Ten small Southern markets that are seeing their economies soar
The recovery from The Great Recession is in full swing in the Small Town South. Here are ten small markets that jumped out of the gate first.
Midland is a great place to grow a business. The confidence within the community is almost tangible as the economic growth breaks new records monthly. Visit with City Manager Courtney Sharp and he will paint a picture of prosperity through the sales tax receipts. In fact, real taxable spending in Midland was up for the month of January 2012 over 19 percent compared to a year ago, which in turn was up by over 30 percent compared to the prior year.
A stroll through Midland’s downtown amidst the buildings looming towards the sky you are certain to notice the bustle and activity of business in the air. No surprise that news of Midland’s opportunities is spreading to all parts of the country. In fact, Midland, Texas leads the nation in low unemployment rate bringing people from all over the country to take advantage of the vast employment opportunities that exist.
Preparation met opportunity when Caterpillar Inc., announced Victoria, Texas was the location of its largest heavy excavator manufacturing facility in North America. Ease of logistics for the Fortune 500 Company was the key in CAT’s decision to bring its investment to South Texas. Right in the middle of everywhere, Victoria’s location is within two hours of Houston, San Antonio, Austin, and Corpus Christi and three hours from the border of Mexico.
Victoria provided all the components of a well-developed community poised to partner for success and it is one of the most progressive and fastest developing cities in Texas. The expanding petrochemical and industrial chemical plants and the booming Eagle Ford Shale oil and gas exploration project in the region compliment the new manufacturing industry with plenty of available space for more.
The city of Auburn has been called the economic engine of East Alabama, fueled by diverse industry, a nationally recognized educational system, and a high quality of life. Auburn has sustained a strong economy and workforce during a historic national recession, and continues to develop new industry. With a population of approximately 53,000, Auburn boasts about four thousand manufacturing jobs in four industrial parks. Its latest economic development success, General Electric (GE) Aviation will add a large aerospace company to Auburn’s industrial portfolio, further diversifying the employment base in Auburn. Auburn’s many achievements can be attributed to a city dedicated to maintaining a strong economy and job market for its citizens.
November 2011 finalized a decade-long dream, as Toyota began production at its Mississippi assembly plant. That, with an additional focus on diversification, Tupelo/Lee County is poised for a prosperous future. The Tupelo region is home to over 200 manufacturers, with companies like Cooper Tire & Rubber, Advanced Innovations, MTD Products, and Tecumseh having made major capital investments. A tremendous boost for advanced manufacturing, Toyota Motor Manufacturing Mississippi and its suppliers now employ over 3,000 workers, and are expected to hire more in the future. In manufacturing alone, the culmination of this effort in Tupelo/Lee County, over the past five years amounts to a total capital investment of over $810 million, with over $185 million in annual payroll for the region.
On October 6 of last year, Continental Tire the Americas announced it would invest more than a half billion dollars and create 1,600 jobs in relatively rural Sumter County, S.C. It was not only the largest investment ever in the community, but it was simply the latest in a string of good news that has the people of the Gamecock City and County smiling again. Last year also saw the addition of 1,200 new high-paying U.S. Army jobs at Shaw Air Force Base, as it completed moving the Third Army’s headquarters to the local base. Sumter also announced last year its first Chinese manufacturer, in Hong Kong-based snack maker Au’some, LLC. Add up all these numbers and it’s evident that Sumter County is one Southern community that’s more than set to soar.
Northeast Louisiana and its hub, Monroe, La., are poised for an economic breakout. Increasing interest in the I-20 Corridor from industries site searching is close to an all-time high. Those industries are seeing a plentiful and able workforce. Louisiana Delta Community College has an impressive array of process technology and manufacturing curriculum and the college partners with Louisiana Fast Track, the No. 1 training program in the U.S. Louisiana's impressive rise in the ranks of states friendly to business and recognition is being noted to industries seeking a place to locate.
"A place where technology meets tradition" is a tag line many Southern communities can use, but it is the truth when applied to Aiken. Manufacturing has been an important part of the county since the mid-1800’s when William Gregg opened the first textile mill along Horse Creek. Those mills are no longer in operation, but the county is energized with new capital investment and job creation announcements. In early 2010, Tognum Americas (MTU) announced a $45 million investment and 250 new jobs. Then in the fall of last year, Aiken landed the largest-ever single capital investment in South Carolina history with Bridgestone's new $1.2 billion plant that will house 850 workers. Pair these projects with technology initiatives at Aiken's Applied Research Center (ARC) and Center for Hydrogen Research (CHR) and you have a full project pipeline that shows Aiken County is on the move.
Lake Charles, La.
With over $30 billion dollars in announced projects in the petro-chemical, aviation, gaming, and manufacturing sectors, Southwest Louisiana is on a course to reduce unemployment to record levels. Technical and community colleges and McNeese University are gearing up to handle the worker training needs as an influx of workers descend on Lake Charles and Southwest Louisiana from around the South and the nation. The region is loaded with potential industrial sites, so there is room for more growth. The SWLA Economic Development Alliance is working closely with officials in the LNG gas industry to get permits approved for retro-fitting their LNG facilities to export Louisiana gas. With heavy demands for energy, the region will continue to supply much of the nation’s energy. "It’s what we do along the Louisiana Coast," said George Swift of the SWLA Alliance.
With manufacturing re-shoring back to the South from Asian markets and elsewhere around the globe, Seguin, Texas is in a good position. Already recognized for having the highest manufacturing jobs per capita in the state of Texas and almost twice the national manufacturing job average, Seguin is home to Caterpillar, Cavco Industries, Alamo Industrial, Continental Automotive Systems, Tyson Foods, CMC Steel and Hexcel Corp., just to name a few. Located just 30 minutes east of San Antonio and 45 minutes south of Austin, Seguin has easy access to two international airports, two deep water ports and two interstate highways.
Athens-Clark County, Ga., is not a market that you would think of when putting together ten small Southern towns that are seeing their economies soar. Sure, the University of Georgia is located in Athens. Yet, being home to a large state university sometimes prevents small towns from expanding into other industry sectors. But on February 17, 2012, something happened in Athens that goes against the grain of typical university towns. On that day Caterpillar announced it would re-shore a plant from Japan to Athens. That single announcement will help transform Athens’ economy. CAT will invest $200 million in the project, which is expected to house 1,400 workers and spin-off 2,800 supply-chain jobs.