Big one-year gains by Madera and Visalia among national economic rankings of "best performing cities" punctuated a report published by the Milken Institute.
But the Santa Monica-based think tank also said other central San Joaquin Valley cities, including Fresno, slipped in its annual rankings.
Milken ranked the Madera-Chowchilla area at 57th among 179 small metropolitan areas nationwide. That's 106 spots higher than its No. 163 ranking in 2012 -- the largest gain in the rankings of any metropolitan area in the San Joaquin Valley. The surge in the ranking was driven by improvement in the communities' rankings in short-term job growth (14th), one-year job growth (42nd) and growth in high-tech productivity (35th).
Among the nation's 200 largest metropolitan statistical areas, the Visalia-Porterville area shone as one of the largest gainers in rankings between 2012 and 2013. While the Tulare County region's No. 99 ranking put it only in the middle of the pack, that was a sharp improvement from its place at 168 on the list a year ago.
The key factors in Visalia's climb up the ladder were short-term job growth, at 39th, and a 36th-place ranking in five-year productivity growth from high-tech fields.
"The city of Visalia is very pleased to see a thriving local economy emerge after several years of economic recession," Visalia Mayor Steve Nelsen said in a statement issued Friday. "Investments in infrastructure, such as the Plaza Drive Interchange improvements and street widening, have helped attract new businesses to the Industrial Park and existing businesses to expand. Retailers on Mooney Boulevard, in downtown, on North Dinuba Boulevard, and in other locations are enjoying increased sales. These efforts have created needed jobs for Visalians and nearby residents and stimulated regional economic growth."
The highest-ranked Valley region on the Milken list was the Bakersfield-Delano metro area, where its ranking remained stable at No. 19 nationwide. "Despite lagging the state and the nation in educational attainment, the Bakersfield-Delano metro had the seventh-highest growth in five-year high-tech output," noted the economists and researchers who authored the report for the nonpartisan Milken Institute. Additionally, "with a location near major markets, good transportation links and competitively priced real estate, the Bakersfield-Delano metro is an attractive site for distribution centers."
Elsewhere in the Valley, the lackluster economic situation continued to reflect the aftermath of the Great Recession.
Among smaller metros, the Hanford-Corcoran area lost 55 places in the national rankings. The Milken report for 2012 had Hanford at No. 25, but weakness in job growth, wage growth and a lack of concentration of high-tech jobs combined to sink it to 80th in the 2013 Milken analysis.
Fresno and Merced were closely bunched in the Milken large-area rankings. The Fresno metro area's ranking slid by 13 spots in the Milken report, from 145 in 2012 to 158 in 2013. Merced was 159th, a fall of 40 spots from its 2012 rank of 119.
Fresno's ranking was weighed down by factors that included poor job growth relative to other metro areas across the country between 2007 and 2012 (178th out of 200) and sluggish wage growth (163rd). Merced's place on the list was plagued by weakness in one-year wage growth, in which the city ranked dead last at No. 200, and one-year growth in high-tech output (196th).
Stockton and Modesto, each in the bottom 15 nationally, rounded out the Valley communities on the list. Stockton gained four spots, rising to 185 from 189th last year. Modesto was next-to-last at 199 in 2012, but climbed 11 spots to 188 in the latest report.
Austin, Texas, topped the list of large metropolitan areas, while Columbia, Mo., led the small-metro rankings. Both are homes to major state universities.
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