic Southern California neighborhood with its low crime rate and high, six figure, median family income. Irvine public schools are pretty much the envy of the country, and UC Irvine is fast-growing in size and reputation. Not surprisingly, such brainy Fortune 500 companies as Broadcom, Allergan and Western Digital call the city home for their headquarters.

LINCOLN, NEBRASKA

Population: 280,364

Unemployment rate: 2.5 percent

Median home price: $162,100

There are few places on earth full of as much fun and tradition as Lincoln on a Saturday when the University of Nebraska’s football team is playing a home game. The university is one of the city’s major employers—unemployment is below three percent—along with Goodyear and a host of insurance, printing, pharmaceutical and manufacturing outfits. The city is reputed to have more parks per capita than any other city in the nation.


OVERLAND PARK, KANSAS

Population: 188,966

Unemployment rate: 3.0 percent

Median home price: $262,500

Though it’s the second-largest city in Kansas, just 15 minutes from downtown Kansas City, Overland Park maintains a small town charm, whether in its affordable neighborhoods or its pristine parks of which there are 83, some coming complete with their own fishing holes. The city not only has more than 1,800 acres of open space, not to mention a 300-acre botanical gardens, it is still able to offer lots of business opportunities such as Sprint World headquarters and many other large service sector companies.


RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA

Population: 458,880

Unemployment rate: 3.8 percent

Median home price: $222,300

The job market is extremely strong; between 2010 and 2015 growth was a brisk 20 percent in Raleigh. Besides having loads of local employment opportunities, especially in the public sector, many locals work in nearby Research Triangle Park, which is home to more than 200 companies including such heavyweights as Cisco and IBM. Close to the likes of Duke, North Carolina and North Carolina State, Raleigh is seen as a great place for young families with its good schools and decent cost of living. Not surprisingly, the number of kids between 5 and 14 in the city has grown by more than 50 percent this decade.


ROCHESTER, MINNESOTA

Population: 114,011

Unemployment rate: 2.8 percent

Median home price: $193,700

As you can see from the data above, Rochester benefits from a booming economy, lots of jobs and a relatively low cost of living, especially when it comes to housing. Things are so good in Rochester that Livability ranked it as the nation’s best midsize city to live in. It will be interesting, then, how it will handle even more of a good thing as the city’s most famous institution, the Mayo Clinic, gears up for a $6 billion expansion that will mean about 40,000 new jobs and maybe twice as many new residents.


SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS

Population: 1,469,845

Unemployment rate: 3.5 unemployment

Median home price: $202,500

We admit it: We are always surprised to be reminded just how large San Antonio is. After all, when you think of big cities in Texas, the mind tends to go directly to Houston and Dallas. San Antonio actually has about 100,000 more residents than Big D and yet somehow manages to retain the laidback, relaxed feel of a much smaller town. This extends right to its low unemployment and affordable housing, which explain why, over the past 25 years, San Antonio has added more than 500,000 residents.


TULSA, OKLAHOMA

Population: 403,090

Unemployment rate: 4.3 percent

Median home price: $108,400

Once the center of the oil universe, Tulsa has managed to transform itself and its economy into a diverse and booming one with strength not only in energy but aviation, finance and technology. The city, situated next to the Ozark Mountains and which has 135 parks, has also developed a reputation for being welcoming and encouraging, especially financially, to entrepreneurs and startups, which is a major reason you see it pop up on all kinds of listings of the best places for young people to start their careers.

BEST SITE SELECTION

ALEXANDRIA, LOUISIANA

Population: 47,832

Unemployment rate: 6.5 percent

Project: England Airpark

When Alexandria lost out on being the site of a major tire manufacturing plant, it set about to make sure that would never happen again. The result was the development of England Airpark mega-site with its more than 1,500 contiguous acres of heavy industry sites certified with due diligence reports. Louisiana committed nearly $12 million to the project and the England Authority another $4 million to develop what locals like to call “easily the best manufacturing site in Louisiana.”

ARLINGTON, TEXAS

Population: 392,772

Unemployment rate: 4.1 percent

Project: Texas Live!

