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From Site Selection magazine, July 2023

Heroes of the Heartland

Small Midwest counties take top spots in per-capita projects race, while Texas counties claim No. 1 and No. 2 in overall rankings.

America’s Best Counties
Home to perennially top-ranked micropolitan area Findlay, Hancock County, Ohio, is the No. 1 county in corporate facility investments per capita.
Photo courtesy of Findlay-Hancock Economic Development

by Ron Starner & Adam Bruns

ant to know what it takes to produce one of America’s Best Counties when it comes to economic development performance? Pat Boeshart, president and owner of LiteForm Technologies in South Sioux City, Nebraska, says it has as much to do with what government doesn’t do as what it does.

“We started this business in 1986,” he says. “You reflect on regulations and restrictions and on how you can do business and how you can manage employees. Business in general is challenging enough on its own. You need as much open space as possible so that you are not tripped up or always stepping on a land mine.”

The leaders of Dakota County, Nebraska, make sure that LiteForm and other local businesses have plenty of room to operate, says Boeshart. “Lance Hedquist [city administrator for South Sioux City] takes the red color out of the red tape. He is remarkable as a leader in Dakota County, Nebraska, and South Sioux City. He is at least half of the reason why we are here and why we continue to expand our business here. His attitude and what he has done here in South Sioux City have been nothing short of remarkable.”

Over 37 years, LiteForm, a producer of advanced, lightweight construction materials, has expanded multiple times, the most recent one being a $2 million capital investment to add space to the plant site in Dakota County in 2022.

LiteForm’s investment was one of six corporate facility projects in a county of just 21,042 people, and it was enough to earn Dakota County the No. 3 spot in the nation in Site Selection’s first-ever per capita ranking of America’s Best Counties.

“The whole Siouxland area has been incredible,” says Boeshart. “Siouxland Chamber President Chris McGowan and all the chamber people have helped make our success possible.”

The success of Menard’s stores made an expansion at LiteForm necessary, says Boeshart. “We got the attention of Menard’s. It is like a smaller Home Depot or Lowe’s. They have about 400 stores. They looked at one of our forms and liked what they saw. We did not have enough room to make what they wanted. A new addition was imperative. That prompted two additions of 24,000 total square feet. With the new business, we could not have met Menard’s demand for products without growing our own business. As with all retailers, if you do not act as quickly as we did, you lose them.”

Boeshart says there is a lot to like about doing business in Dakota County and the greater tri-state Siouxland region. He lists his favorite area attributes as follows:

  • Quality of life.
  • A local workforce of good people and reliable workers.
  • Attention to safety. “We are safe from crime in our community.”
  • “It is easy to get around. There are no rush hours.”
  • “You can reach the whole United States from this location. There are good connections to Interstate highways.”
  • Access to class I rail service. “We are 90 miles away from a great container hub in Omaha-Council Bluffs, and we deliver a lot by container. Two giant rail yards are there. One is Union Pacific and the other is BNSF. UP is in Omaha and BNSF is in Council Bluffs, Iowa. We bring in hundreds of containers of materials.”

(JAN. 2022 – MARCH 2023)



1. Dallas County, Texas 252

T2. Harris County, Texas 231

T2. Cook County, Illinois 231

4. New York County, New York 162

5. Los Angeles County, California 128

6. Tarrant County, Texas 109

7. Travis County, Texas 103

8. Maricopa County, Arizona 102

9. DuPage County, Illinois 91

10. Middlesex County, Massachusetts 80

T11. Fulton County, Georgia 71

T11. Franklin County, Ohio 71

13. Collin County, Texas 55

T14. Kane County, Illinois 52

T14. Cuyahoga County, Ohio 52

T16. Will County, Illinois 48

T16. Hamilton County, Ohio 48

T18. Marion County, Indiana 47

T18. Miami-Dade County, Florida 47

T20. Johnson County, Kansas 46

T20. Bexar County, Texas 46



Source: Conway Projects Database, Conway Data Inc./Site Selection


The tri-state Siouxland region of Greater Sioux City, Iowa, regularly punches above its weight class in economic development, as evidenced by the Sioux City metro area claiming the No. 1 spot in Site Selection’s annual Tier 3 Top Metros category a record 12 years in a row.


In this year’s America’s Best Counties Per Capita ranking, Union County, South Dakota, checks in at No. 2, garnering five qualifying projects in a county of just 17,000 residents. Union, like Dakota County, Nebraska, is a big reason why greater Sioux City claims the top place each year in the metro ranking. Andrew Nilges, economic development director for the City of North Sioux City, says the success of his town is remarkable given that it has only 3,000 people.

“It boils down to the fact that we have really good people in this area,” he says, noting that city and county officials listen to local businesses and respond to their needs. “As a small community, we can facilitate and move business forward more quickly. For example, the local plant managers have my phone number. They can call or text me anytime. As a small community, we can be nimble.”

