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Naples, Austin Head List Of Best Cities For Job Growth

Posted on: Saturday, July 26th, 2014


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Kurt Badenhausen
 Kurt Badenhausen Forbes Staff

Florida’s economy experienced a tremendous surge during the first half of the 2000s when home prices jumped 120% between 2000 and 2006. The gains fueled more construction and speculative buying, while the unemployment rate for the state stood at a scant 3.3% throughout most of 2006. But when the financial crisis hit, Florida was smacked as hard as any state in the nation. Home prices plummeted, foreclosures soared and unemployment peaked at 11.4% for the state.

Florida has crawled back from the depths of the recession and the  employment outlook is bright, particularly for the retirement enclaves in the southern part of the state. Leading the way is Naples, which is expected to have the fastest job growth rate among the 200 largest metro areas with an annual rate of 4.1% through 2016, according to Moody’s Analytics.

“Demographic trends are healing and coming back,” says Arijit Dutta, an economist at Moody’s Analytics who tracks the Naples area. Migration to Florida came to a halt during the economic crisis as people lost their jobs or had trouble unloading their homes. Population growth fuels a number of key industries like housing and retail. Growth has now returned to the Sunshine State.

Florida added retail jobs at the fastest rate of any state in 2013 and Naples was the top market in Florida. Dutta expects retail sales to continue their momentum. Naples is also one of the wealthiest retirement areas in the U.S. and many retirees are sitting on big nest eggs that have skyrocketed with the strong equity markets over the past five years. These gains are fueling spending on construction and consumer goods in the area. The improved U.S. economy is also spurring more tourism, which is a major component of the south Florida market. Unemployment which peaked at 12.2% in Naples in January 2010 was just 5.4% last month.

Fellow southern Florida locales Cape Coral (3.7%) and Port St. Lucie (3.5%) also rank among the 10 metro areas with the highest projected job growth. These areas are not as wealthy as Naples, but the story is much the same with retiring Baby Boomers fueling employment gains in the communities. Roughly 25% of the population in Port St. Lucie is over 65. Jobs are mainly in healthcare, retail and leisure and hospitality, according to Moody’s Analytics economist Sarah Crane.

Austin, Tex. finished in second, a shade behind Naples, when it comes to metros with the best job growth prospects over the next three years. Companies flock to Austin to take advantage of the strong workforce options, which are continuously replenished by the University of Texas at Austin. The state’s flagship campus has more than 50,000 students, as well as 24,000 faculty and staff. People are moving to Austin to chase the jobs, as the metro boasts the third highest net migration rate in the U.S. over the last five years.

The Texas capital continues to be a major tech center with Dropbox, IBM IBM -0.43% andOracle ORCL -0.35% all announcing major expansions in the area over the last year. Technology security firm Websense revealed plans in February to move its corporate headquarters to Austin from San Diego in a deal that will create 470 jobs. “The city is quickly becoming a technology hub with an invigorating quality of life and multi-tiered workforce that fits well into our future plans,” said Websense CEO John McCormack in a release announcing the news.

Texas dominates the rest of top 10 with four other metros, in addition to Austin. Mexican border community McAllen ranks No. 3, while Dallas (No. 5), Houston (No. 9) and San Antonio (No. 10) also made the cut. All are expected to have annual job growth of at least 3.5%. The only places outside of Florida and Texas to make the cut for the top 10 metros for job growth are Greeley, Colo. and Raleigh, N.C., which ranks first on our annual look at the Best Places for Business and Careers.

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