This has, indeed, been the year of government. Several of the nation's state capitals boasted steadier economies than their peers, thanks to the less volatile nature of government employment. These cities also shared other traits: Some possess strong natural resources, housing markets that didn't boom or bust as much as others, growing healthcare sectors, or even close proximity to military bases, which helped boost their local economies.
In the middle of the worst recession in decades, it wasn't easy to pinpoint the Best Places to Find a Job for 2009, as absolutely no American city was immune to the economic downturn. And there have been, no doubt, job seekers as frustrated in these 10 cities as in others. But 2009 was an unusual year. To find the, perhaps, "better" places to find a job, we started with our database of 2,000 cities in all parts of the country. We then narrowed the list to cities that have weathered the recessionary job market and come out with below-average unemployment rates as well as job growth since 2000. We also focused on cities that were large enough to offer job seekers opportunities in a broad sweep of industries. U.S. News worked with Onboard Informatics to create the list—Onboard provided the underlying data and algorithm.
Overall, the quality that separates these cities from their peers is not necessarily steep job growth in recent years but a steadiness during the recession that has prevented the sharp employment declines and steep unemployment rates posing such a challenge to dedicated job seekers nationwide.
As the largest city in an isolated, sparsely populated state, Anchorage residents account for almost half of the total personal income in Alaska, according to the Anchorage Economic Development Corp. This is a young city, where the median age is just about 33, and payrolls continue to grow. Last year, in the depths of the recession, Anchorage officials proudly marked their city's 20th consecutive year of job growth. For one thing, the city's expansive energy industry helped insulate it from much of the recession. Also, the housing market has not experienced the nation's highs and lows. "I think that we've suffered a little bit, just like everyone else has, just not to the same degree," says Pauline Hofseth, a real estate licensee in Anchorage. Today, moderately priced homes seem to be "flying off the market," Hofseth says.
While the city's crucial tourism and shipping industries have been bruised by the recession, jobs have been added in education and health services, and in government, which represents 20 percent of the city's jobs. Retailers also continue to move into Anchorage: Target, Kohl's, Lowe's, Best Buy, and the Sports Authority have opened new stores.
Arlington is actually not a city but a county of 26 square miles that's home to the Pentagon and the Arlington National Cemetery. As neighbor to the nation's capital, it's not particularly surprising that the federal government is Arlington's largest employer. The Department of Defense, the National Science Foundation and the State Department are among the employers here. This concentration in government jobs has, not surprisingly, helped cushion Arlington during the downturn. But the county's economy is not wholly dependent on its proximity to Washington. Private companies have a significant place here as well. Among the largest private employers are US Airways, Booz Allen Hamilton, Lockheed Martin, and Marriott. "We have a number of employers here who are growing even in this economy," says Jennifer Ives, director of business investment for Arlington Economic Development. An excellent public transit system and a variety of housing options tend to lure talented workers—who are a major lure for employers.
While some are a bit hesitant to praise their local economy 20 months into a recession, Bill LaFayette, vice president of economic analysis for the Columbus Chamber, has seen the local data and the national averages, and he knows one thing is certain: "We're doing a whole lot better than average," LaFayette says. For one thing, Ohio's capital city is smack in the middle of the state—and pretty central for much of the country—and it boasts a strong transportation and distribution industry. Columbus's distribution employment has grown by a third since 2001, while the rest of the nation, on average, is down.