Back over in South Sioux City, LiteForm’s Pat Boeshart says he likes operating out of a north central U.S. hub, and not just because customers in the Midwest and northern half of the nation tend to relate well to insulation products. “We do not see the highest of the highs or the lowest of the lows,” he says

That steadiness — as well as the feeling of being built for the long haul — is a common refrain heard from corporate executives and economic development leaders in the American Heartland. It is no wonder, then, that the top 20 counties in the U.S. in project performance per capita include two in Ohio, four in Kentucky, two in Indiana, three in Louisiana, three in Georgia, and two in Greater Siouxland.

A Superhero Named Hancock

The winning jurisdiction this year is Hancock County in northwest Ohio. It landed 32 corporate facility projects between January 2022 and March 2023. The county has 75,000 people and is no stranger to first-place finishes. Its county seat, Findlay, has been ranked as the No. 1 Micropolitan Area in the country by Site Selection for the last decade-plus.

The biggest of those 32 deals was a $100 million capital investment announced by Ball Metal Beverage Container Corp. in Findlay. Hancock County also landed a $34 million project by Flour Power Bakery Café in McComb, where the firm will build a breakfast cereal manufacturing line.



The old adage of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ could not ring truer ....”

— Dan Sheaffer, Director, Findlay-Hancock Economic Development


Dan Sheaffer, director of Findlay-Hancock Economic Development, says that a key driver of economic growth has been “continuity of communication with the Hancock County Board of Commissioners, the Findlay city manager, and the Findlay City Council.” Even changing election results have not interrupted this continuity, says Sheaffer.

“Development policies evolved over the past 40 years have been generally led by the business community represented by Findlay-Hancock Economic Development, a private organization,” says Sheaffer. “Sweeping changes are not the norm, and steady policies have resulted in Enterprise Zones, a robust regional planning commission, a citywide Community Reinvestment Area and a Design Review District, to name a few. Such policies both incentivize and protect investment. The old adage of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ could not ring truer and has resulted in stability of policy over multiple administrations.”

(JAN. 2022 – MARCH 2023, MIN. 10,000 POP.)



1. Hancock County, Ohio 32 74,861

2. Union County, South Dakota 5 17,063

3. Dakota County, Nebraska 6 21,042

4. Thomas County, Georgia 12 45,561

5. Todd County, Kentucky 3 12,404

6. McPherson County, Kansas 7 30,012

7. Union County, Kentucky 3 12,961

8. Shelby County, Ohio 11 47,671

9. Bryan County, Georgia 11 48,825

10. Concordia Parish, Louisiana 4 18,116

11. Chowan County, North Carolina 3 13,940

12. West Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana 6 28,034

13. DeKalb County, Indiana 9 43,731

14. Shelby County, Kentucky 10 48,886

15. Steuben County, Indiana 7 34,725

16. Jeff Davis County, Georgia 3 14,889

17. Simpson County, Kentucky 4 19,949

18. Floyd County, Iowa 3 15,337

19. West Feliciana Parish, Louisiana 3 15,381

20. Aitkin, Minnesota 3 16,126



Source: Conway Projects Database, Conway Data Inc./Site Selection

Shelby County, Ohio, with a population of 48,000, also made the top 20 list this year. Its principal city of Sidney is about an hour’s drive south down Interstate 75 from Findlay. When we asked Sheaffer why so many small Ohio counties outperform the rest of the country, he said that “counties in Ohio not linked to large metropolitan statistical areas tend to be lean, agile and do more with less in terms of resources. Findlay-Hancock County has demonstrated the ability to not only play in the economic development arena with its larger metro neighbors but does so competitively. Retention of legacy companies is paramount and smaller counties can do a better job working purposefully with the leadership of those companies.”


Expert: ‘Build from Within’

Lorie Vincent, president of economic development consultancy Acceleration by design and founder of Stand Up, Rural America, is one of the country’s biggest advocates for economic development in small towns and counties.

“When you are a small town or a rural community, it is all about reframing your outlook,” she says. “You have to quit waiting for the white knight to come in and save you.”

Counties like Hancock, Union and Dakota succeed despite their size because they stand up for themselves and outhustle everyone else, says Vincent. “The pandemic shined a spotlight on the advantages of small counties. People today are choosing to locate in small-town, rural America like never before. People and companies are more mobile than they have ever been. People want to have a garden and a place for their kids to play outside. Smaller communities in the rural heartland of America give them the opportunity to do just that.”

Top Finishes by Texas Counties Reflect Blend of Population and Innovation Gains

With two of the top three spots and four of the top 10, Texas is best in show when it comes to America’s Best Counties as measured by cumulative corporate facility projects overall since January 2022. It will surprise few that Texas counties led the nation in population growth by percentage between 2021 and 2022, taking up half of the top 10 spots, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The Census data also show that our No. 8 overall county — Maricopa County, Arizona — for the second year in a row was the largest-gaining county in the nation, adding 56,831 residents in 2022, a gain of 1.3% since 2021. Harris County, Texas, tied with Cook County, Illinois, for No. 2 in our ranking, had the second-largest numerical gain last year, up 45,626. Texas was home to six of the top 10 largest-gaining counties by number of residents in 2022 — Harris, Collin, Denton, Fort Bend, Bexar and Montgomery Counties gained a combined 209,182 residents.



