Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Study: Owensboro a high performing small metro

A new U.S. jobs growth report lists Owensboro as a “high performance” small metro based on summer employment trend data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Headlight, LLC, which provides economic and workforce development companies with data and software systems, conducted the analysis.

Owensboro’s annualized growth from June to September was 5.8 percent, and its actual growth was 1.4 percent.

The study also provides a look at how close cities are to their employment status in December 2007 — the start of the recession. Owensboro has a 1.9 percent deficit. This data indicates it would take Owensboro 17 months to get back to the December 2007 employment level.

“Any time you look at comparable data to see where other communities like ours are, and we’re in the top quartile, that’s good,” said Nick Brake, president and CEO of the Greater Owensboro Economic Development Corporation. “And any time someone labels you a high-performing metro, it’s a good thing. It shows we have growth, actual and projected.”

The report analyzed 386 metros — 269 were categorized as small. Owensboro fit the criteria of a “micropolitan” area as defined by the BLS. This group has an average population of 50,000-60,000 but can be as high as 195,000. And they are typically single-county “ex-urbs” that can be located close to large metros.

The report is organized by population size.

Only a couple of other Kentucky metros show up in the study.

Louisville-Jefferson County is a “high performance” metro in the medium category for summer 2011. It’s annualized growth was 4.7 percent; actual growth 1.2 percent. It has a greater deficit from -- or further to go to get back to -- the prerecession employment level than Owensboro does. Its rate is -3.4 percent, meaning it could take 37 months to reach that December 2007 point.

The conversion of the job deficit data into “months remaining” to reach the prerecession rate does not suggest that the recovery will take this long, the study states. It is another data point of reference on the speed of the recovery.

The study also shows that 45 percent of the small metros still were in crisis during the summer. And 41 percent of medium and 35 percent of large metros also showed negative job growth.

Elizabethtown ranked in the bottom 5 percent showing -2.9 percent actual job growth.

“That’s almost half the small cities that were in recession this summer,” Brake said. “If you look at the average job growth by metro size, the top 25 percent are doing pretty well, and the bottom are doing really poorly.”

The report indicates that Owensboro has a good strategy in diversifying its economy and pursuing different options for growth including “quality of place and quality of life,” Brake said.

Not surprising, Brake said, is that it also shows a corollary -- many cities in the top 25 are college cities or are focused on quality of place or quality of life issues.

“They’re focused on creating a strong workforce, attracting young people and attracting entrepreneurs,” he said. “Anything we can do to focus on aligning with this sector is important.”

“While growth has appeared slow but steady for the nation, the recovery has been far from uniform across metros in the U.S.,” the study synopsis states.

The public release about Headlight’s growth report is at http://www.headlightllc.com/bestsummer2011/.

Joy Campbell, 691-7299, jcampbell@messenger-inquirer.com

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