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Ten Shining Examples of Economic Development That's Working in the South

This is a very exclusive Top 10. According to Garner Economics, there were only 11 markets in the South that have seen wage growth in each of the past 24 months. What better way to judge whether or not economic development is working than tracking wage growth? Here are ten (the other is Gadsden, Ala.) of the 11 markets in the South that have seen wage growth every month over the last two years.

Winston-Salem, North Carolina
Winston-Salem, N.C., has a well-established industrial base, contributing significantly to North Carolina's role as a leader in manufacturing. But as in many areas of the South, Winston-Salem has seen a rapid expansion in the service sector, with financial institutions and health care leading the way.Over the past two decades, Winston-Salem has experienced a major shift in its economic makeup from manufacturing to health care and life science. Due to this shift, the jobs that have been created in these industries are paying much higher wages than manufacturing related positions. Today, Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center and Forsyth Medical Center, Winston-Salem's two local hospitals, are the city's major employers with almost 21,000 employees between them. The Wake Forest Innovation Quarter, Winston-Salem's downtown research park, has also experienced significant growth in recent years. This mixed use center and hub for innovation in biomedical science and information technology continues to attract highly educated people from all over the world looking for jobs in these industries. However, manufacturing is beginning to make a resurgence in Winston-Salem, but on a much more advanced scale. In 2010, Caterpillar chose the area to locate its $426 million manufacturing facility, which has already created 300 jobs that pay over $36,000 per year plus benefits. Herbalife Ltd. recently announced that they will be expanding their manufacturing operations to Winston-Salem and will create 500 new jobs with the average annual payroll in excess of $19.8 million plus benefits.

Lake Charles, Louisiana
It's no surprise that Lake Charles and Southwest Louisiana made this exclusive list of only 11 markets in the South that have seen wage growth each month over the last two years. Some of the nation's and the South's largest industrial projects have been announced in the Southwest Louisiana region over the course of those two years. South Africa-based Sasol recently announced what is most likely the largest single manufacturing project in the South's history and absolutely the largest foreign direct investment in North American history. The company is building a $16-$21 billion integrated gas-to-liquids (GTL) and ethane cracker complex in Westlake, La., near Lake Charles. The company will convert natural gas from shale plays into high quality transportation fuels, including GTL diesel, a much cleaner burning fuel. Sasol and other recent projects have earned Southwest Louisiana tons of press recently, including Site Selection's "Top Metro" and Southern Business & Development's "Mid-Market of the Year."

Owensboro, Kentucky
Owensboro is one of two Kentucky markets that have seen double-digit wage growth and rising wages each of the last 24 months. Owensboro has experienced a rejuvenated manufacturing sector with major facilities by Unilever, Specialty Food Group, Toyotetsu, Kimberly-Clark and Metalsa. Greater Owensboro represents Kentucky's third-largest city with a regional workforce that is right at 250,000.

Elizabethtown, Kentucky
Elizabethtown is the other Kentucky market to see rising wages each of the last 24 months. Elizabethtown-Hardin County has a well-established business and industry base. A keen understanding of the special needs of industry and a cooperative spirit between business, industry and government has created a superb place to do business as well as a quality of life environment that helps attract and retain industry from around the world. Akebono Brake, Metalsa, Dow Corning and UPS are just some of the corporate names that call Elizabethtown-Hardin County home.

Brownsville-Harlingen, Texas
Brownville-Harlingen is centrally located in the Rio Grande Valley of south Texas, one of the fastest growing regions in the nation. Just a few miles from the Mexican border via the Free Trade International Bridge in Los Indios, companies strategically locate here to equally serve the major manufacturing cities of Matamoros and Reynosa in the State of Tamaulipas, Mexico. The available workforce in the Rio Grande Valley is not only large; it is also young and mobile. The median age in 2011 for Cameron County is 30 years old. With an excellent education and training network, from an award-winning local school district to Texas State Technical College, employers locating in Brownsville-Harlingen can look forward to a growing pool of skilled and talented workers for years to come.

Fayetteville, North Carolina
Fayetteville's regional economy has bucked all trends during the great recession by showing GDP, job and investment growth over the past five years. Located in a state known for its business-friendly environment, competitive cost of living and a quality of life that is well known, Fayetteville has those benefits and more, as it is also home of one of the largest Army posts in the U.S. – Fort Bragg. Fort Bragg has long been an asset to the local economy but recently it has grown into a significant economic engine. The BRAC process brought Forces Command and Reserve Command to the post. Fayetteville's military brass has earned it the nickname "Pentagon South." The military and related businesses represent almost 40 percent of the local GDP. The GDP increased $3.6 billion or 31.5 percent since 2003 and $2.4 billion or 19.1 percent in the past five years alone. Another significant factor in Fayetteville's favor is the average wage growth. Wages have grown over 26 percent in the past 10 years and 11 percent in the past five. Add that to a lower-than-average cost of living index (96.7 composite) and you have an attractive place to live and work.

Hinesville-Fort Stewart, Georgia
Liberty County, Ga., located 30 minutes south of the Port of Savannah, is strategically positioned for companies, both foreign and domestic, looking to grow their operations globally. Approximately 75 percent of the existing industry employment in Liberty County is tied to companies headquartered abroad, and the community's existing industries export to over 70 countries worldwide. Recent foreign direct investment in Liberty County from existing industries and new companies has spurred job and wage growth. Two existing industries, Hugo Boss (German-based) and SNF (French-based), have expanded in Liberty County. Firth Rixson, a United Kingdom-headquartered provider of forged metal products for the aerospace industry, opened a 200,000-square-foot manufacturing facility there in 2011 and Florapharm Tea USA, based in Germany, opened a distribution center in the Hinesville Technology Park.

Jefferson City, Missouri
A combination of high income, low cost of living, quality education and a variety of housing options offer a quality of life treasured by those who live in Missouri's capital city. As the state capital, Jefferson City attracts and retains a highly skilled and educated workforce, not only for government jobs, but also for industries such as manufacturing, health care, finance and education. The diversity in the business community translates into a strong mix of technical, industrial and professional labor skills as well as an economy that remains stable even during challenging times.

Columbia, Missouri
"We are happy to be recognized by Southern Business and Development as one of the 'Ten shining examples of economic development that is working,' " said Mike Brooks, President of Regional Economic Development, Inc. (REDI) in Columbia, Mo. "The wage growth we are experiencing is a result of new jobs created through the combination of existing employer expansions, new employers to the community, and entrepreneurial companies that have experienced tremendous growth." The University of Missouri continues to be the economic engine of Columbia, and the school has experienced record enrollments over the last several years. Existing companies such as CarFax and ABC Laboratories, Inc. have added good paying science and technology jobs. The attraction of IBM to Columbia is adding 600 information technology jobs, and providing opportunities for new graduates with 2- and 4-year IT degrees. Columbia is particularly proud of Veterans United, a 2002 start-up company in the VA home mortgage industry that has become one of the largest private employers in Columbia.

Lawton-Fort Sill, Oklahoma
Lawton-Fort Sill is commonly mentioned as a joint community for good reason. Lawton and Fort Sill have been joined at the hip since Lawton was established in 1901 at the gates of Fort Sill, which has occupied this corner of southwest Oklahoma since 1869. Fort Sill remains the region's largest employer and Oklahoma's newest technology hub. Lawton is home to a wide array of economic engines. One is Goodyear Tire & Rubber, which produces more tires at its Lawton facility than at any of its other North American plants.

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