The Innovation District in the West End is one community investment making Dallas County attractive for corporate growth, says Jennifer Sanders, co-founder and executive director of the North Texas Innovation Alliance.

Photos courtesy of NTXIA

Dallas County, our No. 1 county with 252 projects since January 2022, stands out demographically for its post-pandemic resilience: The eighth most populous county in the U.S. in 2022, Dallas County lost over 22,000 (-0.8%) people between 2020 and 2021, says the Census Bureau, but between 2021 and 2022 gained nearly 13,000 (0.5%) people — the fastest gains the county has seen since 2017. No. 4 county New York County has seen a similar snap-back, with a slight net domestic in-migration of 2,908 from 2021 to 2022 following domestic outmigration of -98,566 the prior year. Undergirding these top counties’ performance in people and project attraction, Associated General Contractors of America reported this spring that Dallas-Plano-Irving, Texas, added the most construction jobs (12,400 jobs or 8%) between April 2022 and April 2023, followed by Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, Arizona (8,200 jobs, 5%) and New York City (7,300 jobs, 5%).

As a region — including No. 6 Tarrant County — North Texas only figures to continue attracting people and projects. It’s one reason behind the formation of the North Texas Innovation Alliance (NTXIA), a consortium of municipalities, government agencies, corporations and academic institutions across North Texas with a mission to “build the most connected, smart and resilient region in the country.” After all, counties don’t exist in a vacuum: Around 35% of north Texas residents cross at least one county line every day.

The organization says it is taking a key role in the region’s preparation to host FIFA World Cup 26, “leading the charge in exploring the potential deployment of the most advanced smart city/IoT technology to enhance operations, safety and experiences for residents and visitors coming into the region.”

“It’s been incredible to see the economic development projects arise in Dallas and North Texas. Over the past few years, it has been an honor for NTXIA to play a key role in acting as the connector for various counties and municipalities across the North Texas region,” says NTXIA Co-Founder and Executive Director Jennifer Sanders. She says innovation is one calling card for the region that can accentuate the advantages its assets already confer (central location, good tax climate, the presence of the International Inland Port of Dallas, etc.). She also notes the county’s priority areas such as renewed investment in the southeast part of the county that has traditionally been a low-income, overlooked area for investment, and cross-jurisdictional collaboration in broadband planning and deployment.

Among the projects she highlights In 2021, a landmark Dallas tower was redeveloped to house biotech firms and nonprofit organizations through the vision of private, philanthropic and public investments, supported by City of Dallas and Dallas County investments. Recognized for its use in movies and for previously housing Exxon Mobil, the tower and the surrounding 23-acre complex were redeveloped into a mixed-use office campus called Pegasus Park that opened in 2021.

Today, Pegasus Park is in full use and has continued to attract non-profits, biotech companies and startups, Sanders notes, as the region now ranks No. 7 in the U.S. for science and biotech jobs and No. 4 for the most computer, mathematical and engineering jobs.

“This groundbreaking project is just one example of how Dallas County implements economic development projects that benefit its citizens for the long term,” Sanders says.

Looking Back, Looking Forward

Asked for comment on this inaugural America’s Best Counties ranking, Kevin Shrawder, senior analysis, economics & government studies at the Washington, D.C.-based National Association of Counties (NACo), says it’s no surprise counties in the South and Midwest are dominating. “As I’m sure you know,” he writes, “the South in particular is one of the highest growth areas in the country. Counties in the South are also receiving the highest share of funding from the bipartisan infrastructure law (BIL) to invest in things like water and sewer; surface transportation (roads, bridges, transit); and broadband.”

Among data points Shrawder shares on the Top 20 America’s Best Counties by overall projects are:

  • Strong population growth between 2010 and 2020, led by Collin County (36.1%) and Travis County (26%) in Texas;
  • Robust GDP growth over 20 years ending in 2021, again led by Collin County (284.3%); Travis County (174.8%); 
  • Substantial FDI project counts and capex between 2003 and 2020 — 6,676 projects in all, with New York County, Miami-Dade County, Harris County (Houston) and Los Angeles County showing investment totals in the tens of billions of dollars.

Shrawder and his colleagues are analyzing county use of BIL funding now and see compelling evidence in the South and Midwest in particular of projects that incentivize or encourage corporate and commercial growth. They are also tracking county investments of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds, which initially went to “rescue” functions such as community aid and public health.

“However, we’re starting to see significant investment in capital expenditures such as infrastructure, housing and economic development that would again build the foundation for some of the tracking you’re doing on commercial growth,” he says. “As the CHIPS & Science Act, the Inflation Reduction Act and other federal funding gets rolled out, we’re eager to showcase how counties are leveraging those funds to build communities and lay the foundation for this type of
commercial growth.” 

Ron Starner
Executive Vice President of Conway, Inc.

Ron Starner

Ron Starner is Executive Vice President of Conway Data, Inc. He has been with Conway Data for 22 years and serves as a writer and editor for both Site Selection and the company's Custom Content publishing division. His Twitter handle is @RonStarner.


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