As you’d expect for a city that has doubled in size since 1980 (160,113 to 392,772) and lured two major sports franchises (MLB’s Rangers, NFL’s Cowboy’s), folks in Arlington tend to be on the proactive side when it comes to business. The city offers all manner of labor market information, rapid response and recruitment—its site selection website draws raves—and Arlington recently broke ground on the 200,000-square-foot Texas Live! mixed use development that will open in 2018 and is expected to generate more than 3,000 jobs.


CAMBRIDGE, MINNESOTA

Population: 8,677

Unemployment rate: 4.40 percent

Project: Cambridge Opportunity Industrial Park

Located about an hour north of the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, Cambridge—which has its own municipal airport—may be small in size but it is home to numerous tech manufacturers working in such disparate industries as auto parts, food processing, metals and materials handling. The shovel-ready Opportunity Industrial Park is city-owned and shovel-ready. The city also helps facilitate low-interest loans, equipment financing, job creation funds and workforce training grants.

GRAND RAPIDS, MICHIGAN

Population: 196,445

Unemployment rate: 3.2 percent

Project: Grand Rapids Research Center

The $88 million research center will open with 26 biotech research teams and is an example of Grand Rapids’ ever-expanding business net. Perhaps most successful in that growth has been the city’s designated Renaissance Zones that spur new jobs, investment and redevelopment in urban areas. At present, more than 800 properties within 10 areas of the city are in designated Renaissance Zones, benefitting from virtual tax-free treatment from the city. Since 1997, RenZones have generated $251 million in investments.

JERSEY CITY, NEW JERSEY

Population: 264,152

Unemployment rate: 4.7 percent

Project: Bayfront development

Jersey City has seen such eye-catching developments as Journal Squared and Bayfront, a near 1,400-acre west side development that includes both housing, office and retail. The Jersey City Fund provides $25,000 to $250,000 to help facilitate funding for qualified businesses in need of capital. Jersey City also offers microloans and has begun a small business investor fund with individual loans ranging from $5,000 to $10,000, which can be used for startup costs, shop upgrades and other business costs.

Las Vegas/Henderson, Nevada

Population: 925,881

Unemployment rate: 5.2 percent

Project: Resorts World

The city’s long history of reinvention through reconstruction has clearly spread to the business sector as one of America’s great entertainment hubs has become a center for business. BizCONNECT is Southern Nevada’s first truly regional business retention and expansion program. Local business owners can use the BizCONNECT network to access resources and connections in Southern Nevada to support business growth, job creation and capital investment, providing not only global trade opportunities through Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Trade Zones but a gateway to local, utility and state incentives.

LUBBOCK, TEXAS

Population: 252,506

Unemployment rate: 3.9 percent

Project: Reese Technology Center

The Reese Tech Center, a campus dedicated to research, engineering and technology, provides a core business center, areas of common enterprise between the public and private sectors, a state-of-the-art data center/fiber optic network and an educational environment for approximately 3,600 students from Texas Tech University and South Plains College. RTC also provides 750 jobs in the public and private sectors. The recently opened Lubbock Business Park is a 586-acre parcel that has attracted the likes of Lummus Corp. and Verizon Wireless’ 30,000-square-foot data center.

OMAHA, NEBRASKA

Population: 446,970

Unemployment rate: 3.2 percent

Project: Boys Town Development


It’s no coincidence that Omaha is home to four Fortune 500 companies, including one of the world’s largest construction companies (Kiewit) and the nation’s largest railroad operator (Union Pacific). The city has long been known and recognized for its business-friendly and forward attitude. Witness a project that will encompass 500 acres of undeveloped land west of Boys Town that will not only include a dining and retail center but a lake, hiking and biking trails as well as an office campus to be anchored by Berkshire Hathaway’s Applied Underwriters Inc.

ONTARIO/RIVERSIDE/SAN BERNARDINO METRO, CALIFORNIA

Population: 4,489,160

Unemployment rate: 6.6 percent

Project: Optimus Logistics Center

Southern California’s “Inland Empire” has benefitted from the ecommerce explosion: Amazon announced it would build its fifth fulfillment center in the region, a gigantic 1.1-million-square-foot space. And Rockefeller Group is building a 1.45 million-square-foot warehouse project in Riverside County for companies needing to distribute goods that arrive through the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. The Optimus Logistics Center serves 9.5 million residents within a 50-mile radius and is within an eight-hour drive of potential customers in Nevada, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico.

