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Metros That Gained the Most Employees Over the Last Year

11-minute read

Metros That Gained the Most Employees Over the Last Year
Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell

1 August 2021

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The United States added 850,000 jobs in June as businesses brought on workers to meet the demand of a recovering economy, according to the latest jobs report from the Labor Department. The growth came in comfortably above the 706,000 jobs economists estimated.

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, overall employment nationwide rose significantly, ultimately driving unemployment down to 3.4% in May 2019 for the first time in half a century. As the country continues its recovery from a tumultuous year of shutdowns and social distancing, job growth occurs unevenly across the U.S.

Simply Business analyzed June 2021 Current Employment Report data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics to find the metros that gained the most employees over the last year. The Current Employment Report surveys approximately 144,000 businesses and government agencies, representing 697,000 individual worksites, to estimate the employment, hours, and earnings of non-farm workers across metro areas in all 50 states.

Simply Business ranked each metro area by over the year percent increase. Any ties were broken by larger total gain. Many of the metro areas on this list have economies that depend on tourism, such as Atlantic City and Las Vegas, where job growth is more indicative of shutdowns coming to an end and work being restored. Other locations, such as Bowling Green, anticipate more good news on the jobs front as businesses open new facilities that will offer dozens, sometimes thousands, of new jobs to people living nearby.

Most areas that saw the largest job growth are smaller metropolitan areas, perhaps due to population shifts away from larger cities in 2020. Keep reading to see which metros have been able to bring on the most employees in the last year.

#20. Bowling Green, Kentucky
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#20. Bowling Green, Kentucky

  • Total gain: 9,800 (15.4% increase)
  • May 2021 employment: 73,500
  • May 2020 employment: 63,700

Kentucky showed booming economic growth in the first six months of 2021. Private-sector businesses accounted for 50 location and expansion projects that represent around 4,000 full-time jobs and more than $2 billion in new investments, according to an announcement in mid-June from Gov. Andy Beshear.

Semi-trailer and equipment manufacturer Fruehauf Inc. is investing $12 million in its first U.S. facility in a quarter-century in Bowling Green, a move expected to create 288 full-time jobs. Further, businesses throughout Kentucky announced in July plans to create 4,000 private-sector jobs this year alone.

To further incentivize people to get jobs amid a worker shortage, Gov. Andy Beshear on June 24 announced a back-to-work incentive plan offering a $1,500 bonus to up to 15,000 Kentuckians on unemployment to rejoin the workforce on or before July 30.

#19. Grand Rapids-Wyoming, Michigan

#19. Grand Rapids-Wyoming, Michigan

  • Total gain: 72,400 (15.5% increase)
  • May 2021 employment: 539,900
  • May 2020 employment: 467,500

Michigan’s recovery from widespread unemployment during the COVID-19 pandemic has been among the fastest nationwide. Even during the pandemic, some workers in the Grand Rapids metro area were working harder than ever before as Amazon added 1,000 workers in the area to meet demand during shutdowns. Many of those hires represented people who were laid off during the pandemic.

Meanwhile, four restaurants in Grand Rapids—Long Road Distillers, The Mitten Brewing Co., Two Scotts Barbecue and The Peoples Cider Co.—in June raised their minimum wages to $15 to attract more workers to fill open roles. In addition to higher wages, other companies throughout the state are also using signing bonuses and even offering to cover college tuition payments to attract workers.

In nearby Grand Rapids, manufacturing company Speedrack in June held a groundbreaking ceremony for its new headquarters in Walker that is expected to create around 160 lucrative, permanent jobs for skilled laborers, tradesmen, and welders.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer visited Grand Rapids July 15 to announce that a $10 million federal grant was awarded to the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity to increase employment opportunities for Michiganders and support the state’s registered apprenticeship expansion efforts.

#18. Napa, California
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#18. Napa, California

  • Total gain: 9,300 (15.6% increase)
  • May 2021 employment: 69,000
  • May 2020 employment: 59,700

California enjoyed the largest job increases over the last year statewide, according to BLS data released July 16.

Napa County saw its unemployment rate drop by more than half between June 2020 and 2021, a sure sign of recovery following shutdowns last year. Recovery here has come more quickly than that following the Great Recession more than a decade ago, but employment growth has slowed and the workforce remains smaller overall than this time in 2019.

#17. Muskegon, Michigan
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#17. Muskegon, Michigan

  • Total gain: 8,000 (15.8% increase)
  • May 2021 employment: 58,500
  • May 2020 employment: 50,500

Located in Muskegon, Michigan’s Adventure announced in July that it was raising its minimum wage for food and beverage associates, lifeguards, and ride operators to $15 an hour. Park officials there, along with other employers throughout the state and country, have tried various tactics to attract workers, from raising wages and to hosting job fairs.

