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COVER STORY
From Site Selection magazine, July 2024
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AMERICA'S BEST COUNTIES

More than supporting characters, counties play critical roles in regional prosperity.

COVER STORY
by Mark Arend
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ite Selection’s recognition of America’s Best Counties for economic development performance on one level is a measure of the capital investment they attracted in 2023 and through the first quarter of this year. On another level, it’s an opportunity to credit counties and their personnel who work tirelessly to attract projects and to help grow investment already in place.

These rankings are based on total points awarded to counties based on number of projects between January 2023 and March 2024, capital investment and jobs created according to project data resident in Site Selection’s Conway Projects Database.

Counties with high project totals in most cases are parts of large metros — Phoenix, Houston, Columbus (Ohio), Atlanta and Dallas, for example, are the main population centers and workforce suppliers of their respective counties, making the top five according to points awarded.

Not all counties per capita have that advantage, but the projects they win are no less impactful. In fact, they can be more so. Rural Haywood County, Tennessee’s population is under 18,000, according to the 2020 census, but it’s in the top 10 for per capita performance.

County Programs Are Recognized
For the past 54 years, the National Association of Counties has been bestowing NACo Achievement Awards in 18 categories to U.S. counties across a range of functions, including community and economic development. In that category alone, Maricopa County, Arizona, our first-place county for total projects, won seven Achievement Awards, including one for In Demand Industry Prioritization. It prioritizes funding and workforce training for health care, construction, advanced manufacturing, transportation and logistics, IT and finance.

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“This new policy effectively allowed us to be more intentional around how we were supporting both job seekers and industry alike,” the county explains in its program description. “Through career exploration, and by providing labor market information to each client, we can ensure clients not only obtain employment but also enter a field offering a fair wage with growth opportunities.”

Second-place Harris County, Texas, won three community and economic development Achievement Awards, including one for its Biz2Empower Accelerator Program for supporting Minority Women Business Owned Enterprises. “Biz2Empower is a free eight-week, lab-based small business accelerator program that provides training in procurement basics, government contracts, credit and financial viability, competitive bid pricing strategy, and other crucial skills needed to successfully grow and scale a small business,” the program description explains.

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In third-place Franklin County, Ohio, home to the state capital of Columbus, the Franklin County Digital Equity Coalition is committing $20 million to improving under-resourced residents’ access to affordable, high-speed Internet and other digital resources. “Empowering underserved residents with affordable digital access to healthcare, financial management, and job opportunities represents significant steps forward to generational and impactful progress in Franklin County,” said Board of Commissioners President John O’Grady when announcing the initiative in November 2023.

The McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, ArizonaThe McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona
Photo: Getty Images

Foreign Investment in the Per Capita Counties
The top three counties per capita also are parts of metros, and vice versa, which helps them land projects and the jobs that come with them. Many of these projects are foreign direct investment from companies outside the U.S.

Oak-AlleyOak Alley in Vacheria, Louisiana
Photo: Getty Images

St. James Parish, at the top of this ranking, is part of the New Orleans-Metairie, Louisiana, metro. It’s also where FG LA LLC, a member of Taiwan-based Formosa Plastics Group, is investing $9.4 billion in The Sunshine Project, an industrial complex for making chemicals and plastics. About 1,200 people will work at the facility when it’s operational.

In second-place Washington County, Nebraska, Danish life sciences company Novozymes began making enzymes for ethanol production in Blair, in the Omaha-Council Bluffs metro, in 2009. A $300 million protein production facility is now in development.

Waller County, Texas, in third place, is part of the Houston metro, and one of its communities, Brookshire (population 5,000) has also caught the attention of foreign investors. Waaree Energies, based in India, is building a $1 billion solar PV module production facility that aims to produce 5 GW of solar panel production by 2027. Similarly, Turkish owned Elin Energy has built a 225,000-sq.-ft. solar panel manufacturing facility in Brookshire that eventually will employ 450.

Mark Arend
Editor Emeritus of Site Selection magazine

Mark Arend

Mark Arend is editor emeritus of Site Selection, and previously served as editor in chief from 2001 to 2023. Prior to joining the editorial staff in 1997, he worked for 10 years in New York City at Wall Street Computer Review, ABA Banking Journal and Global Investment Technology. Mark graduated from the University of Hartford (Conn.) in 1985 and lives near Atlanta, Georgia.

 

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