RENO, NEVADA

Population: 245,2555

Unemployment rate: 4.0

Project: Downtown redevelopment

There was a time when the thinking was that the world’s Biggest Little City was giving away too much in trying to attract business to town. Not anymore. After doing what was needed to get Ardagh Group to build a state-of-the-art factory, it landed the Big One, Tesla Inc.’s desire to build the world’s largest factory, creating 6,500 jobs. Now there are numerous projects—business, community, redevelopment—remaking the city’s employment outlook and physical character.

ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI

Population: 315,685

Unemployment rate: 4.0 percent

Project: National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency headquarters

St. Louis has done a great job of attracting all types of businesses, big and small, and meeting their needs. But the ones that catch the eyes are some big boys: Amazon big enough for you? It has two projects in the works involving more than 500 million square feet of space. Pfizer is building a new $200 million research and development center and, biggest of all, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s rather massive headquarters is being built at a cool cost of $1.7 billion.

BEST SKILLED/EDUCATED WORKFORCE


ALBANY, NEW YORK

Population: 98,111

Unemployment rate: 4.5 percent

Leading industries: Healthcare, technology

No doubt a reason Albany excels so much when it comes to education—a few years ago it was ranked third by Forbes in its “Best Places with the Best Education” list—is how long it has been valued there. Albany Medical College was founded in 1838 and Albany Law School (1851) is the oldest in New York state. Local public schools are highly thought of, and the many local colleges have more than 63,000 students, which would make up about 70 percent of Albany’s actual population.

BEAVERTON, OREGON

Population: 97,590

Unemployment rate: 2.9 percent

Leading industries: Apparel, technology

All you pretty much need to know about the smarts and creativity of the folks in Beaverton is that the largest private employer there is cutting edge business icon Nike. Other big employers include a host of technology outfits; Beaverton is part of Oregon’s Silicon Forest and home to the Oregon Technology Business Center. Beaverton schools—among the best in the state—provide talent for those companies. Then again, those outfits have benefitted from numerous accomplished international transplants; one in five Beaverton residents were born outside the country.


DURHAM, NORTH CAROLINA

Population: 263,016

Unemployment rate: 3.8 percent

Leading industries: Education, technology

Durham is home to Duke University, which is by far the biggest employer in the city. It is also the seat of Durham County, which is also home to a little town called Chapel Hill, which is home to a university of some note, though it may be best to keep that under your Blue Devil mask when in Durham. Durham, Chapel Hill and Raleigh are the three hubs of the Research Triangle Park, one of the largest research parks in the world.


HUNTSVILLE, ALABAMA

Population: 193,079

Unemployment rate: 3.9 percent

Leading industries: Aerospace, defense technology

Huntsville has become a major destination of choice for those in the STEM fields. In fact, given the sheer number of available jobs in science, technology and engineering, the city has been dubbed “The STEM Capital of the South.” Those jobs are at Cummings Research Park, the second largest science and engineering research park in the U.S., as well as the Army’s Redstone Arsenal, where missiles are developed, and NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center.


MADISON, WISCONSIN

Population: 252,551

Unemployment rate: 2.0 percent

Leading industries: Health, biotech

Since the mid-’90s, Madison has experienced an economic boom fed by high-tech companies developed from and/or working with the University of Wisconsin that, of course, is located in town. Many businesses are attracted to the area because of Madison’s high level of education; to wit, about half of all residents over the age of 25 hold at least a university bachelor’s degree. Madison is also likely to appear on any list of American cities with the highest percentage of residents with Ph.Ds.


NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE

Population: 684,410

Unemployment rate: 3.3 percent

Leading industries: Healthcare, automotive

Sure, Nashville is the home of country music, but it’s also located in the midst of an exceptional amount of higher education institutions, including Vanderbilt and Middle Tennessee State University, located in nearby Murfresboro, as well Fisk University. This summer, local officials interested in building a better, smarter city are capitalizing on all that brainpower by launching a multi-channel 311 communications system, allowing citizens and residents to share ideas, thoughts and suggestions with the local government through a single portal.


