Columbia Ranked Best Performing Small City in U.S.

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COLUMBIA - Columbia was ranked No. 1 best-performing small city in the country. The data came from the Milken Institute's annual review of U.S. best-performing cities.

This study did not include quality of life, such as housing costs or commute times.

The chair of Columbia's Regional Economic Development Inc. (REDI) said this ranking is such an accomplishment because it is based on hard numbers, not perception.

"They looked at raw data like types of new jobs, numbers of new jobs, pay levels, that kind of thing," Vicki Russell said. "This study was not subjective."

The president of REDI said Columbia has had tremendous job growth.

"In between IBM and Veterans United, we've seen a lot of job growth in the past five years," Mike Brooks said. "The IBM project in total is somewhere around 600 or 700 jobs." 

High-tech industries in Columbia, like telecommunications, saw employment grow by 60 percent from 2007 to 2012.

"The survey talks a lot about how we handled the last recession, how we're coming out of the recession," said Chamber of Commerce President, Mike McCormick. "Jobs continued to grow, even during the recession in Columbia. That's impressive."

The owner of Dave Griggs' Flooring America said his business was hit hard during the recession, but is making progress.

"Our business is not yet what is was in 2006, and it probably never will be, but we're coming back very strong," Dave Griggs said.  

McCormick said having higher education in Columbia helps draw business.

"You have a constant access to future employees and employment, which makes a big difference for businesses looking to move somewhere," he said.

The Milken Institute index shows that technology and energy are the biggest drivers of developing cities.

Austin, Texas reclaimed the No. 1 spot for best-performing large city. 

In contrast, Washington D.C. went from fifth place to 45th, marking the first time since 2008 it did not make the top 25.