Feb 13, 2013
Emily McMackin
Emily McMackin
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Chart Topper: Fly-Over States Climb Rankings for Business

Agribusiness: Farming wheat field

In his No. 1 hit, “Fly Over States,” country music star Jason Aldean sings about the possibility and promise of Middle America, from its big-hearted, hard-working people to its limitless landscape and all-encompassing sunsets. Just as Aldean’s ode to the region has climbed to the top of the charts recently, so have many of the Midwestern and Southwestern states he sings about.

Five of the top 10 states on Forbes’ Best States for Business list happen to be from the Great Plains, including North Dakota, Colorado, Nebraska, Texas and Oklahoma. These states, along with South Dakota, Wyoming and Indiana, also dominate the upper echelon of similar lists released over the past year by CNBC, Area Development and Business Facilities.

Fly-over states like these that encompass the breadbasket of the U.S. are often viewed as economic and cultural wastelands — places that movers and shakers in business wouldn’t want to actually go, but must fly across to get from the East Coast to the West Coast or vice versa.

But the characterization of this area as an insignificant swath of land where business is slow, people are uneducated, communities are backward, and the climate is unfavorable couldn’t be further from the truth. And the proof is in the numbers.

Not only has Middle America fared well in the post-Recession economy, it is driving economic growth across the country. Thanks to investment and job growth in its agriculture, manufacturing, energy and tech sectors, the region as a whole boasts some of the lowest jobless rate in the country, with unemployment at rock-bottom lows of 4 percent in North Dakota, South Dakota and Nebraska and below the national average in Kansas, Montana, Oklahoma and Texas.

Income is also rising. Three cities in this region — Austin, Texas, Oklahoma City, Okla., and Kansas City, Mo.-Kansas — ranked among the top 10 metro areas for wage growth in fields providing professional, technical and scientific services. And the region is attracting a record number of residents from other states, many of whom are between the ages of 20 and 35.

The future will only get brighter for the region, according to an October report released by Texas Tech University. Three reasons why:

Resources. With its vast agricultural and natural resources, the region is poised to meet the increasing global demand for food, fiber and fuel, especially for overseas markets in developing countries.

Technology. Rural parts of the region are no longer isolated from the rest of the U.S., thanks to advances in information technology. Technology is also enhancing the development of precision agriculture and oil and gas production in the region.

•Talent. Affordability, abundance of jobs, and thriving art and cultural scenes in Great Plains cities like Wichita, Omaha and others are attracting ambitious, talented young adults from more expensive, crowded metros like Chicago, San Francisco and Minneapolis.

Have you experienced business growth in Middle America? If so, we’d love to hear your story. Please share below.

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