Columbia rated 2013’s best-performing small city

Columbia’s high-tech jobs pushed it to the top of Milken Institute’s rankings.

Mikala Compton / Graphic Designer

Columbia was rated as the best-performing small city in 2013 by the Milken Institute, a Santa Monica, Calif., economic think tank.

Columbia jumped up nine places from its 2012 ranking.

Although the Milken Institute ranked Columbia first because of its strong economic performance across the board, Columbia’s growth in high-tech industries drove it to the top of the rankings.

Bernie Andrews, executive vice president of Regional Economic Development Inc., said the continued growth of MU as a major research university is one of the driving factors for the jump, along with Columbia's strong health care and insurance industries. Startup companies and entrepreneurship also keep Columbia’s economy strong.

“REDI and other economic development partners are putting the major emphasis on entrepreneurship and creating companies from university research and other ideas, so the number of technology startup companies should accelerate,” Andrews said in an email. “It is expected that some of those companies would experience success and continue creating good jobs for Columbia.”

Some older Columbia companies also added more tech jobs in the last year.

“We are also fortunate to have some existing companies that have continued to add new tech jobs such as Veterans United, ABC Laboratories, CarFax and 3M,” Andrews said. “Columbia is also now benefiting from some passionate entrepreneurs that have started companies that employ anywhere from 10 to 50 employees, and are also employing some of our graduating students.”

Andrews called Columbia’s rating as the best-performing small city exciting, but said growth in jobs, wages and salaries is more important than the ranking itself.

“We were fortunate over the study period to have a couple of local companies experience tremendous job growth,” Andrews said. “Whether those companies can sustain that type of growth and help Columbia continue as best performing small city is not known.”

The Milken Institute's best-performing cities index has been published every year for more than a decade.

Study co-author Minoli Ratnatunga said the data the institute uses comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Bureau of Economic Analysis and the U.S. Census. The research and writing of the report takes several months.

“Our index is a weighted composite based on data covering a metropolitan area's job growth, wage growth and high-tech industry diversity, concentration and growth,” Ratnatunga said.

Andrews said the institute’s methodology focused on mostly objective criteria for growth.

“We are excited about the Milken study results because it uses criteria that measures outcomes such as job growth, wage and salary growth, and the number of high-tech industries and leaves out the highly subjective criteria,” Andrews said.

Ratnatunga said the institute uses a mix of five-year and one-year measures to account for not only business cycle fluctuation but also more recent trends. The study also took into account a 12-month job growth measure from July 2012 to July 2013.

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