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Hartford Region Rises In Rankings Of Nation's Best Performing Cities

ERIC GERSHON

November 12, 2009

The Hartford region rose more than 100 places in an annual ranking of the nation's "Best-Performing Cities" released on Wednesday, more than any other metro region in the nation.

Two other Connecticut regions Greater New Haven and Greater Norwich- New London also showed improvement in the California-based Milken Institute's 2009 Best-Performing Cities Index.

More than half the metro areas that showed the most improvement are in the Northeast, which the report's authors attributed to their lack of dependence on housing- and construction-related growth earlier in the decade, and their strong service sectors, among other factors.

The report, based mainly on federal labor and wage data, defines "best-performing" in economic terms, and the authors noted that, in recessionary times, "best" doesn't necessarily suggest growth.

"Certainly there's been a lot of pain and suffering in the Hartford economy, but it has done better relative to the rest of the country," said Ross DeVol, the institute's director of regional economics and the report's main author. "It has done better by not doing worse."

Even Hartford's professional boosters viewed the Milken report skeptically.

"Regardless of anybody's rankings, we know that we have much work to do in this state in order to reverse the economic cycle that has had such a negative effect on jobs," said R. Nelson "Oz" Griebel, head of the regional economic development group MetroHartford Alliance.

Still, he said, "We'll take all the good news or positive rankings we can get."

Connecticut employers shed 6,600 jobs in September, and the unemployment rate increased to 8.4 percent from 8.1 percent. The national rate is now above 10 percent.

Among the nation's top 200 largest metropolitan regions, the Hartford area ranked No. 48 an improvement of 101 places from a year ago. New Haven ranked 88, up 96 places, and Greater Norwich-New London ranked 94, up 82 places.

Overall, the top-ranked metro areas in the nation tended to be in the West and the South, with four of the top 10 in Texas.

Austin-Round Rock, Texas, ranked No. 1, followed by Killeen-Temple- Fort Hood, Texas; Salt Lake City, Utah; McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, Texas; and Greater Houston.

Those areas "are all metros that succeeded in avoiding the worst of economic declines driven by falling housing markets and job losses in manufacturing and global trade," the report said.

The Institute considered nine factors in compiling its 2009 ranking, including job, wage and salary growth over multiple recent periods, some as long as five years, others a single year.

The full report is available on the Milken Institute's website (milkeninstitute.org).

Founded in 1991 by Michael Milken, the legendary Wall Street junk bond trader who went to prison in the 1980s for securities-related crimes, the Milken Institute describes its mission as helping to "identify and implement new ideas for creating broad-based prosperity."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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