These Metro Areas Had the Top Job Gains Over the Past Year

Metro areas around the country have been adding jobs. But some regional economies have seen especially sharp gains in recent months.
by | June 7, 2017
Skyline of Dallas, Texas
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As economic growth has picked up across the country, several regions have experienced particularly sharp job gains in recent months. Some are places that have lured major employers, or are home to several fast-growing industries. Others are regions that suffered severe job losses during the recession and are now recovering.

Governing compiled the latest federal jobs data for all metro areas with workforces of at least 100,000. For each region, monthly employment averages over the first four months of 2017 were compared with those for the same period last year. In all, 33 of the 236 metro areas recorded year-over-year increases exceeding 3 percent.

Here are some of the places that experienced top job growth rates over the past year:

 

Boise, Idaho

The Boise, Idaho, region has seen its employment base expand 4 percent over only the past 12 months, the largest increase of any metro area reviewed.

The region’s economy is fairly diversified, with no single industry accounting for a large portion of employment. Education and health services jobs are up 5.4 percent for the year, while construction employment similarly remains strong. Public-sector employment, a particularly important component of the economy given the presence of the state capitol, is also up 4.1 percent over the year.

Several startups and expanding tech firms have been opening their doors in downtown Boise recently. In nearby Caldwell, a food-processing equipment company last spring began construction on a new manufacturing facility. Other companies are relocating from elsewhere, including an engine parts manufacturer that relocated to the region from Simi Valley, Calif., last year.

 

Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, Fla.

Orlando’s economy has emerged as one of the nation’s fastest-growing among larger regions. Monthly average job totals are up by nearly 46,000 this year, an increase of 3.8 percent.

Tourism has led Florida out of the recession and continues to remain strong, says Christopher McCarty, director of the University of Florida's Bureau of Economic and Business Research. The sector’s growth has been especially key to Orlando’s growth given the area’s theme parks and other tourist destinations. Local leisure and hospitality jobs have climbed 5.4 percent over the year.

An influx of retirees migrating to the region has boosted other segments of the economy as well. The latest Labor Department estimates indicate the region’s construction employment is up 8.6 for the year as the housing market continues to recover.

Other industries recording notable gains in recent months include financial activities and the trade, transportation and utilities sector.

 

Gainesville, Fla.

The Gainesville, Fla., region’s economy has seen employment increase by 3.8 percent over the year.

The University of Florida and the large medical center have driven much of the job gains. Government, education and health collectively account for about half the region’s total employment, so local leaders have looked to other sectors for growth. McCarty says there’s a focus on supporting a startup community near the university. “There’s somewhat of a realization that to really move forward a lot, the university really needs to have a community with enough employment to attract people to stay there,” he says.

Other regional industries, while still relatively small, have shown signs of growth in recent months. Professional and business services, along with the trade, transportation, and utilities industry, both expanded more than 6 percent over the year.

 

Nashville, Tenn.

Nashville’s economic boom doesn’t appear to have slowed. The region’s employment is up 3.8 percent over the first four months of the year, with all major industries registering increases.

Recent job gains are closely tied to the strong population growth that’s occurred for several years. Census data suggest much of the recent growth is most apparent in the suburban communities surrounding Nashville where new homes are being built. Accordingly, employment in the construction industry (which includes mining and logging), is up 12 percent over the year.

Another sector most responsible for the recent growth is education and health services, which has expanded by 4.6 percent over the year.

 

Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, Texas

Economic growth throughout many parts of Texas slowed in recent years, largely as a result of falling oil prices. But the Dallas region is still booming, continuing to add jobs at a rapid pace. Total employment over the first four months of the year soared 3.5 percent from the same period in 2016.

Laila Assanie, an economist with the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, says the region’s economy closely mirrors the national economy, which has acted as a tailwind in supporting local development. “The secret behind Dallas’ recent boom is a diversified industrial base, which provides opportunities for a variety of skill sets,” she says.

