Top 10 Mid-Sized Counties in the US

We see the Fourth Economy Community Index as a starting point for communities, providing a baseline to help understand where they are doing well and see where there is room for improvement.

We envision using the information:

  • When developing an RFP to create specific strategies to improve your community
  • To lead community discussions about areas of relative strength and weakness
  • To inform presentations to stakeholders about the state of your community
  • To compare your community to top ten communities of the same size

The Index model incorporates twenty different indicators in the areas of Investment, Talent, Sustainability, Place, and Diversity. While we know there is no single recipe for economic success, we also know that these five areas are critical ingredients in vibrant communities everywhere.

What do we mean by each of these?

  • Investment: active businesses, access to capital, and investment in physical infrastructure
  • Talent: a growing workforce with education and job skills, equipped to excel in high-wage opportunities
  • Sustainability: transportation, land use, and environmental conditions that promote healthier lifestyles and a healthier planet
  • Place: affordable housing and transportation options that provide access to recreational and cultural amenities
  • Diversity: personal and professional interaction across lines of race/ethnicity, age, and wealth

Top 10 Mid-Sized Counties in the US (50K – 150K)

  1. Minnehaha County, SD (Sioux Falls)

Minnehaha County, South Dakota, has strengths in Place, Investment, and Talent, and has experienced a whopping 8% growth in population over the past five years. Along with the increase in the population of Minnehaha and the Sioux Falls area, the county also has a robust business community and has seen increasing development to meet demand, as illustrated by the blossoming communities around Sioux Falls.

  1. Platte County, MO

Home to Kansas City International Airport, Platte County, MO specializes in Management of Companies & Enterprises; Transportation & Warehousing; and Information industries. The county scores above average across all measures and in the top ten percent for place and talent. With top educational systems, significant investment in recreational amenities, and a strong workforce, the small communities found in Platte County appeal to those seeking a small town feel.

 Tompkins County, NY (Ithaca)

  1. Tompkins County, NY (Ithaca)

Tompkins County, NY, (home to Ithaca’s Cornell University) offers a supportive environment for entrepreneurship and business development. The county offers revolving loan funds to projects that cannot be financed by conventional sources and tourism capital grants to support capital projects at tourism destinations in the county. These focus areas, matched by top ten percent scores in sustainability and place, give Tompkins County a spot on our top ten list.

  1. Albemarle County, VA

Albemarle County surrounds Charlottesville and scores highly across all categories, with an especially high score in talent. The score in talent is aided by the quality public school system as well as post-secondary opportunities that include the University of Virginia and Piedmont Virginia Community College. An abundance of cultural, historical, and leisure opportunities make Albemarle County a place that people want to live, work, and play.

  1. Orange County, NC (Chapel Hill)

Part of the Research Triangle, Chapel Hill is home to the University of North Carolina. With above average scores across all categories, Chapel Hill scores highest in talent. Recent economic development targets include output of Medical School, Pharmacy School (and research), Applied Sciences and Technology. A main component of the area’s economic strategy is strengthening the connection “between town and gown.”

5. Kauai County, HI

  1. Kauai County, HI

Located in a beautiful island setting, Kauai County, Hawaii, ranks in the top 10 percent in diversity and investment. The mission of the county’s office of economic development is, in partnership with the community, to create economic opportunities towards the development of a healthy, stable and balanced economy for the residents. Above average scores in talent, place, and sustainability round out Kauai County’s overall success in the Index model.

  1. Burleigh County, ND (Bismarck)

Bismarck—the capital of North Dakota—ranks highly in investment, talent, and place. Bismarck has become one of the fastest-growing small cities in the United States. The city is the economic hub of North Dakota, with high levels of employment in state government, healthcare, and professional service industries.

  1. La Plata County, CO (Durango)

Tucked away in the San Juan Mountains, Durango and La Plata County rank top ten percent in place. Main Avenue in Downtown is a Nationally Registered Historic District that cuts through downtown Durango and is home to galleries, boutiques, restaurants, bars, and other businesses. The Animas river runs through downtown and provides residents and visitors with recreation opportunities. The area has a reputation as a small-business incubator and prides itself on economic growth through attracting entrepreneurs and small businesses.

  1. Gallatin County, MT (Bozeman)

Bozeman and surrounding Gallatin County rank second among mid-sized counties by scoring in the top ten percent of investment, talent, and place. Adjacent to Yellowstone National Park, Bozeman is a favorite of travelers and locals for its quality of life, scenery, and nearby recreation.

  1. Dallas County, IA

Outside of Des Moines, IA, Dallas County makes the top mid-sized spot for its excellent scores in place, investment, and talent. The county is the fastest growing in Iowa. The Greater Dallas County Development Alliance is a strong organization that advances the positive impact on economic, social, and environmental aspects of the region. Finance, education, sustainability, membership, and marketing committees take a holistic approach to protecting and enhancing economic, social, and environmental resources.


