National Fourth Economy Community Index Lists Top 10 Large-Sized Counties for 2013

Fourth Economy Consulting announces the latest release of its national community index, listing top counties from across the nation. The Fourth Economy Index highlights those communities ideally positioned to attract modern investment and managed economic growth within the fourth economy.

PITTSBURGH, PA – The latest release of the “Fourth Economy Community (FEC) Index” was announced today listing the nation’s top 10 large-sized Fourth Economy Communities. These communities are those ideally positioned to attract modern investment and managed economic growth.

The “fourth economy” characterizes the most recent phase of our nation’s economy, reflecting a combination of the previous three to include agrarian, industrial, and technological. This new index is intended to serve as a dashboard for community stakeholders to gauge their capacity to attract and retain modern investment.

“There has never been a more important time for economic and community developers to rethink how we measure economic success,” said Rich Overmoyer, CEO of Fourth Economy Consulting, the economic development firm that created the index in 2011.  “Recent articles in the New York Times and The Atlantic on the use of state incentives to lure big companies reinforces that an outdated model of economic development needs to be evolved to one that considers a broader set of community investment opportunities. The Fourth Economy Index is an attempt to highlight what makes stronger, economically viable communities,” Overmoyer added.

“Every year we work with more communities and economic development organizations across the country and are witnessing first hand the ways communities are responding to the new economic reality,” said Stephen McKnight, Fourth Economy Vice President of Community and Market Assessments. “We used these experiences to create and constantly evolve the FEC Index.”

The Fourth Economy Communities have demonstrated a blend of both rural and urban character, offering their residents diverse living and working options. “This trend holds true with the large sized counties,” McKnight noted.  “Another common attribute is a geographic association with institutions of higher education, which are the modern engines of the fourth economy. As a result, these communities can provide the talent and place-based strategies that address housing, recreation and amenities for smaller, high-value businesses to thrive,” McKnight said.

About the Index

The Fourth Economy Community Index (#FECIndex) categorizes counties based on their Census 2010 population.  Micro counties are those less than 25,000.  Small counties range from 25,000 to 49,999.  Mid-sized counties are 50,000 to 149,999.  The large counties are between 150,000 and 499,999.  The FEC Index then considers several county-level measures within five areas: 1) Investment, 2) Talent, 3) Sustainability, 4) Place, and 5) Diversity. These five areas serve as a foundation for future economic success.  Specific indicators include wage and employment growth, education levels, drive times, home values, minority business ownership, agricultural and manufacturing capacity and population density. The measures are then weighted based on the level of influence they have on both internal and external investment decisions.

This most recent ranking includes refinements to the previous listings to include new measures and the population categories outlined above.  It is anticipated that new data sets and sources will be utilized when possible offering an evolving look at the most competitive communities across the country.

The Top 10 Large-Sized Communities for 2013

#1: Durham County, North Carolina

(Population 273,392)

Leading the large county index is highly popular Durham County, North Carolina, home to Duke University, a historic downtown center, and a booming technological prowess, all with an unmistakable Southern charm.

Durham County has been long ahead of the game when it comes to research and development, capitalizing upon its wealth of academic resources and potential for discovery. Home to one of the nation’s most competitive universities and major technology playground, Research Triangle Park, companies such as IBM, Cisco, NetApp, and their research teams have taken root in the area, creating a demand for manufacturing expertise and a technology industry that supports that growth.

The city mobilized its efforts in attracting entrepreneurs by creating a built environment that facilitates investment, bringing a newfound vitality to downtown Durham. Focusing upon Durham’s potential as a prime start-up environment, the city invested in marketing to the businesses, offering services like Smoffice and The Bull City Startups. These tactics have been incredibly successful, bringing eighty start-ups in three years and creating 600 jobs.

“We do entrepreneurial activity much better than most. Our secret sauce is—create the environment, invite them to try it, and get out of the way. We play in keeping the ecosystem vibrant and allow them to use it to grow organically,” says Casey Steinbacher of the Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce. “We are an incredibly diverse and welcoming community that values diversity of people and thoughts so new ideas do well here”.

Durham County boasts a quality of life that many counties of its size envy. As the economy diversifies, focus swings to improvements for charter schools and more youth programs. As a result, those unconnected to business lead better lives as well, creating a well-rounded approach to fourth economy development.

