Augusta had the fourth most-improved metro-area economy out of America’s 200 largest markets last year, a national policy group said in a new report.
The California-based Milken Insitute has ranked the Augusta-Aiken metro area No. 102 in its 2017 Best-Performing Cities list, largely on growth in its emerging cybersecurity industry and the resiliency of its outsized health care sector. The ranking was a 64-spot jump from 2016’s ranking of No. 167.
The report was released earlier this month. Co-author and Milken Institute researcher Minoli Ratnatunga said last week that Augusta’s robust position gain during a period of economic uncertainty is an indicator it is being “rewarded for its stability.”
“It’s clear that the region has a stable base of employment, and you have with Fort Gordon a source of relatively stable consumer demand,” she said.
Milken bases its job-creation and sustainability report on a series of fact-based metrics, including three in which Augusta-Aiken performed particularly well: 2015-2016 job growth, 2014-2015 wage growth and 2015-2015 high-tech GDP growth, the latter of which was the 23rd best in the nation.
Though metro Augusta has below-average representation in industries Milken considers “high tech,” its creation of 1,100 high-tech jobs during 2016 – a 10 percent increase from the previous year – should boost the region’s 2018 rankings, Ratnatunga said.
She also said Augusta’s proliferation of high-skill, high-wage technical jobs can help attract talented workers from other areas as well as inspire the best and brightest to stick around.
“Seeing growth in industries like cybersecurity can help provide (young people) an incentive to see a future in your region and to stay and make your career at home,” she said.
The list does not gauge business costs, quality-of-life issues and crime rates, which Milken says are “prone to wide variations and can be highly subjective.”
Milken has updated the Best Cities list annually for 15 years. Augusta-Aiken’s highest ranking, No. 71, was in 2010; its lowest, No. 179, was in 2003, the year the Los Angeles-based think tank released the inaugural report.
The region’s better-than-average performance during periods of economic weakness – its best years were during and immediately after the Great Recession – is a testament to the reliability of its government, health care and military sectors, experts noted.
“I don’t think there are any “recession-proof” industries, but some are more recession proof than others, and we’re strong represented in those groups,” said Simon Medcalfe, an associate professor of finance at Augusta University.
Medcalfe, who produces two local economic indexes for the university, said the Milken report helps confirm what area residents already know to be true: that Augusta rarely outperforms the nation during economic expansions and almost never underperforms the nation during economic downturns.
Ratnatunga, who worked in Pittsburgh for 10 years before moving to Milken’s California headquarters, sees slow-and-steady economic parallels between the Steel City and the Garden City.
“The phrase we used there is, ‘If you’re not invited to the party, you don’t get a hangover,’ ” she said.
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