Top 10 Small-Sized Counties Positioned for Growth in 2012

The leading counties blend both rural and urban character, offering their residents diverse living and working options.

A new index, called the Fourth Economy Community (FEC), announced its pick for the U.S. top 10 small-sized "Fourth Economy Communities." The FEC Index considers several county-level measures within five areas:

  1. Investment
  2. Talent
  3. Sustainability
  4. Place
  5. Diversity

The index uses these five areas as a foundation for future economic success to include wage and employment growth, education levels, drive times, home values, minority business ownership, agricultural capacity and population density.

"The 'fourth economy' defines our nation's current economy, reflecting a combination of the previous three: agrarian, industria, and technological," said Rich Overmoyer, Fourth Economy CEO. "This new index is intended to serve as a dashboard for community stakeholders to gauge their capacity to attract and retain modern investment."

Counties considered in this index have between 100,000 to 150,000 residents. "It is not surprising once again to see the leading fourth economy counties blend both rural and urban character, offering their residents diverse living and working options," said Stephen McKnight, Fourth Economy consulting vice president of Community and Market Assessments.

"Like we witnessed with the inaugural mid-sized listing announced at the end of 2011, a common attribute among the smaller communities is a geographic association with institutions of higher education, which are the modern engines in 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," said Stephen McKnight, Fourth Economy Consulting vice president of Community and Market Assessments.

The Top 10 Small-Sized Communities for 2012

#1 Clarke County, Georgia
Home to the City of Athens and the University of Georgia, Clarke County's economic base includes higher education, manufacturing, healthcare, the arts, and entrepreneurism. "Research and technology transfer are a large part of the university's economic impact in Athens and beyond. About $330 million in research funds flow annually into the Athens economy, and this research has resulted in the Universitys ranking in the top three among all universities for most licenses issued," noted Mac Brown, president of the Economic Development Foundation of Athens-Clarke County.

#2 Monroe County, Indiana
"We have nationally recognized industry expertise and have been noted as the number one small MSA in the United States for medical device production, as well as number three for pharmaceutical development," said Ron Walker, president of the Bloomington Economic Development Corporation. Monroe County is home to Indiana University, a world-renowned research university with 42,000 students in Bloomington, and Ivy Tech Community College-Bloomington with 6,500 students and one of the fastest growing community colleges in the United States. "Our tech sector employment has grown by over 80% in recent years," Walker noted.

And it's not all high tech sector research, Monroe County is proud that General Electric, which began making refrigerators in Bloomington in 1967, announced in 2010 they had reversed their decision to close the Bloomington facility and instead opted to invest over $160 million and create 200 jobs by 2014. The Bloomington facility will become a Center of Excellence and help revolutionize GE's appliance portfolio.

#3 Johnson County, Iowa
"Johnson County and the Iowa City area are fortunate to have a very diverse mix of companies and industries," said Eric Hanson of the Iowa City Area Development Corporation. "While we are the national hub for educational measurement with ACT and Pearson, we also have a robust manufacturing sector in consumer products with Procter & Gamble/Oral B for example, and alternative energy firm Acciona North America along with health, information and bio technology clusters," Hanson pointed out.

Rounding out the Top 10

#4 Tompkins County, New York

#5 Lee County, Alabama

#6 La Crosse County, Wisconsin

#7 Olmsted County, Minnesota

#8 Warren County, Kentucky

#9 Wood County, Ohio

#10 Randall County, Texas

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