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Best cities for riding out the recession

The downturn arrived late or hardly at all in some U.S. metro areas.

By Karen Datko Oct 26, 2009 3:48PM

What does San Antonio have besides great food and the Alamo? The right stuff to beat back the Great Recession.


San Antonio ranks No. 1 in a BusinessWeek ranking of the top 40 strongest U.S. metropolitan economies, based on a Brookings Institution MetroMonitor survey.


In Texas' second-largest city (yep, San Antonio is now bigger than Dallas) the unemployment rate in June was just 6.9%, two points higher than a year ago, according to BusinessWeek, which produced a slideshow of its top 40 cities. San Antonio, it says, "has one of the strongest job markets in the nation."


No. 2 on the list is the Austin-Round Rock area in Texas, the last state to experience the recession. Also representing Texas on BusinessWeek's list are Dallas, Houston, El Paso, and McAllen, despite that metropolitan area's 11% unemployment rate.


"Although the metros in the ranking are strong by relative standards, their unemployment rates in many cases are now peaking because they entered the recession late," the BusinessWeek story says. And it's not expected to last very long.

What sets these places apart from cities in, say, Michigan, Nevada and Florida? The Brookings Institution looked at job growth, unemployment, gross metropolitan product, and home prices. The cities on the BusinessWeek list for the most part avoided wide price swings in housing, and, in many, home values are rising. 


The MetroMonitor report for the second quarter of 2009 (.pdf file) also identifies the 20 "weakest-performing" metro areas, which include eight in Florida, two in Michigan, and three each in Ohio and California. Among the other notables were Portland, Ore.; Las Vegas; and Providence, R.I. 


Also from the slideshow of 40 cities doing pretty well despite the recession:

  • Washington, D.C., is No. 13. The federal government has lots of vacant jobs to fill (and not just in the D.C. area).
  • Columbia, S.C., is No. 14. Hosting the state capitol and the University of South Carolina provides a solid economic base. However, unemployment in June was 9.8%. Other state capitals on the list include: Harrisburg, Pa.; Des Moines, Iowa; Madison, Wis.; Albany, N.Y.; Hartford, Conn.; and Indianapolis. Many are also home to universities -- contributing to economic stability.
  • We're not at all surprised to see Pittsburgh at No. 15. The proud home of the Steelers has a diversified economy, including health care and education.
  • But other Eastern cities without Pittsburgh's robust reputation for surviving change also appear, including the Scranton-Wilkes-Barre area in northeastern Pennsylvania, and Rochester, Syracuse, and Buffalo in New York state. The BusinessWeek story says upstate New York benefited from health care, education and government jobs even as manufacturing declined.
  • In the West: Colorado Springs, Colo.; Albuquerque, N.M.; Ogden, Utah; and Denver.
  • Other notables: Boston and New Haven, Conn., home of Yale University, tied for No. 32. Baltimore was No. 34, tied with the Poughkeepsie area of New York.

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