NEWARK, NEW JERSEY

Population: 281,764

Unemployment rate: 6.3 percent

Leading industries: Manufacturing, financial services

Newark’s steady economic climb has been helped immeasurably by an intelligent local populace, many of whom hail from one of the many local universities. Newark is home to the New Jersey Institute of Technology and Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences. In fact, Newark’s local economy has a higher percentage of STEM jobs than next door neighbor New York City. Some of those jobs are with Panasonic, which moved its North American headquarters to Newark back in 2013.


TUCSON, ARIZONA

Population: 530,760

Unemployment rate: 4.3 percent

Leading industries: Aerospace, optics

Tucson’s workforce has helped the region gain traction as one of the nation’s most innovative business centers. Aerospace and defense have always been mainstays, but now life sciences programs at the University of Arizona offer cutting edge research facilities attracting companies from startups to multinationals. The city’s optics industry is world-renowned and stems from the city’s status as a center of world-class astronomy and U of A’s pre-eminence in the field of optical sciences. Sunny Tucson is a popular location of choice for solar energy activities and is becoming known for its abundant human capital thanks to state-of-the-art research and development.


WICHITA, KANSAS

Population: 389,902

Unemployment rate: 4.3 percent

Leading industries: Aircraft manufacturing, healthcare

Manufacturing has long been the rock-solid staple of the Wichita economy, and the concentration of manufacturing firms utilizing high technology design is one reason the area is renowned for its highly skilled workforce. Of course, when a town is known as the “Air Capital of the World,” it’s easy to see that a lot of that has to do with Wichita’s standing in airplane design and manufacturing. But its workforce has also made companies such as Vulcan Chemicals and Cargill Inc. tops in their fields.

BEST SMALL MARKET

ASHEVILLE, NORTH CAROLINA

Population: 89,121

Unemployment rate: 3.2 percent

Sales tax: 7 percent

Nestled against the Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville seems to have something for everyone. It’s been listed as everything from one of America’s top spots to retire, one of the country’s top beer towns and, not too long ago, it was dubbed by Rolling Stone as the “New Freak Capital of the U.S.” Not at all freaky is Venture Asheville, a public-private initiative which launched the Elevate program that offers mentoring and special services to startups. Asheville Angels network invests in startups and early-stage, high-growth companies in town and across the Southeast, and members also guide entrepreneurs after investing.

CHEYENNE, WYOMING

Population: 64,019

Unemployment rate: 3.6 percent

Sales tax: 5 percent

Though railroads have long been a mainstay of the local economy—the Burlington Northern Santa Fe and Union Pacific employ many residents—the city’s “Cheyenne Leads” initiative has pressed to diversify the economy, finding success on several fronts. Both Walmart and Lowe’s have distribution centers there, and the city has been successful in attracting several large data centers, including one from Microsoft. The city has also embraced wind energy, with local colleges offering wind energy tech programs and Vestas opening of a turbine blade assembly plant.

FARGO, NORTH DAKOTA

Population: 120,762

Unemployment rate: 2.1 percent

Sales tax: 7.5 percent

Fargo has seen exceptional growth in the last quarter of a century: a 22 percent gain in population from 1990 to 2000, a 16.5 percent gain in 2010 and, in 2015, another 14.4 percent. While most people assume folks are attracted by the oil and energy industries, the truth is Fargo has a much more diversified economy, particularly in industrial, tech and STEM jobs, the latter of which has grown significantly. Those industries are fed by a well-educated local populace, more than half of which have post-secondary degrees, well above the national average.

FORT SMITH, ARKANSAS

Population: 88,133

Unemployment rate: 3.1 percent

Sales tax: 9.75 percent

For a city of less than 90,000, Fort Smith certainly has plenty of key industry sectors where it shines including agriculture, food processing, manufacturing and retail. The area has long been a regional manufacturing center, with major plants located in the city operated by Rheem, Trane, Georgia-Pacific, Gerber, Planters Peanuts and Pernod Ricard-USA, to name a very few. Logistics, distribution and warehousing companies are drawn to Fort Smith given such assets as access to the Arkansas River and the convenience of Interstates 40 and 49 that both run through the region, where more than 500,000 live within a 50-mile radius of town.