Muskegon Public Schools hosted a “Big Red Community Job Fair” in early July for employers throughout western Michigan, attracting almost two dozen businesses with numerous open positions.

#16. New Bedford, Massachusetts

#16. New Bedford, Massachusetts

  • Total gain: 9,200 (17.0% increase)
  • May 2021 employment: 63,300
  • May 2020 employment: 54,100

In July Vineyard Wind, a company planning the first large-scale offshore wind farm in the U.S. off the coast of Massachusetts, signed a project labor agreement guaranteeing 500 jobs to union workers in the state, among thousands others that will be created with the project. The company will use the New Bedford Marine Commerce Terminal as Vineyard Wind’s onshore staging ground.

New Bedford will also be home base for an offshore-wind job-training center, utilizing an empty, 3,000-square-foot former fish house for the eventual National Offshore Wind Institute.

In addition, the Massachusetts House and Senate in July unanimously approved a bill Gov. Charlie Baker then signed into law that will inject $200 million into infrastructure improvements of local roads and bridges throughout the state, attracting workers across the commonwealth.

#15. Glens Falls, New York
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#15. Glens Falls, New York

  • Total gain: 7,800 (17.4% increase)
  • May 2021 employment: 52,600
  • May 2020 employment: 44,800

​​U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik visited Glens Falls in mid-July to discuss worker shortages and other challenges facing the business community there. During her visit, she urged people living in the area to get vaccinated for COVID-19 to ensure a seamless re-entry to the workforce as additional unemployment benefits are set to expire the benefit week ending Sept. 5.

New York as a whole had the second-largest job increases over the last year, according to BLS data.

#14. Buffalo-Cheektowaga-Niagara Falls, New York

#14. Buffalo-Cheektowaga-Niagara Falls, New York

  • Total gain: 79,300 (17.4% increase)
  • May 2021 employment: 536,200
  • May 2020 employment: 456,900

Erie County, New York, home to the Buffalo-Cheektowaga-Niagara metro area, has a lower unemployment rate than the rest of New York, according to BLS data. The unemployment rate in the region has steadily improved since the coronavirus pandemic.

In nearby Lockport, General Motors held a career fair to attract potential employees to fill nearly 100 jobs as the company expands its workforce there to meet the demand for vehicles. The area’s workers will also find more support by a burgeoning program, “Building Innovation for Equitable Child Care,” launching at the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus along with eight other metros nationwide to analyze child care demand and mitigate costs for a location at or close to the medical campus. The program is paid for by Melinda Gates’ program Pivotal Ventures.

#13. Norwich-New London-Westerly, Connecticut-Rhode Island

#13. Norwich-New London-Westerly, Connecticut-Rhode Island

  • Total gain: 17,400 (17.8% increase)
  • May 2021 employment: 115,200
  • May 2020 employment: 97,800

Connecticut added 3,500 jobs in June, according to BLS data, marking a 63% rebound from the 292,400 jobs lost in March and April 2020 from COVID-19. The job growth—less than half that of May—is indicative of the inconsistent job growth seen across much of the U.S.

As with many regions, employment gains throughout the Norwich-New London-Westerly metro area is largely made up of businesses hiring workers back or anew to make up for hiring freezes and layoffs in the spring of 2020. Local hires this summer, for example, largely represent recreation departments bringing workers on after the industry spent 2020 understaffed or inactive.

The Westerly-based Ocean Community Chamber of Commerce helped to sponsor a June job fair at the Westerly Education Center for employers struggling to find workers and workers who have been unable to find a good match for a job. That fair represents a burgeoning collaboration between the Westerly Economic Development Commission and the Stonington Economic Development Commission.

More help for workers may be coming in the form of expanded public transit service in southeastern Connecticut, with a potential extension of Shore Line East rail service to Westerly, along with a new rail route between New London and Norwich among other improvements. The bill, which already passed in the legislative session, has widespread support among residents.

#12. Kahului-Wailuku-Lahaina, Hawaii

#12. Kahului-Wailuku-Lahaina, Hawaii

  • Total gain: 9,500 (17.9% increase)
  • May 2021 employment: 62,600
  • May 2020 employment: 53,100

Maui—along with the rest of Hawaii—was among the most economically compromised locations during COVID-19 as the tourism industry took a massive hit while would-be travelers sheltered in place. While reversing unemployment numbers indicates a recovering economy, popular tourist spots throughout the state now report being totally overwhelmed by visitors.

Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino in late June asked airline executives to voluntarily curb the number of flights to Kahului, where he said the airport was over-capacity. Throughout the metro, as with the rest of Hawaii, officials have scrambled to secure alternative ground transportation for tourists as rental car shortages persisted and other modes of transportation were overrun.

#11. Niles-Benton Harbor, Michigan

#11. Niles-Benton Harbor, Michigan

  • Total gain: 9,200 (18.4% increase)
  • May 2021 employment: 59,300
  • May 2020 employment: 50,100

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in early June unveiled the Michigan Economic Jumpstart Plan. That initiative offers grants to small businesses looking to expand hiring and increase wages for potential employees, and seeks to increase access to child care for parents returning to work.

Job growth continues to improve throughout the state. Bonnell Aluminum in March announced it would expand operations for its TSlots line of aluminum structural framing systems with a leased facility in Niles, spelling job opportunities for a range of workers with various skill levels.

#10. Saginaw, Michigan
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#10. Saginaw, Michigan

  • Total gain: 12,700 (18.7% increase)
  • May 2021 employment: 80,700
  • May 2020 employment: 68,000

Saginaw is slated to receive a transformative $52 million in federal funding as part of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. Allowable spending for that money includes mitigating lost revenue due to COVID-19 and widespread infrastructure investments from broadband to water and sewer. The funding is expected to create a surge in jobs for the area.

Saginaw saw a cumulative population loss of 5.8% between 2010 and 2020 due to people moving out of the area. The poverty rate is 19%, representing the 33rd highest out of 384 metro areas. Businesses are working to draw workers, such as Texas Roadhouse hiring 200 people for its new location in Saginaw set to open in September, but businesses are struggling here and nationwide to fill low-paying jobs.

#9. East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania
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#9. East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania

  • Total gain: 8,800 (19.4% increase)
  • May 2021 employment: 54,200
  • May 2020 employment: 45,400

Home to a university and bustling downtown area of locally owned businesses,East Stroudsburg turned into a ghost town during the pandemic. As the town comes back from the brink, jobs have been largely restored throughout the area. The town was among the top three towns to live in Pennsylvania’s northeast region by

East Stroudsburg was also ranked #4 for the U.S. cities that can save remote workers the most time. The area’s highest-paying job for high school graduates is that of first-line supervisors of police and detectives, who enjoy an annual mean salary of nearly $100,000.

#8. Salisbury, Maryland-Delaware
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#8. Salisbury, Maryland-Delaware

  • Total gain: 27,100 (19.9% increase)
  • May 2021 employment: 163,200
  • May 2020 employment: 136,100

Employers have projected hiring 7% to 8% more college grads this year than last in Salisbury and surrounding areas, underscoring optimism over a recovering economy. College graduates who missed out on internships and other opportunities during the pandemic have struggled to find their first jobs in the workforce.

Salisbury, offering city amenities with a small-town feel, was ranked the 13th-fastest-growing location in the U.S. in 2020–2021, according to census data. Net migration to Salisbury was up 7.19% between 2014 and 2018.

#7. Detroit-Warren-Dearborn, Michigan

#7. Detroit-Warren-Dearborn, Michigan

  • Total gain: 318,500 (20.1% increase)
  • May 2021 employment: 1,905,900
  • May 2020 employment: 1,587,400

To boost small businesses and reinvigorate neighborhoods, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan in May outlined the "Detroit Future Fund" plan to allocate $400 million in coronavirus relief funding to improve and create park spaces, increase public safety, increase internet access, and to offer assistance to small businesses—in part by doubling Motor City Match grants.

Motor City Match, a program designed to reward small-business investments in lower-income commercial corridors, functions as a partnership between the City of Detroit, the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation, the Economic Development Corporation of the City of Detroit, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. In the last year the program has been criticized for its alleged mismanagement of funds.

Detroit’s youth summer jobs program, now in its seventh year, pairs young workers with area businesses to work on a number of different projects. Participants in the initiative, called Grow Detroit's Young Talent, can earn up to $1,800. This year’s participants have the opportunity to work with Ford Motor and RAM Construction to help renovate the Michigan Central Station and other properties to make the area more pedestrian-friendly.

#6. Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

#6. Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

  • Total gain: 5,800 (20.3% increase)
  • May 2021 employment: 34,400
  • May 2020 employment: 28,600

Throughout Adams County, where Gettysburg is located, the economy is centered around tourism and agriculture—two industries that took heavy hits during the coronavirus pandemic.

