FAIRHOPE – Baldwin County has been ranked among the top locations in the United States for job and economic growth, according to a study released recently.
The Daphne, Fairhope, Foley Metropolitan Statistical Area, which also includes surrounding regions, was ranked 11th out of 201 small cities across the country. Baldwin communities were the top ranked area in Alabama with the Auburn-Opelika MSA the next highest at 19.
Lee Lawson, director of the Baldwin County Economic Development Alliance, said the report shows that the area is continuing to improve, moving up from 12th place in 2017.
“We moved up one spot,” he said. There are a lot of great communities that we’re mixed in with. There are a lot of great communities in the country that we’re mixed in with all leading our sized areas. There are about 200 MSAs and for us to be just outside the top 10 is great. It shows that we’re a dynamic MSA and growing.”
Casey Williams, president and chief executive officer of the Eastern Shore Chamber of Commerce, said the rating shows that the growth and improvements on the Eastern Shore and other areas of Baldwin are being recognized on a national level.
“We’ve known this, but it’s good to see this acknowledged nationwide,” she said.
Williams said many aspects highlighted by the report for growth in smaller municipal areas fit the Baldwin County region.
The report stated that small cities where the economy has improved have seen growth in the health-care, knowledge-based, amenity focused, manufacturing, and logistics sectors. Health-care industries in smaller metros benefit from lower living costs increasing the concentration of retirees. Places offering more amenities have seen growth as well. The tourism industry can also provide a competitive advantage to cities. Lower cost areas have seen growth in high-tech industries and manufacturing. Smaller metros have overall lower costs for businesses, which can help attract labor-dependent employment. Higher cost major cities have pushed segments of their populations to smaller cities with lower living costs and a higher quality of life.
She said cooperative efforts by educators, government and business leaders have been a key to continuing economic improvement. Programs that prepare local students for jobs that are in demand by industries in the area or businesses that might locate in Coastal Alabama help young people and the economy.
The Daphne, Fairhope, Foley MSA ranked seventh nationwide in job growth for the period from 2012 to 2017, according to the report. The area ranked 20th in job growth for 2016 to 2017. Wage growth for 2011 to 2016 came in at 16 on the report.
The Baldwin County area came in lower on technology growth, ranking 112 on high tech growth from 2012 to 2017.
Lawson said local officials are working to improve growth in technology. He said Baldwin is improving in high-tech growth, but often not in areas that can be easily measured. The region does not have a central area dedicated to technical industries, but many local companies area working on improvements in that area and educators are working to prepare students for technology jobs.
The Bend-Redmond Ore. region was the highest ranking small city area in the report. That MSA also topped the list the year before. The next two cities – St. George, Utah and Gainesville, Ga. – also maintained their second and third-place spots for both years.
On the list of larger cities, Huntsville came in at 59, up from 86 in 2017. Mobile was at 177, up from 186 the year before. The Birmingham-Hoover MSA was 165 in 2018 dropping from 159 in 2017.