Texas cities, both large and small, once again lead the pack in a new ranking of the best places for jobs.
Austin-Round Rock-San Marcos topped the chart for the fourth straight year among the nation's 65 biggest metro areas. Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown was ranked second, followed by No. 3 Salt Lake City, according to NewGeography.com, a site which analyzes economic, demographic and urban issues.
Fort Worth-Arlington jumped to No. 4 among big cities, climbing 11 spots from 2011. Dallas-Plano-Irving dipped from fifth to sixth on the 2012 list released this week.
"In terms of big metros, Texas kicked ass as it has been doing for a number of years," said demographer Joel Kotkin, executive editor of NewGeography and a distinguished presidential fellow in urban futures at Chapman University in Orange, Calif. Kotkin has been called America's uber-geographer by The N ew York Times, and his latest book, The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050, predicts how the nation will evolve in the next four decades.
"Even the dullest minds on the East Coast are beginning to realize that Texas is doing something right, as much as they hate to say it," he said.
"But it's not just the big cities; Texas has five of the top 10 smallest cities. What's interesting to me is that Texas been able to maintain its lead consistently," said Kotkin, who produces the survey with Michael Shires, a professor at Pepperdine University School of Public Policy.
The best-cities lists are based on employment data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics from November 2000 through January 2012. Cities are ranked based on recent, midterm and long-term growth as well as a region's momentum.
Texas' job creation has been driven by several factors, Kotkin said, including a robust energy industry, an increasingly diversified economy and an affordable cost of living.
The oil patch towns of Odessa and Midland were ranked Nos. 1 and 2 among small cities after being ranked eighth and fourth in 2011. San Angelo jumped from No. 23 to fifth, and Lubbock soared from No. 74 to No. 10.
Corpus Christi, another energy center, retained its No. 2 spot among medium-size cites, followed by No. 3 McAllen-Edinburg-Mission and No. 4 El Paso.
"Fort Worth's performance has been pretty amazing," said Kotkin, noting the city's 3 percent growth in the energy-construction and wholesale sectors and 6 percent gains in professional business services and financial services.
"Growth begets growth. And increasingly, growth is encapsulated in servicing the basic industries," he said.
"That's the story in Fort Worth. You have that blue-collar basic industry structure, but it is producing a lot of white-collar jobs at the same time."
Kotkin is scheduled to speak June 6 at the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce's annual meeting.
Energy lifted many of the state's high fliers, but Texas also leads in industrial job growth, technology and services, the study said.
Nationally, there was an economic shift as employment growth moved from the public sector to private enterprise. In more than half of the 398 metro areas surveyed, employment trends showed declines in government jobs, the survey said.
"What we found really interesting was the drop in government towns, which outside Texas were the only places to have growth during the recession," Kotkin said
That trend was felt the most in Washington, D.C., which fell to 16th place from fifth in 2011.
The same budget constraints also hit hard in military towns that had thrived during the recession. Killeen-Fort Hood, ranked No. 1 among small towns in 2011, fell to 31st.
The same thing rippled through San Antonio-New Braunfels, home to multiple military installations, which dropped from fourth to 20th among large cities.
"San Antonio still has growth that most cities in America would kill for. But there was a 3 percent drop in government, and that's a big sector there," Kotkin said.
After years of sluggish growth, cities reliant on the tech sector are also rebounding, the survey said, with San Jose, Calif., jumping 22 places to No. 5 among big cities. Likewise for San Francisco, which jumped 16 spots to 17th.
Manufacturing centers are also making a comeback.
Columbus, Ind., climbed from 143rd to No. 3 on the small-cities list.
In hard-hit Michigan, a number of cities rose more than 100 places, the survey said.
Detroit, however, is still mired at No. 62 among the 65 big cities. Birmingham, Ala., came in last, while Los Angeles, last year's cellar dweller, inched up to 59th.
Also rebounding were multiple cities that have been devastated by the housing bubble, with Miami, Phoenix and Las Vegas making improvements.
College towns, which had performed well during the economic downturn, also fell in the rankings because of state budget cutbacks and improved performances elsewhere, the study said. College Station, for example, tumbled from No. 3 among small cities to No. 97
Other small Texas cities also took a fall, with Waco dropping from No. 37 to 135 while Wichita Falls dropped from No. 169 to 218.
Steve Campbell, 817-390-7981