HOLLAND, MICHIGAN

Population: 33,543

Unemployment rate: 2.5 percent

Sales tax: 6 percent

It may not be a surprise to you that a place whose nickname is “The Tulip City” wound up second on a list of the most beautiful small towns in America. It may surprise you that this town you may never have heard of appears so high on myriad other lists related to business, whether it’s based on the cost of doing business, which is relatively low, to the enthusiasm of those who drive the town’s business environment, which is decidedly high. Holland has also been named one of the best places to start a business and one of the best to raise a family.


SAN ANGELO, TEXAS

Population: 100,702

Unemployment rate: 4.0 percent

Sales tax: 8.25 percent

With a cost of living more than 15 percent below the national average and a local business climate that is encouraging and helpful, it’s not surprising that San Angelo has been pegged not only a great city to own a company or be an employee in but one that will continue to be for a long time. In fact, Kiplinger’s named it as one of the “Best Cities of the Next Decade,” in part because of a varied economy that includes agriculture, as well as telecommunications and manufacturing which include Ethicon, a division of Johnson & Johnson, Conner Steel and Hirschfield Steel.


SIOUX FALLS, SOUTH DAKOTA

Population: 174,360

Unemployment rate: 2.5 percent

Sales tax: 6.5 percent

Sioux Falls has been one of the most fashionable and consistent cities mentioned when it comes to great smaller towns to either be in business or be employed by one. If the city’s attributes, which include having no corporate income tax, were considered a secret, it’s been a very poorly kept one. The town has grown significantly since 2000, adding more than 50,000 residents. They are brought in by a great quality of life, relatively low cost of living and a healthy economic climate led by manufacturing and food processing outfits and, more recently, has seen the growth of service sector and financial service jobs with companies such as Citibank and Wells Fargo.


SUGAR LAND, TEXAS

Population: 88,177

Unemployment rate: 4.4 percent

Sales tax: 8.25 percent

Sugar Land has the best of both worlds, located just outside of the nation’s third largest city, Houston, residents have access to everything—jobs, services, culture—that affords. Then again, they might not be too enthusiastic to leave their hometown, which consistently is ranked as one of the best places to live in the U.S. It also has that effect on companies that have flocked there. Fortune 500 concern CVR Energy calls Sugar Land home as does Imperial Sugar Co. Companies such as Schlumberger relocated from Houston to a campus in Sugar Land.

TEN TURNING HEADS

ABILENE, TEXAS

Population: 122,225

Unemployment rate: 3.7 percent

Population growth since 2010: 4 percent (117,063 to 122,225)

Abilene has seen steady growth in population—a gain of more than 7,000 this century—and developments, mostly on the southwest of town. Part of this may be due to the city’s reputation for having one of the best public school systems in the state and nation, and part may be attributed to Abilene doing an impressive job of evolving from an economy dependent on livestock and agricultural to one that has expanded into healthcare, manufacturing and petroleum. Of course, it may be due to the city being home to the Texas state cornhole championship .. who can say?


CLEVELAND, OHIO

Population: 385,809

Unemployment rate: 7.2 percent

Population growth since 2010: -2.8 percent (396,815 to 385,809)

The city slowed a significant population loss from 2000-2010 when it lost 17 percent of its residents by diversifying its economy from the manufacturing sector. Part of that growth was prompted by a push to develop the city’s tech profile by appointing a “tech czar” charged with recruiting tech outfits downtown to several high tech office buildings outfitted with high speed fiber connections. Case Western Reserve University has participated in offering a high speed fiber optic network linking the area’s research centers.

DUBLIN, OHIO

Population: 45,568

Unemployment rate: 2.8 percent

Population growth since 2010: 9.1 percent (41,751 to 45,568)

More than 4,300 businesses already call Dublin home, which means about one for every 10 residents. And we’re talking small businesses and big boys such as Cardinal Health and Wendy’s Co. They come because the city has done an exceptional job of fostering entrepreneurship and can offer more than 7 million feet of commercial space and 2,000 acres of available land. Then there’s the 125 miles of fiber optics and an extremely well-educated population, 80 percent of whom have a bachelor’s degree or higher.

