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Best Counties to Work In

Sept. 29, 2013
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While the US job market is not moving upward as quickly as many would like (the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that unemployment fell only 0.1% to 7.3% in August and remains nearly 3% above pre-recession levels), there are many job seekers looking for areas with good job opportunities. As some of these same job seekers are exploring the options available in different areas of the country, as well as different areas within their state, we decided to evaluate which counties were the best to work in, based on economic indicators, prospective growth and quality of life.

We based our decision on these four questions:

1. Are there jobs?  We looked at the unemployment rate to assess the city’s economy and your chance of securing a good job.  This was weighted at 30% of the overall score.

2. Do residents earn high salaries?  We included the median income for full-time, year-round workers in our analysis. This was weighted at 30% of the overall score.

3. Is the city growing?  We examined the population growth of the city to see if the city is on the rise and is attracting workers. This was weighted at 30% of the overall score.

4. Are commutes short?  Long commutes and long hours can affect one’s work-life balance.  This was weighted at 10% of the overall score.


Best Counties to Work In

1. Williams County, North Dakota

Williams County has maintained a very low unemployment rate—reported at 0.7% for July 2013. It tied Williams County, Ohio, for the strongest population growth (18.3%) and has the shortest average commute time (15.4 minutes). Nearly ¼ of the employed population (24.6%) works in the education services, health care and social assistance industries. The agriculture and energy sectors are major factors in the county’s economic development.

2. Loudoun County, Virginia

Loudoun County promises a high median income to workers of more than $76,000 per year. The unemployment rate has been steady, if slightly higher in recent months, and was reported at 4.4% in July 2013. The industries with the highest percentage of the employed population include education, health care, social assistance and science, and service industries like management, administration and professional services. The county has also received support from the Virginia Science and Technology Campus of George Washington University, as the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors honored  the campus for its work in education and economic improvement in Loudoun County.

 3. Arlington County, Virginia

Arlington County unemployment rate has remained low in 2013, reaching 3.8% in July 2013. Average commute time is under half an hour and the county has a median income that exceeds $70,000 per year. Nearly a third of the employed population works in the professional, scientific, management and administrative service industries. Another 18% works in public administration. The University of Marymount offers prospective Virginia educators the opportunity to take part in their Professional Development School program, which offers hands-on classroom experience in local Arlington County public schools.

 4. Fairfax County, Virginia

Fairfax County has a low unemployment rate that is just above nearby Arlington County (4.3%, as of July 2013). The county has a high median income of $72,155 per year. Population growth has been slow in recent years, but the tech and business sectors are major sources for jobs. 55% of the employed population holds occupations in management, business, science or the arts. Community Business Partnership, a non-profit organization in Fairfax County, has four programs designed to support and grow local businesses.

 5. Williams County, Ohio

Williams County may have one of the higher unemployment rates on this list, but the rate has significantly improved since January, reaching 7.9% in July 2013. The county has seen strong population growth and offers a short average commute time (19.4 minutes). 34% of the employed population works in the manufacturing industry, and production, transportation and material moving positions make up the majority of occupations in the county (30.1%).

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 6. Douglas County, Colorado

Douglas County is located south of Denver, within the Denver-Aurora Metro Area. Unemployment fell to 5.5% in July 2013 and the county has seen improved job growth in the past year. The employed population is divided fairly evenly amongst several industries, including education, health care, science, administrative services, finance, real estate and retail trade. The County’s 1st Quarter 2013 Economic Development Report noted significant hiring increases at major companies in the area, and improvements in the residential and commercial real estate markets.

 7. Marin County, California

Marin County is located on the northern side of the Golden Gate Bridge and promises a rapidly decreasing unemployment rate (5.3% in July 2013). The major industries in Marin County are health care, scientific services, education, finance, and administrative and management services. The county maintains a high median income of $70,338 per year. Dominican University, located in San Rafael, has a Venture Greenhouse initiative, which serves as an “early stage business accelerator” for green businesses.

 8. Howard County, Maryland

Howard County’s unemployment rate has seen slight increases in 2013, but remains well below the national rate (it was reported at 5.5 % in July 2013). The median income for the county is the second highest in the top 10, at $73,050 per year. Major industries include health care, education services, professional services and retail. Local government, construction and manufacturing occupations also make up a large section of the workforce. Howard County’s Workforce Development department provides businesses and individuals with resources to help them succeed.

 9. Forsyth County, Georgia

Forsyth County has seen a slight decrease in the unemployment rate recently—it was reported at 6.7% in July 2013. The county has seen steady population growth, maintains a 30 minute average commute time and has a median income of $58,466 per year. Major industries in Forsyth County include education services, health care, professional services, manufacturing and processing. Local government occupations also represent a large section of the workforce.

10. Collin County, Texas

Collin County has seen recent improvements in its unemployment rate (it reached 5.8% in July 2013). Workers can expect an average commute time of just 27.2 minutes. Major industries include education services, professional services, health care, finance, manufacturing and retail. The Collin College Workforce & Economic Development department supports the county economy with analysis, training and access to funding for local businesses.

Rank County State Unemployment rate 2012 Median income for full-time, year-round workers Population growth 2010-2012 Mean travel time to work (minutes) Overall work score
1 Williams County North Dakota 0.8% $44,353 18.3% 15.4 80.7
2 Loudoun County Virginia 4.2% $76,384 6.8% 33.2 75.1
3 Arlington County Virginia 3.6% $70,793 5.6% 27.1 73.1
4 Fairfax County Virginia 4.2% $72,155 2.9% 32.2 68.2
5 Williams County Ohio 7.6% $34,186 3.3% 19.4 66.1
6 Douglas County Colorado 6.4% $66,633 3.9% 27.5 65.4
7 Marin County California 6.3% $70,338 1.2% 28 64.1
8 Howard County Maryland 5.0% $73,050 -0.6% 31 63.8
9 Forsyth County Georgia 6.8% $58,466 6.3% 30 62.4
10 Collin County Texas 6.1% $56,415 5.9% 27.2 62.4
11 Santa Clara County California 8.4% $64,778 2.9% 24.3 61.8
12 Sweetwater County Wyoming 4.6% $53,723 3.8% 21.7 61.7
13 New York County New York 7.7% $67,550 2.0% 30.1 61.2
14 Dunn County Wisconsin 5.9% $37,024 12.0% 21.8 61.0
15 San Mateo County California 6.7% $59,693 2.7% 24.9 60.4
16 Prince William County Virginia 4.9% $57,476 5.8% 39.7 60.2
17 Hunterdon County New Jersey 7.1% $73,454 -1.0% 34.2 60.1
18 Uintah County Utah 3.9% $42,087 6.5% 20 59.8
19 Carver County Minnesota 5.2% $56,347 2.6% 25.5 59.8
20 Boulder County Colorado 6.1% $54,912 3.0% 22.3 59.6

Data was obtained from the U.S. Census and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  More than 1800 counties were compared.