Nov. 1, 2003
Traffic is bad, but business is good in America's 10 hottest areas of metropolitan growth.New people mean new business. If your organization is looking

Traffic is bad, but business is good in America's 10 hottest areas of metropolitan growth.

New people mean new business. If your organization is looking to plant a seed in fertile soil, you have a number of beds to choose from. These hot spots are not just areas of past growth but powder-kegs of projected performance in the economy.

With the economy still riding the swell that technological advances have provided, jobs are in abundance - and they are in high concentrations in certain areas. These jobs have brought droves of newcomers to burgeoning metropolitan areas all over America.

Take a look at how your business could grow with a growing metropolis.

Las Vegas Metropolitan areas in the southern tier of the United States and the Mountain States are again leading the nation in population growth, according to a study released by Sales & Marketing Management magazine in the September 2000 issue. Las Vegas is one such area.

With gambling and gaming showing no signs of going out of style, people continue to flock to America's desert oasis of entertainment. Five-year population projections show Law Vegas leading the country in growth; and new companies are popping up like dandelions.

J.P. McKay of Bergen Industries, a Las Vegas lighting manufacturer, said the city's growth seemed to happen in the blink of an eye. "It's almost like you add water and all these corporations are building another building."

Las Vegas is expected to see more than 20% growth in the next five years, bringing the population to a projected 1,725,046, according to the American Community Network, a resource for business expansion and economic development.

Las Vegas has a lot of momentum behind its population boom, having grown faster than any metropolitan area during every year of the last decade. Many of the same factors are sustaining that growth. More than 2 million visitors per month keep tourism alive, creating more and more jobs in that industry. But many people are finding that Las Vegas isn't just a place to visit. About 6,000 new residents per month move to a state without income tax and a wealth of jobs outside of just tourism. High-tech firms are building factories in the area, too.

Austin With the ongoing growth of the Sunbelt, Texas continues to grow, too. Austin's long-term projections show a lot of potential for the city.

Quality of life is a major concern for the city's Chamber of Commerce, and the fine arts and entertainment are alive and well in Austin. Austin is a young town with a large, well-organized downtown club scene that supports the town's growing music scene.

Elizabeth Smith, of the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, describes Austin as having a "synergy between community, educational institutions and industry." Smith said the educational environment has created a lot of innovation in technical industries.

With Dell Computer Corp. as the city's largest employer, computer hardware is the main technological product coming out of Austin. IBM and Motorola also do big business in the Texas town.

Indeed, high-tech growth in Austin has created many jobs. Between semiconductor manufacturers, various computer companies, design firms, biotechnology outfits, and telecommunications call centers, jobs are out there for almost everyone. Austin has been sporting a 2 percent unemployment rate and has had such a run on office space that no offices are vacant in the southwest part of town.

Boise, Idaho The capital of Idaho, and the fastest growing town that most people never hear about, would probably rather keep its secret about what is bringing people in.

Residents of Boise are seeing rapid growth in their area. And more poignantly, they are feeling the woes of an infrastructure stretched to its limits.

"They can't build schools out here fast enough to keep up with the population growth," said Doug Baalson, general manager of Interstate Electric Supply in Boise.

Notwithstanding infrastructure problems, the growth continues. Putting crowded schools aside, one of the area's major selling points is its family-oriented environment.

"Environmentally, it's conducive to raising families," Baalson said.

Outdoor activities abound. Throw in a pedestrian-centered downtown, cheap real estate and plenty of jobs in technology and the result is a lot of immigration.

"Well, the history is here," Baalson said. "There's quite a large electronic-type industry here. We see that continue to grow and what happens is they're profitable and they grow and they spin-off numerous other small support type companies. There's a lot of money being infused in the area."

The high cost of living in the Silicon Valley has driven companies to look elsewhere to keep employees happy. Companies like Micron want employees to settle somewhere affordable where they can raise a family. Those are two problems to which Boise has inherent solutions - at least for now.

In cities with populations counted in millions, traffic and general overcrowding are expected, but Boise's approximately 400,000 residents perhaps didn't see this coming. The city is getting a taste of big-city problems and big city growth while holding on to its family-friendly nature.

Phoenix Warmer climates are drawing newcomers elsewhere in the Southwest as well. Phoenix's overall appeal and high-tech growth is creating new jobs and drawing many to the desert community.

