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  October 7th, 2015 | Written by

15 To Watch

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Population: 95,109
Unemployment: 5.8 percent
Population Growth Since 2000: 79,277 to 95,109

Home to a little Mom and Pop operation called Nike, Beaverton is one of those places where the desire to do business melds with the desire for a good life. Increasingly mentioned in those “Best places to live” lists, Beaverton is part of the “Silicon Forest” and is home to the Oregon Technology Business Center, a startup incubator that hosts entrepreneurship programs while offering coaching and shared office space to local ventures.

Population: 44,445
Unemployment: 7.9 percent
Export Growth: 140 percent

Part of a remarkable export push by New Mexico—the state led the nation in export-related job growth with an exceptional 107 percent increase—Farmington was second itself in metro export growth, increasing exports 140 percent from $34 million to $83 million. It was yet another year of growth for Farmington—key goods include machinery, transportation and electrical equipment—which has grown its exports nearly 10 percent over the past 10 years.

Population: 262,146
Unemployment: 5.6 percent
New Project: Goya Foods 600,000-square-foot headquarters/warehouse/distribution center

The Jersey City Urban Enterprise Zone is the largest and most productive UEZ in New Jersey, offering incentives such as reduced retail sales tax (half the normal rate) and tax credits including tax-free purchases of such items as capital equipment and facility expansions. The Jersey City Economic Development Corp. offers expert advice on every aspect of starting and managing a business, including counseling with members of the Service Corps of Retired Executives.

Population: 197,706
Unemployment: 5.1 percent
New Project: 15,000-square-foot Argenta Innovation Center

Located at the center of the nation—residents call Little Rock where “America Comes Together”—the city is at the crossroads of Interstates 30 and 40, the latter being the most heavily traveled in the nation, putting it within 550 miles of 40 percent of Americans. Not surprisingly, the city has experienced unprecedented growth and development, nearly $1 billion since 1994 in the downtown area with another $175 million in progress and nearly $200 million of proposed projects on the way.

MACON, Georgia
Population: 89,981
Unemployment: 7.0 percent
Area Zoned for Distribution: 1,100-plus acres

At the crossroads of interstates 75 and 16, Macon is just 75 minutes from Atlanta and an equal amount of time from international airfreight facilities. Norfolk Southern Railroad has its largest switching yard in the Southeast in the area and Robins Air Force Base, the largest single-site industrial complex in Georgia, is located just to the south of the city. Four deep water ports are within five hours by truck.

Population: 60,014
Unemployment: 6.1 percent
Residents 25 years or Older with at least Bachelor’s Degrees: 37.7 percent

As that last stat attests, Marietta’s population/workforce is a smart one, able to compete in the fast rising Atlanta metro-area that now dominates the Southeast. In fact, that 37.7 is nearly 10 percent higher than the state average. Still, what might be more significant for Marietta in the future is that its six percent population growth since 2010 gives the town an unmistakable youthful energy with more than a third—36.5 percent—of its residents under the age of 25.

NORFOLK, Virginia
Population: 245,428
Unemployment: 5.2 percent
Entrepreneurial Hangout: Granby Street

The city is regularly mentioned as a great place for young entrepreneurs, in part because of the energy from in-town universities Old Dominion, Norfolk State and Eastern Virginia Medical School, and partly because of local officials who encourage startups through programs such as Vibrant Spaces, which offers everything from up to $60,000 in matching grants to greatly discounted rent, as well as startup accelerators and support organizations such as Hatch, Start Norfolk, Code for America and Maker Faire.

PEORIA, Illinois
Population: 115,828
Unemployment: 6.2 percent
Key Investment: $2 billion in research and development

Peoria’s $2 billion investment in research and development is emblematic of the kind of commitment this region has made toward business and exports; witness the fact that just a couple years ago it led the nation in exported merchandise per capita. Besides investing capital, the area is promoting technology scouting and training to support local companies in their own technological development. Given that kind of commitment, it’s not surprising Peoria was ranked in the top 10 by Forbes as the best place to start a business.

PUEBLO, Colorado
Population: 108,423
Unemployment: 6.0 percent
Cost of Living: 11.6 percent below national average

Once such a force in American steel production that it also was called the “Steel City,” much of Pueblo’s steel industry is gone, though Evraz Steel Mills remains one of the top employers in town. Still, the city continues to grow, attracting both business and workers because it is the sixth-most affordable place to live in the country—measured by the Cost of Living Index—with a cost of living nearly 12 percent below the national average.

RENO, Nevada
Population: 236,995
Unemployment: 6.3 percent
Key New Business: Tesla Motors

Reno would be a town to watch if only for it being named the site of Tesla Motors’ $5 billion gigafactory which is scheduled to begin producing batteries next year. The 6,500 jobs and energy the factory will bring—one local casino is already offering a “Tesla Triple Spin”—can be seen around town, as can other large companies that have been lured to the area such as Amazon, which moved into a nearby 1.2-million-square-foot warehouse.

RESTON, Virginia
Population: 58,404
Unemployment: 4.0 percent
Population Growth Since 1970: 5,722 to 58,404

Founded in 1964, Reston’s residents tend to be rather smart: 66 percent of those 25 or older have at least a bachelor’s degree. The largest economic activity in the city is of a professional, scientific or technical nature and that figures to grow since a private school called Ideaventions Academy recently opened. It is a STEM-based private elementary/middle school, and the only such school in the country to require computer science as part of its annual core curriculum.

ROCHESTER, New Hampshire
Population: 29,991
Unemployment: 3.7 percent
Sales Tax: 0 percent

New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte sponsored the Manufacturing Skills Act, which would create a $100 million grant to strengthen manufacturing skills, after seeing what Rochester manufacturers such as Rokon International, maker of all-terrain motorcycles, accomplished with just 15 full-time employees. Rokon’s bikes, used by hunters, rescue workers, even Navy SEALs, are sold all over the U.S., Europe and Korea owing to a skilled workforce no doubt helped by local programs such as AMPedNH, which develops customized training programs for advanced manufacturing.

Population: 86,777
Unemployment: 4.7 percent
Population Growth Since 1990: 33,712 to 86,777

The city grew an astounding 88 percent from 1990 to 2000 (33,712 to 63,328), another 25 percent over the next 10 years and another 10 percent since 2010. It is consistently mentioned as one of the best places to live and one of the best places for business, which explains why so many companies have relocated—Fortune 500’s CVR Energy is headquartered here. The city experienced a remarkable 46 percent job growth at the beginning of the century.

TUCSON, Arizona
Population: 527,972
Unemployment: 6.2 percent
Major Employer: Raytheon Missile Systems (11,000-plus)

As Arizona works to recover from the recession, it seems Tucson may be the city that leads the way. The advanced technology industry leads the way, with such heavyweights as Raytheon Missile Systems, Texas Instruments, IBM and Honeywell Aerospace all having a significant presence in the city, and exports have grown especially in areas such as fabricated metal, computer and electronics. Not surprisingly, job growth has been predicted to keep growing and expanding over the next several years.

Population: 135,099
Unemployment: 7.0 percent
Major Employer: GM Technical Center, 17,000 employees

Forbes named Warren the ninth best place for business and U.S. careers; not surprising given a cost of living nearly 10 percent below the national average and a job growth rate of nearly 3 percent, owing much to a diverse local economy. As you’d expect, the auto industry, specifically General Motors, is a big employer in town, but so is the military industry, especially tank manufacturing, as well as industries that serve general medical and hospital industries.

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