Cities on the Rise in Arizona

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Arizona cities on the rise

Arizona is bouncing back. Once the symbol of the nation’s housing crisis, the Grand Canyon state is now beating the national average in population growth — 3.7% for the past 31 months versus the U.S. average of 2.4% — and housing permits are expected to double by 2016.

Income and job growth are looking equally positive. According to the University of Arizona’s Economic and Business Research Center, employment increased 2.1% and personal income climbed 2.7% in 2013.

As with most rosy economic news, there is another, less optimistic, side. Arizona still has a long way to go before it replaces all the jobs lost in the Great Recession. A recent report from the W.P. Carey School of Business places blame on an economy centered on construction. It will just take longer to gain all of those jobs back.

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To complete the picture, NerdWallet crunched the numbers in Arizona to find the cities “on the rise,” and help residents and newcomers learn about the places that are growing. Our analysis examined the following variables:

1. Population growth. We measured growth in the working-age (16 and over) population from 2009 to 2012.
2. Employment growth. We evaluated growth in the percentage of employed residents from 2009 to 2012.
3. Income growth. We calculated growth in the median income for full-time, year-round workers from 2009 to 2012.

In researching Arizona, certain trends became apparent. Here’s what our top places had in common:

  • Arizona is planning on population growth as a large driver for its economy. Several places on our list are building master planned communities to bolster their reputations as affordable, attractive residential areas.
  • The Tucson and Phoenix metropolitan areas account for a disproportionate amount of growth on our list. All but two places on our top 10 were within 60 miles of one of these two cities.
  • Industries are changing in Arizona. The economies in several places on our list that have been rooted in agriculture and mining are transitioning to industries such as solar energy and aerospace.

NerdWallet crunched the data for 56 communities in Arizona with populations of 4,000 or more. To see full data set, click here.

Does the data tell the truth? Let us know what you think the comments section below.

1. Florence

Florence topped our list for its broad-based strength across a variety of economic indicators. From 2009 to 2012, its working-age population jumped more than 30%, its employment grew 32% and median income rose a healthy 15%. The corrections industry, the leading employer in town, has kept the economy relatively healthy throughout the national downturn. In 2010, Florence began construction on Territory Square, an award-winning project designed to provide economic and engineering opportunities on 623 acres along the Gila River.

2. Queen Creek

Queen Creek, a town outside Phoenix, saw one of the highest three-year income gains on our list at 10.5% as it recorded employment growth of 29.3% compared with the state as a whole. Town officials have identified specific industry clusters, including aerospace and advanced financial services, around which it plans to focus marketing and recruitment efforts. They are already seeing that strategy bear fruit — its Mesa Gateway airport generates more than $251 million a year and is expected to continue with strong future growth.

3. Surprise

What isn’t a surprise is this community’s exceptionally strong commercial base and leap in working-age residents — 30% growth from 2009 to 2012. It recently became the U.S. corporate headquarters for Spanish companies Rioglass Solar and Gestamp Solar Steel, which represent a combined $150 million, according to the Greater Phoenix Economic Council. In 2007, the city approved construction of Prasada, a 1,755-acre regional mall to provide a stable tax base for the city for decades to come.

4. Buckeye

With a working-age population growth of 36% from 2009 to 2012, and covering over 600 square miles, Buckeye is a rising town with a big foundation. The Greater Phoenix Economic Council predicts Buckeye’s population will reach 419,000 by 2030, and it will be part of a regional investment of $35 trillion over the same period. Buckeye has unveiled several master planned communities over the past decade, including at least 21,000 homes at the Sundance and Verrado communities.

5. Somerton

Located in Yuma Valley, Somerton is a longtime agricultural town making gains in light industry. Many Somerton residents work in the citrus farming industry, while others work at the Somerton School District and for the city. Residents also find jobs at the Cocopah Nation’s entertainment and cultural attractions, which include a casino, resort and conference center. The city recently developed the Yepco Industrial Park, a 27-acre light industrial zoned site.

6. El Mirage

It’s all about location in El Mirage. Just 26 miles outside Phoenix, El Mirage is part of the Northern Parkway Transportation corridor project that will connect Loop 303 to Highway 60 and interstates 10 and 17. The city has developed a commerce and industrial park to support a range of businesses from mining and construction to aerospace and high-tech farming. El Mirage saw the third-highest working-age population growth, 34.2%, on our list from 2009 to 2012.

