Only the counties that are home to San Francisco and Atlanta ranked ahead of Benton County as economically sound places to live and work, according to a new report from GetRichSlowly.org.
Job growth and average weekly wages gave Benton County an overall rank of 3, and was the only county in the Natural State to place in the top 10. No counties in the neighboring states of Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri or Louisiana placed in the top 10. Williamson, Tenn., ranked No. 5 overall.
The report measured 343 of the largest counties by population. There are 3,143 counties or county-equivalents in the U.S.
The report said while Wal-Mart Stores has been controversial at times for its employment policies, the Bentonville-based retailer and surrounding supplier base have been good for its home county of Benton, which has a 5% job growth. Average weekly wages in the county are $1,266.
San Francisco County, Calif., and the technology hub there garnered the No. 1 spot, but even this populous county grew jobs at a slightly slower pace of 4.8% compared to 5% in Benton County. Of course wages in San Francisco are much higher at $2,054 per week, but housing costs in the San Francisco metro are nearly five times greater at $482 per square foot, compared to $98 in the Benton County area. Housing costs are $980 per square foot in the city of San Francisco, compared to $250 at the highest end of new homes in downtown Bentonville.
Kathy Deck, director of the Center for Business & Economic Research at the University of Arkansas, recently said Benton County and adjacent Washington County are two of the best places to live because of ample job opportunities, higher wages against lower housing costs compared to similar growth areas of the nation. Deck said it’s not a surprise that one or both of the local counties continue to rank high on various lists because the underlying metrics of jobs and income growth remain strong in Northwest Arkansas.
The Getrichslowly.org report also looked at Washington and Pulaski counties in Arkansas as part of the 343 counties ranked overall. Washington County had an overall rank of 164 with job growth of 3.6% and average weekly wages of $798.
The differences between the two neighboring counties are stark in terms of wages, while housing costs are fairly similar in the two-county area. Benton County ranked No. 6 overall for job growth, while Washington County came in 44th. In Pulaski County, the most populous county in the Natural State, job growth was just 1.9% and average weekly wages were slightly higher than Washington County at $896 per week.
“Your perception of whether or not the job market is healthy probably depends on where you live,” says Richard Barrington, an analyst who conducted the study for GetRichSlowly. “Notably, some of the worst job markets are in some of the battleground states where jobs were considered a big issue in the election.”
Barrington said of the 343 counties in the analysis, Mahoning County, Ohio, had one of the worst job markets with its average weekly wage at $683 and a measly 0.2% job growth over the past year. Erie, Penn., also was among the worst five rankings with negative job growth of 1.4% and average wages of $769 per week. In deep south Texas near the Mexican border, Cameron and Webb counties had fractional job growth and wages between $592 and $650 per week, respectively.