#2:  Sedgwick County, Kansas

(Population 500,000)

The “Air Capital of the World” is widely considered a technological powerhouse, named by Brookings’ May 2012 study Locating American Manufacturing as #1 in manufacturing jobs and #3 in very high-technology manufacturing jobs. With leaders in the aerospace, manufacturing and informational technology industries, opportunities for employment are growing continually.

Wichita’s home county has reached a pivotal point in its development, due to concerted efforts from both the private and public sectors and the Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition. The GWEDC has focused its work on business retention and growth, with an award-winning record of success. With a keen sense of the area’s future potential, smart investments have led to an influx of new businesses and a generation of young people prepared for the explosion of this potentially burgeoning private start-up scene.

“We’re starting to see it emerge,” says Tim Pett, director of the center for Entrepreneurship at Wichita State University. The region is now capitalizing upon these ventures through homegrown strategies for start-up success. Companies like the Wichita Technology Corporation and Pipeline support the efforts of these businesses, helping to get them off the ground.

#3:  Guilford County, North Carolina

(Population 495,279)

Expansion is the key for Guilford County’s trajectory, with grants and business growth ushering in a wave of recent developments to Greensboro, the county seat. In one year, forty businesses relocated and expanded downtown and more are set to move in. Within the next year, the region will also see the completion of several housing developments projects, a Downtown Greenway and the creation of an open-air natural food market.

Looking to the future, the county is the recipient of various grants and investments targeted towards a strong generation of employees. The region is densely packed with educational institutions and as such, is a hub for research and development, including UNC Greensboro, North Carolina A&T State University, Guilford College, Greensboro College, Guilford Technical Community College, Bennett College, Elon Law School and High Point University, enrolling more than 50,000 students collectively. Boasting the Gateway University Research Park as well as these higher education innovators, the region is in a key position to become an academic powerhouse. A diversifying economy and a strong sense of entrepreneurship will set the ball into motion, leading Guilford County to a prosperous future.

#4:  Linn County, Iowa

(Population 213,875)

From the devastation of a 2008 flood that nearly destroyed Cedar Rapids, a sincere and heartfelt revitalization comes alive, bringing vitality back to the city and earning a top spot on our large-sized counties FEC Index.

The efforts of groups such as the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance have resulted in true community-based development. A campaign entitled “Signs of Progress” catalogs and markets the rebuilding effort, demonstrating a real push for change in the region. Investments of more than $750 million in the past four years have yielded several development and revitalization plans, such as the Cedar Rapids Convention Complex, to be completed in 2013 and water pollution control, an ongoing project.

Collaboration is key to the county’s improvement. A collaborative initiative between the county and the Greater Cedar Rapids region, aptly entitled the Community Development Grant Program, facilitates those alliances to approach large-scale projects. One such large-scale project is creation of “Iowa’s Creative Corridor”, a regional collaboration between Johnson County, another Fourth Economy Index small county favorite, and five other surrounding counties.

“It is this regional collaboration for which we are most proud as it will be position us to be the top economic growth region by providing a world-class environment to attract individuals and businesses.” says Pam Hinman of the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance on “Iowa’s Creative Corridor”. “We recognized long ago we don’t have to be near mountains or oceans to create an environment that is smart, innovative and progressive. “

#5:  Onondaga County, New York

(Population 466,960)

Found comfortably in the bed of Central New York, Onondaga County is leading the pack for well-rounded development achievements. In the highly diversified county, inclusive of both farmland and cityscapes, grants and development efforts have been focused on both main city Syracuse and agriculture in surrounding areas.

State grants have helped small towns like Lafayette develop agricultural protection plans and local endeavors have helped Syracuse flourish in time as well. Homegrown businesses such as The CenterState Corporation for Economic Opportunity further this economic development, focusing on strategies for community prosperity and business recruitment. Due to these successes, Brookings Institute named Syracuse the 16th best performing U.S. city for the first quarter of 2012.

Improvements along the way have brought about changes such as a new Centro Transit Hub and Merchants Commons, a mixed-use retail and living space. A keen nose for opportunity and a continued all-inclusive sense for development will keep all of these sectors growing in tandem, a key to Onondaga County’s success and an exemplary vision for a bright future.

Rounding out the top 10 Large-sized Fourth Economy Communities are:

#6:  Dakota County, Minnesota
(Population 402,000)

#7:  Lehigh County, Pennsylvania (Population 353,000)

#8:  Polk County, Iowa (Population 438,000)

#9.  Kalamazoo County, Michigan (Population 252,000)

#10.  Hamilton County, Tennessee (Population 340,000)