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A comeback in the recreational vehicle industry after a slump in 2001 helped give the RV-building hub of Elkhart-Goshen in Elkhart County, Ind., the distinction of experiencing more job growth than any other U.S. metropolitan area last year — 4.6%, according to the Feb. 9 issue of The New York Times.
“Elkhart and Goshen, two small cities in northern Indiana, are a hotbed of job creation,” writes David Leonhardt of the Times. “How could it be? The metropolitan area they anchor seems about the least likely place to have boomed in 2002. It says it has the nation’s highest concentration of manufacturing, and this is a time when manufacturers are mired in a deep downturn.”
However, Leonhardt goes on to say, “with the Sept. 11 attacks still limiting foreign travel. sales of RV’s have jumped, and Monaco Coach, Keystone RV and Dutchmen are all adding workers in the area, which is near the Michigan border.”
Across the country, employment roles fell 0.2% last year, reports the Times, quoting Economy.com, a research company that follows regional trends. Yet, almost 140 of the 316 metropolitan areas added jobs, with centers of tourism and the military among the biggest gainers. Not all of those areas are “booming” in the purest sense of the word, stresses Economy.com chief economist Mark Zandi, pointing out that Elkhart-Goshen’s workforce at the end of 2002 totaled 122,500, about 5% below the level of three years ago.
“It’s making its way back,” says Zandi, “but it’s coming off a very low bottom.”
Among the other areas gaining from a pickup in domestic travel, largely for the casinos they harbor: Biloxi, Miss. (2nd on the growth list), Las Vegas (8th) and Atlantic City (9th). Completing the top ten were Fayetteville, Ark. (third), where Wal-Mart and its suppliers continue to expand; Chico, Calif. (6th), where affordable housing is wooing new residents; and Madison, Wis., where financial services are growing.
At the other end of the spectrum, the areas with the biggest employment declines included Florence, Ala., and Flint, Mich. Technology centers like San Jose, Calif., also continued to shrink.