BATON ROUGE, Louisiana
Unemployment: 6.2 percent
Population Growth Since 2010: 0
Being one of the strongest local economies in the nation means you get included on lists ranking best places for young people and new businesses as well as having the Brookings Institute list you as a top 20 city in North America for economic strength. And things continue to look up with Baton Rouge ranking 20th last year in total value of exports ($18.3 billion) and eighth in growth in value of exports since 2008 (9.1 percent).
Unemployment: 5.8 percent
Population Growth Since 2010: 6.3 percent
Charleston’s 6.6 percent export growth since 2008 ranks 25th in the nation and is in large part due to its growing status as a hub for information technology jobs and corporations (Blackbaud, SPARC). The Milken Institute ranked the city as the ninth best performing economy in large part because of the growing IT sector, which has been nurtured by the Charleston Digital Corridor, a community-sourced initiative that attracts and promotes the region’s tech economy.
GRAND RAPIDS, Michigan
Unemployment: 4.2 percent
Population Growth Since 2010: 2.3 percent
Home to five of the world’s leading makers of office furniture, Grand Rapids posts solid export numbers—$7.7 billion in exported goods ranks 46th in the nation. But that number figures to grow dramatically given that the amount of college-educated residents has increased 92 percent since 2000. Grand Rapids was listed as one of the top five smartest cities in the U.S. by Forbes, ahead of Washington D.C., and just behind Silicon Valley’s San Jose.
Unemployment: 4.6 percent
Population Growth Since 2010: 3.9 percent
You may not have heard of Greeley, located about 50 miles north of Denver, but the numbers certainly are starting to add up for a lot of people and businesses. The best of those is 8.8 as in 8.8 percent job growth, tops in the nation. Then there’s that 3.5 percent projected annual job growth, a cost of living 7.5 percent below the national average and a local landscape rich in outdoor recreation, i.e. 30 parks, six sports complexes.
LAS CRUCES, New Mexico
Unemployment: 8.2 percent
Population Growth Since 2010: 3.8 percent
When it comes to exports, Las Cruces isn’t so much emerging as exploding (in the good way). The city’s borderline ridiculous 210.9 percent increase in exports led the nation as it shipped $1.3 billion in goods (computer and electronic parts, electrical equipment, fabricated metal, plastic and rubber products) in 2014. The $913 million increase in exports from 2013 helped New Mexico lead the nation in export-related job growth with a 107 percent increase in 2014.
Unemployment: 3.6 percent
Population Growth Since 2010: 4.3 percent
Madison has always been able to flaunt its quality of life, which somehow manages to be both idyllic and sensible, i.e. the city boasts two lakes, four colleges, 37 libraries and 131 bars. Increasingly it’s seen as a good place for business, with low unemployment, plenty of smart people (more than half of residents have at least a bachelor’s degree) and incubators such as Sector67 helping to produce everything from cast iron cookware to 3D printers.
Unemployment: 5.1 percent
Population Growth Since 2010: 7 percent
While mentioning Orlando is likely to conjure up visions of amusement parks, the fact is the city is becoming a major industrial and tech center. The tech industry that calls the region home generates more than $13 billion and employs nearly 55,000 people. The Central Florida Research Park is the seventh largest research park in the country. Besides tech, companies in the area—representing more than 20 countries—are involved in everything from aviation, agriculture and missile systems.
Unemployment: 5.7 percent
Population Growth Since 2010: 2.8 percent
Sacramento has seen positive growth in its exports over the past five years highlighted by a 23 percent increase from 2013 to 2014—$1.4 billion in goods. That’s good but Sacramento business leaders are pressing to be great and so pressed forward with the California Capital Region Metro Export Plan in the hopes of boosting those numbers. Among those taking part in the development and formulation of the plan were such local companies as Intel and Blue Diamond Growers.
Unemployment: 5.1 percent
Population Growth Since 2010: -1.7 percent
In noting that Toledo’s recovery had gathered considerable momentum—local exports surged 41 percent last year—Moody’s attributed that to plenty of manufacturing infrastructure and a location that facilitates exports. Toledo-based companies have access to major rail lines and intermodal facilities as well as a Lake Erie port and two main U.S. highways. The city has also seen growth in green jobs around solar energy as companies such as Xunlight and First Solar have opened plants in the area.
VIRGINIA BEACH, Virginia
Unemployment: 5.5 percent
Population Growth Since 2010: 3 percent
The $3.6 billion in goods sent out of the region was a record, a $1 billion and 40.7 percent increase over the previous year. The increase, in part due to area small businesses getting serious about exporting, doesn’t figure to be a one-year bump; miles of beautiful beaches, including a vibrant boardwalk, acres of parks, great schools and inclusion on numerous best places to live lists figure to attract the talent to keep those numbers up.
top cities for global trade