In case you weren’t reachable by Commerce Lexington last Thursday or were on vacation, like I was, a new ranking for Lexington was announced by Forbes.com for the Best Places for Business and Careers. Press release excerpt as follows:
Lexington, Kentucky has been named the 9th Best Place for Business and Careers among the 200 largest metro areas by Forbes. The metrics included costs (business and living), job growth (past and projected), income growth, educational attainment and projected economic growth, as well as quality of life issues like crime, cultural and recreational opportunities as well as net migration patterns, and finally the percentage of subprime mortgages handed out over a three-year stretch and the number of highly ranked four-year colleges in the area.
VIEW THE FULL RANKINGS LIST HERE
LEXINGTON’S METRICS PAGE
People love rankings, and we here at Commerce Lexington are no exception. It isn’t every day that Lexington is rated more highly than everyone’s favorite go-to model city, Austin, TX. I’ll admit to just a little bit of pride in that regard. Austin, TX has a lot going for it and a lot of great people and businesses as well that contribute to its reputation. Unfortunately, the grass is often greener on the other side, and those of us in Lexington tend to forget that we have a lot going for us as well – not in the least our fantastic people and businesses.
I know that rankings can be a cause for joy and also skepticism. Lexington has racked up its fair share of rankings in the short time I’ve been Research Director. Some of these rankings are more than a little eyebrow raising (Best Metros to Test New Products anyone?), but in general, what they sometimes lack in statistical rigor, they often make up for in free publicity and chances to reflect positively on how great Lexington truly is.
Speaking of statistical rigor, I’ll formally introduce the research portion of the ranking story. A little history: Lexington was rated the #5 Best Place for Business and Careers by Forbes in 2008. Lexington was also rated the #33 Best Place for Business and Careers by Forbes in 2009. So how does Lexington go from #5 down to #33, back up to #9? Forbes doesn’t publish the recipe to their ranking secret sauce on the website, but they do give us a bit of insight on what makes up the overall ranking:
I’ve highlighted a couple boxes in green because I think they provide the most insight as to what happened from 2008 to 2010. We’ll get to that in a second. First, I noticed that Forbes has been changing their formula slightly, adding two new categories in 2009, Job Growth Projected and Subprime Mortgages. We did well in the Subprime Mortgage category, not well at all in the Job Growth Projected category. Our poor rank in projected job growth (one of the green boxes) and a poorer than average score in the Income Growth category (the other green box) are probably the key factors that dragged our overall rank down in 2009.
Forbes also added a new category in 2010, Economic Growth Projected. We didn’t do as well in this category either, which probably kept us out of the top five. You’ll notice that our income growth and projected job growth rebounded quite nicely, especially the projected job growth. So how does Lexington go from #151 to #32 in the course of a year?
The answer (in my humble opinion) is the “Projected” in Job Growth Projected. To quote a famous economist, “The only function of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable.” Our metro region sustained some heavy job losses in a few critical areas in late 2008 and early 2009, most memorably in the automotive supplier industry. I think the uncertainty of the mounting recession along with the uncertainty of the automotive industry made job growth projections more than a bit daunting. As you can tell, however they projected the job growth for our metro region, they took the worst case scenario.
A year later, albeit with high unemployment, Lexington never truly saw the sky fall. In fact, in a lot of instances, we are a metro region that is poised for growth in the recovery phase of the economy due to our diversity of industry, the presence of the University of Kentucky, and our highly educated population (among many other attributes).
It is certainly difficult to predict what next year will bring, but my core belief is that the things that make Lexington great will continue to shine through for years to come, no matter what ranking we get from Forbes or anyone else.