Phoenix is a well-planned city with a diverse economy. On top of that, it's not hard to find excuses for new residents to move. The Grand Canyon, four major sports teams, skiing and plenty of year-round golf keep things interesting for inhabitants who aren't busy with some of the many new high-tech jobs in the area.

Tom Ryall, branch manager of Brown Wholesale Electric Co., Phoenix, says Intel's second Phoenix plant is drawing a great deal of business for contractors and subcontractors, but is also creating a lack of available electricians. Ryall said that Phoenix doesn't "have a lot of heavy industry," but computer and other technology firms of every size provide a big source of new jobs. An active downtown and some large-scale potential projects are expected to bring Phoenix closer and closer to the 4 million population club. Phoenix has a three-year-old downtown baseball stadium and the possibility of new NHL and NFL stadiums as well. A future light-rail system could create even greater access to downtown.

Phoenix is also employing thousands of people in growing biological industries. An increasingly aging population and more expedient FDA approvals are making medical technologies into a lucrative industry. Phoenix is home to 53 of these bio-industry companies.

Atlanta The Atlanta metropolitan area has also experienced serious growth in recent years. That trend is expected to continue, with five-year population projections nearing 4.5 million residents.

The 1996 Olympic games boosted the local economy. But plenty of growth was evident before the games. Atlanta has been receiving chunks of a $100 million federal empowerment zone grant since 1994. Atlanta's downtown empowerment zone has funded several revitalization projects that created growth. But government assistance didn't stop there. The Atlantic Steel Site Redevelopment project, one of the EPA's Brownfield projects, turned an abandoned steel mill into a multi-use residential and commercial district.

Combined with local expansions in the telecommunications industry, Atlanta has had a lot of help in its growth. Samuel Obie, president and owner of Premier Electric Supply Inc., Atlanta, said that the housing boom was a very tangible result of Atlanta's growth, and a big help to business. "There's a lot of new business (re)locating here, a lot of big corporate offices ... It's been very positive. I can't complain at all."

Following the trend of many booming metropolitan areas, Atlanta has gained a number of new technology firms and workers. The city boasts 9,000 technology- related companies. Several large media groups could also drive the area toward new technology and general growth. The Weather Channel and CNN call Atlanta home, making the city a news and information hub - they also bring tourism to the city.

Riverside, Calif. Known as the "Inland Empire," the Riverside metropolitan area has absorbed most everything that has bounced off of Los Angeles for the last decade.

The primary reasons for the growth of Riverside and its neighboring cities of San Bernardino, Corona and Marino Valley are no secret. "The land is cheaper," said Jeff Belier, senior planner for the city of Riverside. "And also there are locations that are adjacent to freeways, rail lines and Ontario International Airport."

Some see the Inland Empire as having the best of many worlds in terms of quality of life. Although some parts of the area are landlocked in the middle of the desert, the close proximity to mountains and ocean lead the Inland Empire Economic Partnership to boast that residents can "go off-roading in the desert, snow ski and surf ... all in one day."

Primarily though, what draws new people to the Inland Empire is the fact that it is the closest thing to Los Angeles, without being in the city limits. Real estate is cheap and plentiful. Lease rates for offices are low. Between 1994 and 1998, 286 manufacturers and 140 distributors moved into the area.

Business is kept alive by Silicon Valley companies that don't want to pay for the space farther west. Companies like Watkins Pharmaceutical and ESRI benefit from the 23 area colleges and universities that pump new talent into the industry every year.

Riverside supports this growth area with an 80-acre technology center located in its Hunter Business Park.

As people and businesses try to escape from Los Angeles, cities like Riverside keep growing.

Raleigh, N.C. Raleigh, N.C., is part of another series of ballooning cities. Situated near mountains and the ocean, Raleigh geographically mirrors the Inland Empire. The same synergy that occurs in Austin is also happening in North Carolina. Duke University and the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill both provide research and manpower that feeds the high-tech industries. The area known as the Research Triangle, a business park in Durham and Wake Counties set up to encourage business growth, currently houses the local high tech industry. IBM was an initial major investor in the area. The Research Triangle area was given a five star performance rating on its economic scorecard by The Business Journal, making it one of the most attractive places to do business in the country.