7. Casa Grande

Casa Grande benefits from its location between Tucson and Phoenix and at the intersection of interstates 8 and 10 in “Arizona’s Golden Corridor.” With a working-age population that grew 27% to 36,000 from 2009 to 2012, Casa Grande has one of the largest labor forces in our top 20. Residents in the city saw their median income grow 9.5%, as employment got a 15.6% boost after the construction of a Wal-Mart supermarket and distribution center, which provides over 1,000 jobs.

8. Eloy

Like Casa Grande, Eloy is a city in Pinal County that benefits from its location halfway between the state’s major cities. The 44% growth in Eloy’s working-age residents from 2009 to 2012 was the highest on our list. Its population is likely to continue growing — there are plans to add over 175,000 homes in master planned communities in the next decade. The city’s economic development is keeping pace with a dual-track rail system being installed by Union Pacific Railroad.

9. Sahuarita

Even though it has a modest working age population of less than 18,000, Sahuarita isn’t small when it comes to growth. The town saw its employment grow 21.8%, and its working-age population rise 22.9% from 2009 to 2012. According the Sahuarita Economic Commission, the population growth is largely because of three developments with over 17,000 homes. The city plans to sustain its growth by doubling its size through annexations to the east and west.

10. Coolidge

Coolidge, in Pinal County, recorded balanced growth across the board, with double-digit gains in its working-age population and employment from 2009 to 2012. The city, which is at the crossroads of highways 87 and 287, is focusing on improving shopping options at home. While Coolidge remains the commercial center of the cotton industry in Arizona, the city is branching out to light manufacturing and tourism —over 100,000 people each year visit the city’s Casa Grande Ruins National Monument.

Check out our interactive map for “Cities on the Rise in Arizona”. The darker the color of the point, the higher the growth rate of the working age population. Click on data points for more information.

nerdwallet

City 2009-2012 Working-age population growth 2009-2012 Employment growth 2012 Median income 2009-2012 Median income growth Overall growth score
1 Florence 30.5% 32.9% 43,245 15.4% 79.8
2 Queen Creek 29.6% 29.3% 58,138 10.5% 73.8
3 Surprise 30.31% 26.44% 46,333 6.71% 69.72
4 Buckeye 36.0% 24.6% 42,094 2.5% 67.7
5 Somerton 26.4% 21.4% 27,365 8.8% 67.4
6 El Mirage 34.2% 24.0% 36,701 3.1% 67.2
7 Casa Grande 27.0% 15.6% 40,091 9.5% 65.5
8 Eloy 44.0% 4.4% 26,654 5.3% 63.8
9 Sahuarita 22.9% 21.8% 52,927 5.1% 63.3
10 Coolidge 15.5% 20.5% 39,449 5.6% 60.1
11 San Luis 13.1% 14.6% 26,883 8.0% 58.3
12 Chino Valley 9.2% (2.8%) 39,550 19.9% 58.0
13 Casas Adobes 17.4% 20.3% 43,573 0.9% 57.0
14 Fortuna Foothills 2.6% 15.2% 43,159 10.5% 56.3
15 Flagstaff 15.3% 9.6% 39,783 6.7% 55.8
16 Marana 7.6% 18.1% 50,587 5.3% 55.6
17 Goodyear 23.4% 19.0% 44,759 (4.4%) 54.6
18 Maricopa 23.7% 9.0% 46,092 (0.5%) 53.1
19 Sun Lakes 20.5% 20.0% 44,448 (7.8%) 51.2
20 Sierra Vista 6.8% 8.0% 45,830 6.1% 51.1

Methodology

 The overall score for each city was derived from these measures:

  1. Population growth from 2009 to 2012 made up 33.3% of the total score. Data for the working-age population (16+) comes from the 2012 U.S. Census American Community Survey 5-year estimate for all places in the state, Table DP03.
  2. Employment growth from 2009 to 2012 made up 33.3% of the total score. Data for the percent of employed residents comes from the 2012 U.S. Census American Community Survey 5-year estimate for all places in the state, Table DP03.
  3. Income growth from 2009 to 2012 made up 33.3% of the total score.  Data for the median earnings for workers comes from the 2012 U.S. Census American Community Survey 5-year estimate for all places in the state, Table DP03.

We evaluated 56 cities and communities in Arizona for this study. Certain places were omitted because of age restrictions for residency.

