While the economic recovery continues to struggle in the Sunshine State, many other cities have weathered the storm and are rebounding much quicker. Four of the cities that have proven especially resilient to the recession are Austin, Charlotte, Portland and Salt Lake City. Dubbed 'creative cities,' all four have found a common element allowing them to preserve a quality of life conducive to business. The question remains, what we can learn here about 'the best places to visit and attract jobs?' Key features common among these cities are their overall quality of life and an education system preparing graduates to seamlessly transition out of schools into careers. While many governments and elected officials have focused on jobs, these four cities have fostered innovation and created environments that generate careers. What makes them tick?
All four of these cities have a tremendous higher education system. Considered a Public Ivy, the University of Texas at Austin is a highly regarded institution with strong academic programs feeding into Austin's burgeoning Information Technology sector. In 2010, the University of Utah overtook MIT to become America's #1 research institution in terms of the number of startup companies. In 2004, Portland State University partnered with Oregon Health and Science University to establish the first Biomedical Informatics Program in the country.
A conscious commitment to a green and sustainable lifestyle, one that is especially attractive to young entrepreneurs, is a hallmark of these cities. Salt Lake City, home of the 2002 Winter Olympics, has a strong outdoor recreation economy centered on winter sports. Portland is highly regarded as a green and eco-friendly city, while Austin's politics and community life have been dominated by environmental advocates for years.
A recent article in Forbes magazine ranked the top fifteen cities for business and careers. Salt Lake City and the City of Austin made the list.
The City of Austin is home to many well-known companies in the fields of computer technology, telecommunications, the pharmaceutical industry and biotechnology. Dell Computers is the largest corporation and one of the largest employers in Austin. Freescale Semiconductor, one of the twenty largest semiconductor manufacturers in the world, is headquartered there; and IBM maintains one of its nine research laboratories in Austin.
Due to the dot.com bust in 2000, the Austin Chamber of Commerce created the Opportunity Austin Initiative. According to their annual report, since 2004, Austin has added 114,900 new jobs with a corresponding payroll of $5.4 billion.
Salt Lake City also has a large proportion of technology firms and a strong entrepreneur base. In fact, a recent U.S. Chamber of Commerce report, Enterprising States: Recovery and Renewal for the 21st Century, gave Utah high marks in four of the six most important categories (placing them in the top ten overall) including 3rd in Entrepreneurship and Innovation; 2nd in Exports; 10th in Taxes and Regulation; 7th in Workforce and Training.
Charlotte has positioned itself as the country's largest banking center outside of New York City. Home to Bank of America and Wells Fargo's East Coast regional operations, Charlotte has a thriving financial district. Beginning in 2009, the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce, the Charlotte Regional Partnership and Duke Energy initiated the New Energy Capital Initiative to support and foster energy sector businesses.
Lastly, all four cities have a dominant presence in a number of entertainment, sports and recreation categories. Charlotte, the home of NASCAR and hub of stock car racing, continues to attract motorsport fans of all ages, while Austin's official motto is the Live Music Capital of the World. Portland maintains a vibrant arts and culture scene and is home to numerous 'indie' bands and a number of respected art museums.
This brief overview demonstrates the importance of quality of life issues as they attract businesses, diversify an economy, and generate careers for citizens. The challenge remains for us to identify and capitalize on our own unique resources as well as to collectively focus on targeted industries and quality of lifestyle choices.