Columbia ranked 14th strongest metro

BusinessWeek has listed Columbia as the 14th strongest metropolitan economy in the country.

Columbia ranked between Washington, D.C., and Pittsburgh in a list of 40 dominated by southern state capitals including Austin, Texas, Oklahoma City, Little Rock, Ark., Baton Rouge, La., and Jackson, Miss.

Leading the list was San Antonio, Texas.

The rankings were driven, the magazine stated, by cities where home prices have remained steady.

"America's strongest economies have one thing in common - home prices that never got too hot or too cold," the magazine stated.

It added that "although no metropolitan area entirely avoided the economic downturn, the most resilient metros were protected by a potent mix of recession-resistant jobs."

That means Columbia - with its three-legged economic stool of state government, a public university and Fort Jackson - fared well.

"We have the pillars," Mayor Bob Coble said. "Over time, those have taken hits, but they are strong assets that have been very beneficial."

BusinessWeek used data and analysis from the Brookings Institution's new MetroMonitor to come up with the nation's 40 strongest economies.

The MetroMonitor, which measures the nation's economic health on a quarterly basis, ranks the top 100 metros based on job growth, unemployment, gross metropolitan product and home prices.

The magazine noted that employment in the Columbia metro area peaked in the third quarter of 2007. Gross metropolitan product in the second quarter was down just 2.7 percent from the peak in the third quarter of last year.

Home prices grew at least 3.5 percent in the second quarter, according to the magazine, compared with the same period a year earlier. And the unemployment rate in June was about 9.8 percent, it said, up 3.9 percentage points from a year earlier.

Although the metro areas in the ranking are strong by relative standards, the magazine said, their unemployment rates in many cases are now peaking because they entered the recession late.

Texas, which had five metros in the top 10, was a good example.

The last state to enter the recession, it has been bolstered by its oil and gas industries - which have also helped Oklahoma, North Dakota, and Louisiana.

Texas also has many other things going for it, including affordable homes and relatively low wages, which attract businesses.

Columbia is similar.

Although Columbia's job growth was ranked 17th, its unemployment change ranked 54th. But it ranked sixth in home price.

"To be ranked 14th is very positive news. It shows this a great place to live," Coble said. "It's just a matter of keeping the economic development efforts working. Innovista is the most promising job creator. And BRAC (Base Closure and Realignment Commission) has solidified Fort Jackson as an economic engine for years to come."