America's Best Places to Find a Job 2009

Some cities weathered the recession a bit better than their peers.


Salt Lake City

Salt Lake City has squeezed through the recession with one of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation—now still below 6 percent. However, Utah traditionally has an unemployment rate lower than the rest of the nation, so it's important to evaluate the city's job market with a few different criteria. Home values actually appreciated in 2008, and although prices dropped in the first quarter—by less than 5 percent—they are still about 20 percent higher than in the first quarter of 2006. Salt Lake City boasts a diversified economy and is another spot rich in natural resources, including the one of the world's largest copper mines. The city's largest employers include Brigham Young University and the University of Utah, Intermountain Healthcare, and the Utah state government.

Shreveport, La.

It's quite possible that sometime in the future when you're watching Columbia Pictures' film Battle: Los Angeles, you'll be spying the scenery of Shreveport, rather than Southern California. Thanks to a thick package of tax incentives, Louisiana boasts one of the nation's most thriving film production industries. After Hurricane Katrina, Shreveport embraced filmmakers who had been forced out of New Orleans but still wanted to capture state tax incentives, and launched a new industry for its workers. "We've easily had 60 film projects in the last three years," says Kurt Foreman, president of North Louisiana Economic Partnership, a regional economic development group. Entertainment, such as gaming, is no small industry in this city, which has worked hard to recover from harder times. Leisure and hospitality employment has actually grown in the past 12 months. Shreveport also has a new $100 million convention center, the stabilizing force of Barksdale Air Force Base, and Louisiana State University-Shreveport.

Economists at IHS Global Insight expect Louisiana will have lost just 2 percent of its jobs by the end of the recession and will have returned to its prerecession peak by 2012. The state will be in the top four for fewest jobs lost, according to IHS. One significant development is Haynesville Shale, a Jurassic-age rock settlement that may be the largest deposit of natural gas in the continental United States. More than $3 billion has already been paid out in land leases and royalties. "We're sort of blessed with a lot of things at once," Foreman says.

Tallahassee, Fla.

Florida may not seem an ideal spot to land post-recession, given that the state's housing market was among the most extreme to boom and bust. But the unemployment rate in the state's capital city is still 3 percentage points below the state average. Tallahassee has seen job growth in education and health services, leisure and hospitality, and in the government sector. "It has fared better than a lot of other cities," says Laurie Hartsfield, executive director of the Knight Creative Communities Institute at Tallahassee Community College. "A lot of it has to do with being a state capital." While the government sector is responsible for nearly a third of the city's employment, the city has also been helped by its universities—Florida State University and Florida A&M are both based in Tallahassee—as well as an economy driven largely by small businesses that may not have contracted as much in the recession, says J. Michael Pate, a program director for the Knight Foundation.

Wichita, Kan.

The Wichita housing market has resisted the wild swings in value that have done so much damage to other U.S. cities. The city even managed to add jobs last year. Wichita's modern-day economy is still closely aligned with its past, when it earned the title "air capital." From the time local workers labored to build the Cessna Comet in 1917, aviation has been important to the city. Boeing, Cessna, and Hawker Beechcraft maintain a strong presence. While the aviation industry has been affected by the downturn, the local skill sets in Wichita are highly technical and specialized, so the industry's recovery portends a strong opportunity for the city to grow in the future, says Jeremy Hill, director of the Center for Economic Development and Business Research. In the meantime, Wichita's healthcare sector may be the strongest in the state—education and health services employment has risen 4 percent in the past year.