By Andrew D. Brosig

Killeen Daily Herald

The Killeen-Temple-Fort Hood metro area is the best in the nation among 200 major metropolitan areas for its overall business climate, according to an annual study released this week.

The nonpartisan think tank Milken Institute released its 2010 Best-Performing Cities ratings Thursday. Central Texas outstripped last year's top-ranked Austin-Round Rock metropolitan service area to capture the top spot.

The study was designed as an objective measure of which metropolitan areas are most successful in creating and retaining jobs, and how good those jobs are in terms of wages and overall economic strength, according to a preamble to the report. Emphasis is placed on growth in employment because of its importance in determining the economic health and viability of communities, the report said.

"Basically, we look at jobs," said Skip Rimer, executive director of programs and communications at the Santa Monica, Calif.-based Milken Institute. "How well cities do at creating jobs and holding on to jobs. In particular, good paying jobs."

The Killeen area ranked second last year behind Austin-Round Rock. The region ranked 13th in 2008, moving upward on the list from 33rd place in 2007.

Wide-ranging growth

"That growth has not been in any one specific area," said John Crutchfield, president of the Greater Killeen Chamber of Commerce. "But that growth has occurred steadily over the last 10 years. We've increased our population by about 30,000 in that 10 years."

Overall, 11 of the top 25 ranked metro areas on the 2010 listings are in Texas, according to the report.

The Houston-Sugarland MSA is ranked 10th, down from fifth place last year. San Antonio was knocked out of the top 10 this year, falling to 14th. To the north, Dallas lost five places, moving from 13th in 2009 to 17th this year, and Fort Worth toppled from last year's 12th place ranking to 23rd position, the report said.

Comparisons are made on one-year and five-year trends in both wages and salaries and job growth. The five-year trends cover the years 2004 to 2009, while the one-year snapshot covers April 2009 to April 2010, Rimer said.

The Killeen-Temple-Fort Hood area, which includes portions of Bell, Coryell and Lampasas counties, ranked seventh overall in five-year job growth, posting 10.75 percent greater growth than the national average. One-year job growth of 3.84 percent greater than the national average ranked the area fourth in the nation.

Wage and salary growth, at 22.72 percent greater than the national average, posted the region a first-place ranking, as did the region's 6.18 percent increase in salaries and wages compared to the national one-year average, the report said.

"I think it's great," Killeen Mayor Tim Hancock said. "It proves we have the ability to maintain. We are what we claim to be."

Charlie Kimmey, chairman of the board of directors for the Temple Chamber of Commerce, agreed.

"It's huge," Kimmey said of the report. "A lot of good things are going on in our Central Texas area."

Tech leads

The greatest increase, compared to state averages, was in the realm of high technology growth, the study found. The Killeen-Temple-Fort Hood area experienced economic impact from technology-based businesses at a rate 48.17 percent greater than state averages over the five years from 2004-09.

A significant portion of the growth in the technology sector is directly related to Fort Hood, through some 240 companies directly involved in defense contracts, Crutchfield said. But high tech is not the sole purview of the Army, he said.

In the eastern portion of the county, McLane Advanced Technologies in Temple is another example of strong growth in tech industries, Kimmey said. The company, with several ongoing defense contracts, grew its workforce from about 30 employees, 18 months ago, to several hundred today, he said.

"They've just grown by leaps and bounds," Kimmey said. "That's just one that comes to mind."

It shouldn't come as a surprise to find the engine driving both growth and the continued strength of the local economies is the defense industry and Fort Hood, Rimer and Crutchfield said. Studies conducted about two years ago by the office of State Comptroller Susan Combs found the local economic impact of the military post tops $7 billion annually. Statewide, that impact is almost $11 billion a year, Crutchfield said.

Cooperation is key

But that isn't the only force powering the ongoing growth, he said. It's also fueled by increasing cooperation among the communities in the service area.

"We've worked very hard this year to be more engaging with more chambers of commerce in our area - Belton, Salado, Killeen," Kimmey said. "When one wins, we all win."

Crutchfield agreed. The report bodes well for the Central Texas region, not only for what it says, but for the scope of where it says it.

"That's a national report and it gets national attention," he said. "It really makes a positive statement. For lack of a better term, it is very positive, unpaid advertising for us.

"Regionalism is something that folks have to learn," Crutchfield said. "We're now in a global economy, made possible by the ability to communicate at the speed of light. The competition for Killeen is not Temple. It's competition around the world."

Contact Andrew D. Brosig at or (254) 501-7469.

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