FRESNO/CLOVIS/MADERA, CALIFORNIA

Population: 974,861

Unemployment rate: 8.7 percent

Population growth since 2010: 7.3 percent (908,830 to 974,861)

This metropolitan area of nearly 1 million people is most famous for being located in the San Joaquin Valley, America’s Salad Bowl, but the region has also developed a diversified economic profile that includes everything from light manufacturing to heavy industrial sectors, warehouse to distribution services. Companies are attracted to the area by the quality of life it offers, snuggled against the Sierra Nevadas, and the educated talent that flows from the likes of Fresno State.

JOPLIN, MISSOURI

Population: 52,195

Unemployment rate: 3.5 percent

Population growth since 2010: 4.1 percent (50,150 to 52,195)

For a city of barely 50,000, Joplin has done an exceptional job of keeping local businesses informed and able to access all programs and incentives to help them get their products overseas. Consider that for its size, Joplin generates more than $250 million in exports annually. In fact, when state officials were recently highlighting the State Trade and Export Promotion, they shone a light on Joplin’s American Ramp Co., one of the country’s largest skate park and ramp manufacturers, which had used the program’s incentives to get its product into the Middle East market.

LOGAN, UTAH

Population: 50,676

Unemployment rate: 2.7 percent

Population growth since 2010: 5.2 percent (48,174 to 50,676)
As you can see from the above unemployment number, or pretty much lack of one, getting a job in Logan doesn’t really seem to be an issue. In fact, just about anything related to business seems a smooth go; the city has been rated one of the best to start a career or retire in. It has a low cost of living, about 10 percent below the national average, and an even lower cost of doing business, more than 30 percent below the national average.

ODESSA, TEXAS

Population: 117,871

Unemployment rate: 4.6 percent

Population growth since 2010: 17.9 percent (99,940 to 117,871)

Like those in many a west Texas city, Odessa’s economy was primarily built on and susceptible to the rises and falls of the oil industry. The city has done an exceptional job of diversifying into other sectors of the energy industry, particularly wind, as witnessed by a new wind farm constructed in north Ector County. Odessa has also become a hub for the logistics industry, which is attracted to the city’s location along west Texas’ major road and rail links.

OKLAHOMA CITY, OKLAHOMA

Population: 638,367

Unemployment rate: 3.6 percent

Population growth since 2010: 10.1 percent (579,999 to 638,367)

OKC is a great example of a city able to absolutely transform itself. It was only the mid-’80s when the city was reeling economically, with an atrocious job and housing market due to local bankruptcies and a crash in oil prices. Today, Oklahoma City has a side spectrum of industry sectors from information technology and health services. It is home to two Fortune 500 companies—Chesapeake Energy and Devon Energy—and numerous others employing more than 1,000. In fact, OKC’s economy is so diversified it has been labeled “recession proof” by business journalists.

PHOENIX/MESA/GLENDALE METRO, ARIZONA

Population: 4,574,531

Unemployment rate: 4.6 percent

Population growth since 2010: 9.1 percent (4,192,887 to 4,574,531)

After an explosion in transplants and talent that saw a nearly doubling in size from 1990 to 2010, the area has continued to mark steady growth, particularly in the business community. California-based Lucid Motors, which announced in November 2016 that it would build a $700 million electric car manufacturing facility near Phoenix, will create more than 2,000 new jobs by 2022. State Farm established a new, $700 million regional division that will eventually create 1,000 new jobs, and General Motors’ information technology initially brought with it 500 jobs with another 500 projected by 2019.

WILMINGTON, NORTH CAROLINA

Population: 117,525

Unemployment rate: 4.0 percent

Population growth since 2010: 10.4 percent (106,476 to 117,525)

The city’s industrial base runs an impressive gamut from electronic and telecommunications to clothing and apparel to nuclear fuel and pharmaceuticals. Part of North Carolina’s Research Coast, which is adjacent to the massive Research Triangle Park, Wilmington is a hub for aviation manufacturing, thanks in large part to General Electric, and is also home to more than 60 banks, both local, regional and national. Local businesses benefit from a favorable tax framework and companies are attracted by an educated workforce and favorable tax and regulatory policies.

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