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2011 Milken Institute Best-Performing Cities

The 2011 Milken Institute Best-Performing Cities Index ranks U.S. metropolitan areas by how well they are creating and sustaining jobs and economic growth. The components include job, wage and salary, and technology growth. In most years, these give a good indication of the underlying structural performance of regional economics.

1. San Antonio, TX

Balance drove San Antonio to the top spot in 2011. The city did not finish first in any of the categories measured by Milken, but has already reached its pre-recession employment peak thanks to the U.S. military’s Base Realignment and Consolidation (BRAC) process, as well as interest from energy companies like Halliburton and Schlumberger. A new Toyota truck plant had a shaky start due to the Japanese natural disaster in March, but production is now moving toward initial target.

2. El Paso, TX

The single biggest beneficiary of the BRAC process also benefits from U.S.-Mexico trade. Many workers who make their living in Juarez, Mexico spend their paychecks in El Paso.

3. Fort Collins- Loveland, CO

A ready source of talent is a boon for many cities, and the home of Colorado State University is no exception. High-paying tech jobs abound in the area, from employers including Intel and Agilent Technologies.

4. Austin-Round Rock, TX

Dell’s hometown of Round Rock also touts Apple, AT&T, IBM and others among its major employers. Samsung is planning to pump another $3.6 billion into its Austin semiconductor operations after weathering a drop in demand, and tech heavyweights eBay and Facebook also have operations in the area.

5. Killeen-Temple-Fort Hood, TX

Last year’s best-performing city slipped in 2011, but not too far. The closest ties to a military base of any community in the U.S have helped attract high-paying defense jobs from companies like Northrop Grumman and Westar.

6. Salt Lake City, UT

This metro’s stunning ascent comes from a productive mix of available talent and low business costs that attracts high-paying jobs in both high-tech and natural resources like copper mining.

7. Anchorage, AK

The major cargo hub has seen increased shipping, with tonnage up 20% in the first four months of 2011, and also draws strength from large-scale energy projects in the face of Middle East unrest and burgeoning emerging markets demand.

8. Huntsville, AL

The major cargo hub has seen increased shipping, with tonnage up 20% in the first four months of 2011, and also draws strength from large-scale energy projects in the face of Middle East unrest and burgeoning emerging markets demand.

9. Provo-Orem, UT

Home to a vital source of talent and research in Brigham Young University, Provo has seen employers like EMC and a joint venture of Intel and Micron Technology announce expansion plans and help its march up the list. That could continue, as Adobe Systems recently announced plans for a massive campus that will employ 1,000 residents.

10. Kennewick-Richland-Pasco WA

Momentum from a federally-funded effort to clean up the Hanford nuclear site is slowing, but growing industries like health care, manufacturing and software/IT services should help the area weather any job losses.

11. Charleston-North Charleston, SC

Aerospace is a big moneymaker for Charleston, with Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner assembly plant up and running, and attracting other businesses like aircraft component maker InterTech.

12. Cambridge-Newton-Framingham, MA

Skilled workers from schools like MIT and Harvard make the pickings ripe for employers, particularly biopharmaceutical companies like Novartis, Genzyme and Biogen, along with defense businesses including Raytheon.

13. Cedar Rapids, IA.

Rockwell Collins and others make Cedar Rapids is emerging as a hub for aviation businesses. The city’s financial services sector has also been resilient to broader industry trends, actually adding, rather than cutting, jobs in recent years.

14. Raleigh-Cary, NC

Part of North Carolina’s Research Triangle, Raleigh ranks ahead of the national averages in many categories, including long-term job growth. High-tech industries like telecom, biomedical, software, and IT services draw employees from nearby universities that attract many foreign students.

15. Ogden-Clearfield, UT

Another Utah representative, Ogden’s job base jumped 3.7% from 2010, second-best in the country. Thanks to Hill Air Force Base the area has been shielded from many aspects of the recession, but budget cuts could make its dependence on government jobs a risk in the future.

16. Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown, TX

It’s all about black gold in Houston, where oil and gas exploration is 15 times more important than the national average. Its proximity to the Gulf of Mexico also makes the area a critical trade hub and top-flight universities are driving growth in health care fields and medical research.

17. Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV

Perhaps the single biggest-beneficiary of federal jobs shielding a region from the Great Recession. That luck may run out to some extent though, as budget cuts could push up the unemployment rate, currently among the lowest in the U.S. at 6%.

18. McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, TX

Plummeted from fourth-place in 2010, but drug violence in Mexico continues to send middle- and upper-class Mexicans to McAllen, boosting the need for health care and other service industries.

19. Little Rock-North Little Rock-Conway, AR

Unlike most U.S. cities, where government cutbacks are hurting the employment picture, Arkansas’ public sector is expanding and bolstering Little Rock. The University of Arkansas and University of Central Arkansas help attract businesses, while a $32 million expansion of the Conway Regional Medical Center bodes well for the coming years.

20. Dallas-Plano-Irving, TX

Like the rest of the Texas cities on the list, the lack of a state income tax helps boost Dallas’ attractiveness to employers, including those operating call centers and providing back-office services.

21. Bethesda-Gaithersburg-Frederick, MD

A high concentration of entrepreneurs and abundance of venture capital should help the area withstand government budget cuts, as will the consolidation of military hospitals that will make Bethesda National Naval Medical Center the biggest in the country.

22. Omaha-Council Bluffs, NE-IA

Low costs, along with a favorable tax structure and strong university presence, have long made Omaha an attractive home for heavyweights like Berkshire Hathaway, Union Pacific Railroad and ConAgra Foods. Jump in 2011 index driven by growth around card processing and financial services.

23. Madison, WI

With a magnet for employers in the University of Wisconsin, Madison has an emerging high-tech sector that accounts for 10.5% of its workforce. Government budget pressures could take a toll on the state school though.

24. Fort Worth-Arlington, TX

Slipped one spot from a year ago, but long-term prospects are strong as the Barnett Shale natural gas play develops. GE Transportation is putting a locomotive factory in Forth Worth, and FedEx Freight plans to take over a 41,000-square-foot service center facility.

25. Lubbock, TX

Cotton production helped limit Lubbock’s dip to just one position, as prices were driven higher by emerging market demand. The region also has a high concentration of telecom employers, including AT&T, and could see some headwinds as state budget cuts impact the area’s biggest employer, Texas Tech University.

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