The big drivers in the Dallas area have been the business and financial services sectors. Multiple insurance companies have consolidated operations locally, for instance. Assanie says that the area’s central location, low cost of living and favorable business climate make it attractive for corporate relocations or expansions.

Much of the recent job creation has taken place around the suburban cities north of Dallas, which include Frisco, McKinney and Plano. Toyota just opened its massive new North American headquarters in Plano, expected to eventually employ 4,000 workers.

By comparison, the economy of Fort Worth and the western part of the metroplex is more tied to oil and gas. Although it’s still adding jobs, its annual growth rate was less than half that of neighboring Dallas last year, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.

 

Ocala, Fla.

A number of factors have propelled steady job gains in the north central Florida region of Marion County.

For one, the region has welcomed more retirees recently. That’s helped support the local health-care sector, as it has in other parts of the state.

Manufacturing has also started making a comeback as firms retool and expand, says Rusty Skinner, who heads CareerSource Citrus Levy Marion, a regional workforce development group. The local economy sustained severe losses during the recession, with construction and homebuilding-related manufacturing incurring especially sharp declines. Total employment, while still below pre-recession levels, has since accelerated.

One major selling point the region enjoys is its central location along a major interstate, making it an ideal location for distribution centers. FedEx opened a new facility last year, followed by an announcement that auto parts retailer AutoZone would construct its own new facility nearby.

Relatively small Marion County can’t offer all the amenities of the state’s big cities. So officials have taken a targeted approach in seeking employers who are a good fit for the advantages it does have. “The challenge we face is really honing in on those [companies] that will maximize themselves with our assets,” Skinner says.

 

Reno, Nev. 

The focal point for job growth in the Reno region has been the Tahoe Reno Industrial Center, which occupies 107,000 acres in the northern Nevada desert and has become home to a growing number of employers in recent years. Tesla Motor Co., the region's biggest economic development prize, continues to hire more workers as its ramps up operations at a battery manufacturing plant there. Earlier this year, Google purchased more than 1,200 acres of land with plans to build a data center. Numerous other tech firms, including Amazon and Apple, also maintain a presence.

Mark Pingle, a University of Nevada, Reno, economics professor, says that the region represents an attractive option for companies planning to expand or relocate from neighboring California with lower real estate costs, lower taxes and less regulation. “Company after company is locating there now,” Pingle says. “They have it so dialed in that it’s very easy for a company to buy some land, build their facility and be operating.”

Part of the region's growth, though, is simply making up for the steep job losses it suffered in the recession. Only in the past few months has total employment surpassed pre-recession levels.

 

Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise, Nev.

The Las Vegas economy ground to a halt during the recession. But the region has regained its momentum and has experienced some of the nation's top job growth numbers in recent months.

Part of that, of course, has to do with rebounding revenues in the gaming industry. As the national economy has improved, tourism spending is up, which means a boost for Vegas' casinos, hotels and related businesses.

But other industries within the region are growing even faster. Employment in the construction industry, hit hard by the collapse of the housing bubble, has jumped an impressive 16 percent in just the past 12 months. Financial activities and professional and business services employment also both climbed 4.6 percent.

Part of the economic growth also stems from continued longer-term population gains as more people migrate to the region. “Las Vegas has reached the population density now where they can start self-sustaining industries to supply Las Vegas,” Pingle says.

 

Ogden-Clearfield, Utah

The Ogden, Utah, metro area is another region that’s experienced strong job growth for a number of years. Steady job increases have persisted since 2010, with the latest monthly averages up 3.3 percent over last year.

The region maintains a diverse economy, and the latest job estimates suggest nearly every major industry has expanded over the past 12 months. Businesses recently moving into the area include Northrop Grumman and e-commerce website Wayfair.

One of Ogden’s hottest sectors is aerospace and advanced materials, a cluster that's currently supported by 17 area employers.

This story has been updated to include additional metro areas not originally listed.

 

Metro Area Jobs Data

This table shows changes in total employment for regions with at least 100,000 employed workers over the past year.

SOURCE: Governing calculations of BLS seasonally adjusted job estimates