The Gainesville metropolitan area is one of the top-performing small communities when it comes to job growth and economic development over the last year, according to a new index report from the Milken Institute, an independent think tank located in Santa Monica, Calif.
That finding corresponds with the fact that Gainesville has the lowest unemployment rate among the 25 local areas surveyed by the federal Labor Department.
“Despite some signs of slowing job gains over the past several months, labor markets are strengthening,” the index report states.
Gainesville now ranks 27th out of 201 small communities across the nation, up 62 spots from the previous year.
Between 2009 and 2014, the metro area ranked 14th in job growth.
The unemployment rate stood at 4.7 percent in October, down from 5.8 percent in September 2014. The jobless rate is 5.4 percent in the Atlanta metro area by comparison, 5.6 statewide and 5 percent nationwide.
The Gainesville area gained more than 1,200 jobs during that time, a growth rate of 1.5 percent. Most of the job growth came in the goods-producing sector and retail trade, transportation and warehousing.
One of the real bright spots in recent years, as highlighted by the index, is the growth in workers’ wages.
For example, Gainesville ranked just 107 in wage growth between 2008 and 2013. However wage growth has picked up and the city ranked 22nd in this category between 2012 and 2013.
“It definitely has an impact on disposable income and retail,” Tim Evans, vice president of economic development at the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce, said.
He added that national retailers look closely at per capita median household incomes in areas where they are looking to locate to ensure that a client base exists.
This was evident when Academy Sports and Hobby Lobby opened their first stores in Gainesville this year.
The index report compares small communities among the data points.
So, for example, Gainesville and Warner Robins have nearly identical population totals, about 190,000 each.
But Warner Robins ranks near the bottom in every category measuring job and wage growth, according to the index. Overall, the area ranks No. 193 out of 201 communities measured, having slipped 53 spots in the last year.
Evans said that the local manufacturing and health care industries have been critical to improving the economic fortunes of Gainesville and Hall County.
“What’s unique to us ... is this is both an operation center and a division or national headquarters for those (manufacturing) companies,” Evans said, explaining why the industry still chugs along locally while suffering nationally. “That’s one of the reasons we do really well.”
Meanwhile, the health care sector now employs more than 11,000 within Hall County, Evans said. There are more than 300 service providers in the area.
“It’s also important for us to acknowledge the effective leadership of our local officials as well as the work of the greater Hall Chamber of Commerce, local industry, and the availability of training through technical and higher education in our community,” Gainesville City Manager Brian Lackey said. “Partnerships and good local leadership make these rankings possible.”