Click Here to Explore Fourth Economy Community Index

NIST Announces NMII Competition

Paytas-Blog-20160405Recently, The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) announced the competition to award its first National Manufacturing Innovation Institute (NMII).  Proposers may focus on any advanced manufacturing technology area not already addressed by another institute or open competition. Seven institutes have been funded to date with two currently moving through the review and negotiation process. After attending the Proposer Day session on March 8, 2016, it is clear that many proposal teams have already been formed. Continue reading “NIST Announces NMII Competition”

What Is Not Being Addressed that Will Kill Your Economic Development Strategy

BooksforBlogAt this point I think we are all familiar with the struggles facing Detroit Public Schools, at least on the surface: mushrooms growing in schools, teacher strikes, financial crisis. However, as detailed by this incredibly thorough and thoughtful report by LOVELAND Technologies, 200 years worth of poor decision-making led Detroit to where it is today. This speaks to the need for a new approach to public accountability in our education system. Recognizing the critical role of public education to economic development, in Nashville, it has been the Chamber that has been stepping up to provide that platform for accountability by conducting annual holistic assessments and concrete recommendations for improvement. Continue reading “What Is Not Being Addressed that Will Kill Your Economic Development Strategy”

Education Innovation

Remake-LearningI think that few among our readers would argue that fostering an innovative K-12 education ecosystem plays a critical role in economic development. Employers and economic development officials from any industry will tell you that the critical skills for a modern workforce begin at the K-12 level. They will also tell you that attracting and retaining their current workforce means creating a community in which employees want to live, and education is a major factor in creating livable communities. However, influencing K-12 education to ensure that it’s creating an intelligent and creative next generation workforce often feels like an overwhelming challenge given the systemic barriers. Continue reading “Education Innovation”

PA Standing at the Ready: Creating Proactive Strategies for Potential Changes in Defense Spending

PA-Defense-ManufacturingDefense Department budgets are in flux. Factors such as the Budget Control Act, reductions or shifts in spending related to the drawdowns in Iraq and Afghanistan and responses to future threats could all create significant economic disruptions for Pennsylvania’s defense industry sectors and the regions they call home.  The state’s defense industry leaders and the communities that support them cannot afford to risk being caught unprepared by waiting for news of budget changes and then reacting to them.  Instead, it is imperative that the sector understands potential risks and prepares for them proactively.   Continue reading “PA Standing at the Ready: Creating Proactive Strategies for Potential Changes in Defense Spending”

Inspire Yes, But Act As Well

Coffee-Shop-1099Tis the season for annual conferences – that chance each year for trade groups to tout their accomplishments and relevancy. The Fourth Economy team attended our fair share. What we find scary is that while the workshops and keynotes are conveying the seismic changes occurring in our economy, change on the street, in our communities and programs, appear to keep on keeping on as if it were, oh say, 1999. Many of the metrics for growth we heard remain focused on absolute land development, job creation (regardless of type and cost) and more office space.   Continue reading “Inspire Yes, But Act As Well”

Ready, Set, Survey…


As summer BBQs turn to fall tailgates, how often do you find that neighborly backyard burger flipping leads to discussions on how great your town is or how much better it could be.  Sure there is always room for improvement, but ever wonder how those opinions and impressions sync-up with the facts.  Sometimes we are too hard on our own community when it may really be doing quite well, while other times it is heading for a cliff that nobody seems to notice or care.  In either case, gaining a better understanding of how impressions align with the facts is a good starting point for long-term strategic planning. Continue reading “Ready, Set, Survey…”

Cultural diversity in the “fourth economy”


Building the “fourth economy” is all about combining traditional economic development tools with creative solutions to ever-evolving challenges.   The Fourth Economy Index is our framework for thinking about what sets communities and regions up for success: investment, talent, sustainability, place, and diversity.

Elements of these indicators came up again and again throughout three “21st Century Cities and Global Leadership” discussions at the recent Thrival Festival, focusing on questions like what might attract and retain talent in Pittsburgh and how to ensure that economic growth is sustainable.  And while diversity can mean many different things (and does as a metric in the Fourth Economy Index), one element of diversity that had an undeniable presence throughout the discussion was cultural diversity. Continue reading “Cultural diversity in the “fourth economy””

The Future of Work [Podcast]


In September, Dr. Jerry Paytas was featured on Workforce Central, hosted by the National Association of Workforce Boards‘ President/CEO Ron Painter. Workforce Central features public & private sector leaders in workforce development, education, business and economic development discussing key workforce issues and investment strategies to help America compete globally.

Continue reading “The Future of Work [Podcast]”

Fourth Economy Releases 2015 County-by-County Competitiveness Analysis for Pennsylvania

PA-County-Competitiveness-Analysis-FEC-IndexNew analysis highlights the economic competitiveness of counties across the Commonwealth.

HARRISBURG, PA – Fourth Economy Consulting today announced the release of the 2015 Pennsylvania County Competitive Analysis, an assessment of how counties across the Commonwealth are performing economically. At the core, the analysis is based on the company’s Fourth Economy Community Index, which examines both statistical and qualitative factors at the county-level across the U.S. within the economic factors of investment, talent, sustainability, place, and diversity. Continue reading “Fourth Economy Releases 2015 County-by-County Competitiveness Analysis for Pennsylvania”