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.
You can, however, thank the city's diverse economy for much of its resilience. Healthcare, hospitality, manufacturing, and even the tech industry contribute plenty of jobs. Some of the city's major employers include Ohio State University, OhioHealth, Nationwide Insurance, JPMorgan Chase, Bob Evans, and Limited Brands. Employment in information technology occupations is significantly higher than in comparably sized regions because "so many of our sectors are voracious consumers of data" and need top-notch IT infrastructure, LaFayette says.
In the city that a young President Obama once called home, things are looking slightly steadier than in the rest of the nation. Honolulu's unemployment rate hadn't hit 5 percent before the start of 2009, and it's still nestled below 7 percent. Like many cities that have fared better in the recession, Honolulu never experienced much of the housing bubble's burst. Its home values are among the highest in the nation. "We're a little bit better off than the U.S.," says Carl Bonham, a University of Hawaii-Manoa economics professor and executive director of the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization.
Granted, it's not all roses in this Hawaiian state capital. Tourism rules Honolulu's economy, and many of its large employers are hotel chains. The jaw-dropping peak oil prices of last year, plus this recession's pullback in consumer spending, caused pain to the tourism industry nationwide, and Bonham doesn't expect Honolulu's tourism revenues will return to their peak for several years. But government is nearly a quarter of the city's employment, which helps bring stability to the larger economy. As well, the Bank of Hawaii and Queen's Medical Center are among the city's top employers. The most in-demand jobs over the next decade are expected to be in retail, higher education, and nursing.
Texas has proved enormously resilient during this recession. The state's economy has performed in stark contrast to the rest of the nation—many counties in the state have even eked out job gains during the downturn. There are a few reasons for the state's strength, and housing was no small factor. "Houses have always been very, very affordable in Texas," says Dave Iaia, managing director of the U.S. Regional Services Group at IHS Global Insight. Unlike nearly all other metros, IHS is projecting that Texas cities will add jobs within the next year. The job markets in Dallas, San Antonio, Fort Worth, and Austin have all been steadier than average nationally.
You can also thank the world's dependence on fossil fuels for the state's success, particularly for the economic health in Houston. Houston is home to 27 Fortune 500 companies, including ConocoPhillips and Marathon Oil. While commodity prices have been volatile during the downturn, demand is climbing back up in part thanks to stimulus from overseas and the recovering U.S. economy, according to a report by the Dallas Fed. Like other steady cities, healthcare is an important part of Houston's economy. For example, the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Medical Center, one of the nation's top hospitals, employs more than 17,000 workers in Houston.