Where Struggling Americans Can Find a Fresh Start

Thousands of Americans across the U.S. are wondering if they would be better off somewhere else. The question is where?

As unemployment and foreclosures continue to rise, stocks keep fluctuating, and cash-strapped state and city governments move to increase taxes and trim services, many people are finding that careers and communities they once believed secure are no longer dependable. Either they have lost jobs, are in fear of losing a job, are stuck paying more mortgage than their homes are currently worth, or have seen their family's quality of life evaporate. For those troubled Americans who are willing to relocate, the U.S. can still be a land of opportunity.

No state is totally buffered from the downturn, but several have gotten a boost from energy, military, and agricultural sectors. The healthiest states include Alaska, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, and Wyoming. In the Washington area, federal government and defense jobs have given the economy a boost. And Iowa, which has seen its economy somewhat deteriorate, has also benefited from agricultural and alternative-energy jobs.

Fargo, N.D.: jobs, safety, schools

Moving isn't an option for many Americans tied down by family responsibilities and houses they can't sell. Others are reluctant to leave relatives, friends, churches, and school districts to make a fresh start in an unfamiliar place.

For job-seekers with some flexibility, relocation can open up opportunities, said Ernie Goss, professor of economics at Creighton University in Omaha. Some of the best job markets, such as Omaha and Fargo, N.D., are also places with low crime, decent schools, and a low cost of living, Goss said.

"If people are looking for a job and they're in Detroit, they're in the wrong place," Goss said. "They need to be considering geographic mobility."

BusinessWeek.com, working with survey results from Milwaukee staffing firm Manpower, came up with the best places to start over. These are areas where the greatest proportion of employers said they planned to hire in the next quarter, based on a survey of 28,348 U.S. employers that Manpower conducted in April.

Urban Alaska needs qualified workers

Anchorage, Alaska—where 28% of employers said they planned to do some hiring in the third quarter—topped the list, which also included such metropolitan areas as Provo-Orem, Utah; Omaha; Washington; and Amarillo, Tex. (The resort town of Barnstable, Mass., on Cape Cod topped Manpower's survey with 32% of employers saying they planned to hire in the next quarter, but BusinessWeek did not include it in the ranking because of the likelihood that many of those hires will be temporary seasonal workers.)

Alaska's unemployment rate, which fell to 8% in April, might not suggest that the state has a great job market. But the state's urban employers are hungry for educated, skilled workers. Alaska's tourism industry has been hit but its military bases, hospitals, and oil industry have stayed strong.

"The probability of getting a job, depending on your qualifications, is probably relatively high here," says Scott Goldsmith, professor of economics at the University of Alaska Anchorage. "We haven't been negatively impacted as much as the rest of the country."

Goldsmith said it's possible that out-of-work Californians who have come to Alaska looking for opportunities might be responsible for pushing up the unemployment rate a bit.

"In some sense, it's the end of the road," Goldsmith said. "You tend to get two kinds of people [moving to Alaska]: people running away from something or people looking for something. That 'something' historically has been opportunity—and there's still some of it here."

specialized medical professionals

For employers, persuading people to move to Alaska isn't necessarily easy. Winters are long, brutal, and dark, and getting there is expensive and time-consuming. But summers are beautiful, although brief. The state has traditionally attracted people who are seek a less conventional lifestyle and who might be willing to put up with subzero temperatures for the sense of living in America's last true frontier.

Providence Health & Services Alaska is hiring, especially highly specialized medical professionals. Pat Seizys, region manager of human resources for the hospital system, said it is averaging about 200 open positions, with the hardest to fill including speech-language pathologists and nurses with specialized training in wound care and neonatal intensive care.

In addition to health care providers, other companies that ranks among Alaska's biggest employers include oil giants ConocoPhillips (COP) and ExxonMobil (XOM) and canneries such as Unisea and Alyeska.

"We're thousands of miles away from the Lower 48, and access to Alaska takes time and money," she said of the recruiting challenges. "It takes a special character to live in the state because of the environment."

Texas is the most popular destination

Alaska isn't alone in having difficulty attracting skilled employees. Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Oklahoma also have trouble finding folks willing to relocate from areas with faster-paced lifestyles, Goss said. Some states have encouraged immigration to fill employment shortages, he said.

Tim Johnson, managing editor of online moving-services company Relocation.com, said few people are relocating these days, but Texas is the most popular destination for those who are.

Texas, like many of today's other economic bright spots, never had a housing bubble or bust. Its job market has remained relatively strong, in part because it is a major oil and health-care hub.

"The clear winner is Texas," Johnson said. "People really see Texas as a place for good economic prospects."

Provo-Orem, Utah, which had an unemployment rate of 5.1% in March, was second on our ranking (24% of employers said they planned to hire next quarter). But Utah's low unemployment rate is misleading. The state has a young population and workers in their 20s can easily vanish from the employment radar by moving in with parents or going back to school, said Mark Knold, chief economist for the Utah Workforce Services Dept.

Utah still wants software engineers

Utah lost 50,000 jobs (4% of the total) in March, compared with a year earlier, Knold said. The job market has significantly worsened since early 2007, when the unemployment rate was just 2.4%, he said.

But Brandon Delgrosso, vice-president for marketing at Doba, an Orem software company that connects suppliers with online retailers, said certain sectors are looking for employees—including information technology companies that, for example, are searching for software engineers, he said.

Doba, which has about 70 employees, hired about 15 sales workers this year and hopes to hire another 15 or 20 employees in July, he said.

"People are losing jobs and companies are losing jobs," Delgrosso said. "But there are still very specific jobs that they're hiring for. We still feel the crunch that the entire nation is feeling. But when you think of other states, we have a better situation out here."

Looking for a fresh start? Read on to find the best places to start over.

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