 

Cities on the Rise Arizona (Full Rankings)

City 2009-2012 Working-age population growth 2009-2012 Employment growth 2012 Median income 2009-2012 Median income growth Overall growth score
1 Florence 30.5% 32.9% 43,245 15.4% 79.8
2 Queen Creek 29.6% 29.3% 58,138 10.5% 73.8
3 Surprise 30.31% 26.44% 46,333 6.71% 69.72
4 Buckeye 36.0% 24.6% 42,094 2.5% 67.7
5 Somerton 26.4% 21.4% 27,365 8.8% 67.4
6 El Mirage 34.2% 24.0% 36,701 3.1% 67.2
7 Casa Grande 27.0% 15.6% 40,091 9.5% 65.5
8 Eloy 44.0% 4.4% 26,654 5.3% 63.8
9 Sahuarita 22.9% 21.8% 52,927 5.1% 63.3
10 Coolidge 15.5% 20.5% 39,449 5.6% 60.1
11 San Luis 13.1% 14.6% 26,883 8.0% 58.3
12 Chino Valley 9.2% (2.8%) 39,550 19.9% 58.0
13 Casas Adobes 17.4% 20.3% 43,573 0.9% 57.0
14 Fortuna Foothills 2.6% 15.2% 43,159 10.5% 56.3
15 Flagstaff 15.3% 9.6% 39,783 6.7% 55.8
16 Marana 7.6% 18.1% 50,587 5.3% 55.6
17 Goodyear 23.4% 19.0% 44,759 (4.4%) 54.6
18 Maricopa 23.7% 9.0% 46,092 (0.5%) 53.1
19 Sun Lakes 20.5% 20.0% 44,448 (7.8%) 51.2
20 Sierra Vista 6.8% 8.0% 45,830 6.1% 51.1
21 Kingman 7.8% 0.5% 37,071 9.2% 50.4
22 Flowing Wells 1.5% (0.2%) 30,589 11.4% 49.3
23 Cottonwood (4.7%) (8.1%) 31,082 15.8% 46.7
24 Sun City 15.8% (0.3%) 38,168 0.7% 46.5
25 Apache Junction 10.4% (3.9%) 36,172 4.9% 46.0
26 Nogales 1.1% 2.8% 26,984 5.6% 46.0
27 Yuma 8.4% 4.9% 35,205 (1.1%) 44.5
28 Peoria 3.4% 1.3% 45,562 3.3% 44.4
29 Douglas 2.1% (7.2%) 31,597 8.2% 43.8
30 Gilbert 5.4% 2.4% 52,559 0.6% 43.5
31 Prescott Valley 5.3% 5.2% 34,657 (2.2%) 42.6
32 Tanque Verde (0.3%) (1.6%) 65,458 4.4% 42.4
33 Paradise Valley (10.6%) (3.6%) 111,736 10.3% 42.1
34 Tucson Estates (1.5%) (15.2%) 41,757 12.5% 42.0
35 Chandler (0.4%) (3.5%) 51,517 4.8% 41.8
36 Mesa (1.7%) (7.3%) 40,191 7.3% 41.5
37 Payson 0.9% (8.2%) 38,375 6.4% 41.4
38 Phoenix (3.5%) (9.1%) 39,785 8.8% 41.2
39 Scottsdale (4.5%) (6.6%) 58,617 7.7% 41.1
40 Tempe (3.0%) (8.8%) 40,906 7.8% 40.6
41 Tucson (1.2%) (6.9%) 34,478 5.2% 40.2
42 Sedona (9.7%) (13.6%) 40,727 11.3% 38.5
43 Lake Havasu City (4.2%) (13.2%) 37,855 7.0% 37.5
44 Show Low (2.6%) (22.9%) 38,977 11.6% 37.2
45 Prescott (3.5%) (12.5%) 37,406 5.4% 36.8
46 Bullhead City 0.5% (9.1%) 30,578 1.0% 36.5
47 Oro Valley (3.2%) (6.3%) 55,685 0.1% 35.6
48 Catalina Foothills (7.0%) (10.5%) 70,885 4.4% 35.5
49 Camp Verde 4.4% (15.4%) 31,071 1.4% 35.4
50 Fountain Hills (5.5%) (12.4%) 59,648 4.4% 35.2
51 Glendale (6.0%) (10.7%) 39,774 3.1% 34.8
52 Sierra Vista Southeast (16.7%) (21.1%) 43,520 13.5% 33.9
53 Drexel Heights (5.3%) (11.7%) 34,444 1.8% 33.6
54 Avondale (2.4%) (4.0%) 36,578 (4.8%) 33.1
55 New Kingman-Butler (20.8%) (31.0%) 27,500 (3.8%) 13.8
56 New River (38.9%) (38.1%) 57,857 (4.4%) 2.7

Phoenix, Arizona, via Shutterstock.