As social-distancing guidelines and other restrictions have been lifted, Gettysburg has been brought back to life with visitors flocking back to the popular tourist destination. Federal funding announced in April to increase agricultural sales in Pennsylvania included $10,905​​ to launch the Adams County Crop Hop that will give visitors a digital pass to farms and farmers markets throughout the county.

#5. Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise, Nevada
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#5. Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise, Nevada

  • Total gain: 165,800 (21.4% increase)
  • May 2021 employment: 940,700
  • May 2020 employment: 774,900

More than 128,000 people in Las Vegas lost their jobs in 2020 due to COVID-19 and a year-over-year employment rate decline of 12.3%. Throughout Nevada, the leisure and hospitality industry has added the most jobs in recent months, largely a condition of tourism picking back up and social-distance restrictions easing.

Vice President Kamala Harris visited Las Vegas in July as part of the Biden Administration’s “America’s Back Together” tour. At that event, held at the Carpenters International Training Center, Rep. Steven Horsford touted the American Rescue Plan as helping Nevada to lead the U.S. in GDP growth.

#4. Barnstable Town, Massachusetts

#4. Barnstable Town, Massachusetts

  • Total gain: 18,100 (21.6% increase)
  • May 2021 employment: 101,900
  • May 2020 employment: 83,800

Barnstable is among five Massachusetts counties slated to receive more than $393 million in direct aid from the federal government’s American Rescue Plan Act.

To help boost tourism to the area and offer a lifeline to an arts sector cratered by the pandemic, the Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism awarded $300,000 in grants to 14 organizations in and around Cape Cod. Among this funding is $71,250 for the Arts Foundation of Cape Cod, which is spearheading a digital marketing campaign called “Capture Cape Cod Through the Arts!” That effort, in partnership with the town of Barnstable and the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce, seeks to attract visitors to the region by highlighting cultural opportunities.

#3. Flint, Michigan
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#3. Flint, Michigan

  • Total gain: 24,600 (23.0% increase)
  • May 2021 employment: 131,400
  • May 2020 employment: 106,800

Michigan is one of four states in the process of launching the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation, a program that connects people transitioning out of the criminal justice system with jobs in the restaurant industry. Plans are also underway for an additional job skills program called Hospitality Opportunities for People (re)Entering Society.

In Flint, around 70 new jobs are anticipated in the coming years as auto parts supply Hirotec America plans to lease the former Delphi site for creating tooling integration for auto manufacturers.

#2. Atlantic City-Hammonton, New Jersey

#2. Atlantic City-Hammonton, New Jersey

  • Total gain: 34,800 (40.5% increase)
  • May 2021 employment: 120,800
  • May 2020 employment: 86,000

The Atlantic City metropolitan area saw a nearly 16% employment decline last year, the third-largest in the U.S. Two-thirds of job losses were in the leisure and hospitality sector, which also includes casinos.

The region’s rebound works mostly to reverse that staggering drop as casinos began operating at full capacity early in the summer season after forced, months-long closures that were followed by limited reopenings with numerous rules to protect workers and visitors.

In the ​​​​summer 2021 issue of the South Jersey Economic Review, Oliver Cooke, associate professor of economics at Stockton University, said “Perhaps most important to the regional economy’​​s near-term outlook will be the direction its casino industry takes.”

#1. Ocean City, New Jersey

#1. Ocean City, New Jersey

  • Total gain: 13,400 (41.1% increase)
  • May 2021 employment: 46,000
  • May 2020 employment: 32,600

Like Atlantic City, the Ocean City metro area, particularly its leisure and hospitality sector, saw dramatic job losses. Ocean City is set to receive more than $7 million in economic recovery funds from the federal government.

Hiring surges in late spring and early summer have bolstered jobs numbers, particularly in tourist communities like Ocean City. The area’s unemployment rate fell to 8.2% in May 2021, down 24.6% in the same month in 2020. During COVID-19, the highest rate of unemployment for Ocean City was 27.9% in April 2020.

Nicole Caldwell

Written by

Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is Stacker's managing editor who specializes in environmental reporting, breaking news, green living, travel, politics, and women's issues. She works remotely from Better Farm, an animal sanctuary and organic farm she co-founded in the Thousand Islands Region of New York. Her work has appeared in Thrillist, Playgirl, Mother Earth Living, Martha Stewart, and others. Her first book, “Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living” came out in 2015; her sophomore effort, “Back to the Land,” was released in the fall of 2019

This content is for general, informational purposes only and is not intended to provide legal, tax, accounting, or financial advice. Please obtain expert advice from industry specific professionals who may better understand your business’s needs. Read our full disclaimer

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