Best & Worst States for Business Regional Report: The Southeast

Home to two of the country’s fastest-growing state economies, the Southeast lures investment with a lower cost of living and engaged workers.

While the Southeast is sometimes overlooked in national conversations about economic development, it is a powerhouse of manufacturing economic growth. At a time when populations on the coasts are shrinking, the Southeast is home to some of the nation’s fastest-growing cities, including Greenville, South Carolina, and Fort Myers, Florida. Residents flock to many of these areas in search of lower costs of living and growing opportunity, but many corporations are also headed south. Florida and North Carolina are among the nation’s top 10 fastest-growing economies, with GDP growth rates more than double the national average.

In Alabama, the nation’s most engaged workforce continues to drive aerospace manufacturing. Georgia remains a growing hub for finance and fintech, and reduction in red tape is spurring the growth of aluminum manufacturing in Kentucky. From the pines of the Florida Panhandle to the hills of Tennessee and Virginia, the federal government and Fortune 500 companies are even bringing multi-billion-dollar investments to rural areas.


Lockheed Martin’s newly renovated fleet ballistic missile facility in Cape Canaveral employs more than 1,000.

#2 FLORIDA: Manufacturing Shines in the Sunshine State
The Sunshine State attained a GDP growth rate of 3 percent in 2016. Florida is home to more than 19,000 manufacturing businesses that employ more than 330,000 workers. Lockheed Martin currently has nearly 1,000 employees working on various projects along the “Space Coast” and has announced it will move more workers from California to Florida in 2018 and 2019.

In the northwestern part of the state, Eastern Shipbuilding in Panama City recently announced the addition of 2,000 jobs to support a $10.5 billion contract to build more than two dozen U.S. Coast Guard cutters. “We’ve got the workforce and infrastructure for these manufacturers and you don’t have to look very far to see it,” says Mike Grissom, interim president and CEO of Enterprise Florida.

Tampa Bay and Orlando, which both ranked among the top-10 fastest-growing metro areas in 2016, are experiencing strong growth in tech and manufacturing. A $15 billion infrastructure investment in Orlando includes an overhaul of Interstate 4 and expansions of the rail system, international airport and Port Canaveral.

Grissom says the state’s business-friendly climate and its lack of a personal income tax have driven growth. Florida has invested more than $63 billion in its ports, airports and highways in recent years. The state’s growth as a logistics hub is also being fueled by the recent Panama Canal expansion and upgrades at ports to accommodate larger ships.

“We continue to be the gateway to Latin America, and there are few places in the state where you’re an hour from the interstate or coast,” Grissom says.

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