Although still considered by some residents to be a small town, the lack of any open real estate between Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill makes it difficult to call anything in the metropolitan area a small town. The population has grown to over 1.1 million. S.P. Holding, president of Lighting Inc., a local electrical distributor, described it this way: "Chapel Hill has grown until it bumped Durham, and it bumped Morrisville and the Research Triangle, which bumps Carry, which bumps Raleigh, which bumps Garner..."

Like in many of the metropolitan areas experiencing rapid growth, infrastructure in Raleigh is having trouble keeping up. Holding said that the traffic problem has caused the government to consider a rail system - which would mean more jobs and better access to those jobs.

Area growth is affecting local distributors just the way one would imagine: "As long as you've got growth, we're going to grow with it," Holding said.

Orlando, Fla. Orlando is sprawling. So many companies are looking for employees that, according to Richard Helsel, president of Active Electric Supply, they don't even wait around for U.S. citizens to apply, let alone Floridians.

"If a new hotel opens - a big one - you're talking like 800 to 1,000 new employees. It's incredible, they're getting them from all over the world."

And the hotels are indeed opening. Disney, Universal Studios and Sea World all recently unveiled new theme parks in the area.

"With the attractions, now you have new restaurants going up and hotels going up, and it just compounds one right after the other," Helsel said.

"It's that hard to find people. Right now in the job market there's so much of signing bonuses - you thought that was just for athletes - they'll pay $500 for a housekeeper."

Keeping in mind Disney already employs 40,000 people in the area, one can imagine the volume of new people and money streaming into the economy when a theme park expands.

Income in Orlando is relatively low, but that trend is said to be reversing with all of the competition in the job market. Adding more appeal to the area is the lack of a state income tax.

And, yes, although no one seems to be noticing, technology companies are building around Orlando, too. AT&T Wireless and Lucent are just a couple technology companies that are doing big business in central Florida.

Dallas Dot-coms are booming, and construction is thriving in Dallas. But, it's difficult to attribute the growth in population and business to any one area or factor. That doesn't seem to bother local distributors though.

"We're seeing some substantial growth, and it's pretty exciting right now. There's substantial growth all over the marketplace," said Craig Levering, president of Crawford Electrical Supply in Dallas.

Essentially, the economy in Dallas is just in good shape, even better than the rest of the nation. "More people, more houses, more buildings - it's a trickle-down effect," Levering said.

Telecommunications and technology are both part of Dallas' growth. An unemployment rate of around 3 percent is also helping. That number is shedding light on what many high-tech companies are going through. Despite recent population growth, finding skilled (or in some cases, even unskilled) workers to fill positions in these companies is a constant concern.

Six-thousand companies keep their corporate headquarters in Dallas. Area companies, big and small, are making national headlines for doing so much business. Four Dallas-Fort Worth companies are on Fortune magazine's list of fastest growing companies. Seven are on Inc. magazine's 500 List of companies to watch. Dallas-based Southwest Airlines is on pace for a record year. The huge military contracting business is scoring hits with the government.

Although Dallas' prosperity is hard to pinpoint, the economic environment is definitely good for business new and old, big and small.

Denver In a broad sense, the Denver metro area is experiencing the same things as Dallas; growth is good because the economy is good.

Denver has a diverse list of leading companies, and it's hard to say what industry is driving the economy. Several companies and projects on the horizon are pointing to some future growth though. The Westin Denver International Airport Hotel should be underway in the next year and will pay out $97 million in construction costs. Several area companies are spending big money in the mass communications industry. WINFirst and Aerie are both spending upwards of $1 billion on ventures in cable television and communications.

The new Broncos stadium, creatively designed with green space and communities around it, will provide 1.7 million square feet of space for multipurpose use. More pertinently to wholesalers and contractors, this stadium will cost around $364 million.

Construction of new homes and apartments south of Denver in Douglas County is creating business for contractors and distributors; it also makes room for the area's recent influx of people.

"(In) Denver, there's no where else to build," said Mike Selby, president of Denver Distribution. "People are moving south, where Douglas County is."

That's why upscale Douglas County is projected to have the largest growth of any county in the United States in the next 10 years. The wealthy county is expected to increase its population by nearly 35 percent by 2005.

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