Around the South - Spring 2023

SB&D’s take: Southern Living’s “The South’s Best Cities of 2023”

You know the drill, right? Some media property publishes the “Best Of” series and Southern Living followed the crowd recently with its “South’s Best Cities of 2023.” Knowing Southern Living’s history, though, their ranking of the “South’s Best Cities” was most likely the first of its kind back in the day.

When it comes to the South’s lifestyle stories, then and now, Southern Living was what you read. Now, there is the Charleston-based  publication Garden & Gun.

Southern Living is a Birmingham, Ala.-based publishing business founded by Emory Orgustus Cunningham in 1966. Progressive Farmer was the publication that helped launch Southern Living. Progressive Farmer was first published in 1886.

Progressive Farmer is among the oldest and most widely read of the nation’s agricultural periodicals. The history of the publication reflects dramatic changes in Southern rural life and journalism. The paper was founded in Winston (now Winston-Salem, N.C.) in February 1886 by Leonidas L. Polk, a former Confederate officer and North Carolina commissioner of agriculture. 

Southern Living has been owned by several different companies, such as Southern Progress and Time Inc., when that conglomerate bought all of Southern Living’s media assets in 1985, including titles such as Cooking Light, Health and Coastal Living. Southern Living is now owned by IAC’s Dotdash Meredith.

Here is an excerpt of an article written and published by the New York Times when Emory Cunningham, the founder of Southern Living, died in Birmingham in January of 2000.

“Emory Orgustus Cunningham, a publishing executive who served up recipes for sweet potato pie and a rosy view of a new suburban South emerging from the region’s rural poverty and decades of racial strife, died of pneumonia on Monday in Birmingham, Ala., where he lived. He was 78.

“Mr. Cunningham launched his Martha Stewart-like vision of a glossy new Dixie in 1966 in a magazine called Southern Living. Its circulation grew from an initial 200,000 to 2.5 million.

“The magazine, along with its sister publications, was acquired by Time Inc. in 1985. At the time, the price was the largest ever paid for a publishing company.” -New York Times, January 28, 2000.

Okay, so that’s enough about Southern Living’s history, which is a noted one. Let’s get back to the publication’s “South’s Best Cities of 2023.”

On the list are the modern-day standards, you know, successful Southern MSAs that are great places to live, work and operate a business.

Richmond, Va., the old-line, blue blood of the group, came in 20th place, or at the end of Southern Living’s ranking. Richmond was followed by Bentonville, Ark., at 19, which is growing its own Southern blue-blood population base since it is home to Walmart and much of the Walton family.

Huntsville, Ala., made Southern Living’s “Best Cities” in the South list, as did Dallas, Fort Worth, Orlando, Charlotte, Raleigh and Austin. Okay, you get it, right? Just another list of cities that readers kind of go, “Well, we’ve read that before.”

What impressed us? Birmingham; Alpharetta, Ga.; Chattanooga; Greenville, S.C.; and New Orleans ranked in the top 10 of the media property’s list.

Then the usual boilerplate rankings appeared. You know Nashville, Atlanta (how can any author list “Alpharetta, Ga.” — an Atlanta suburb — and “Atlanta” on the same list?). Then there was Asheville, followed by Savannah and Charleston at No. 2 and No. 1, respectively.

The North Charleston-Charleston, S.C., MSA and the Savannah MSA are rocking with huge economic development announcements such as Hyundai, Volvo, Boeing and the like. But to Southern Living, I guess they were just looking at pretty places. It’s always about the methodology, right?

Here is a sample of what was published in Southern Living in their latest “The South’s Best Cities of 2023.”

“Set your sights on these cities, and you’ll be in for a trip filled with the best museums, restaurants, shopping districts, and parks the region has to offer. Pack your bags and embark on a trip to one (or all!) of these treasured communities. You simply can’t go wrong with a trip to one of the South’s best cities.”

Half of “Best Places to Live” are in the South

U.S. News & World Report ranked its annual “Best Places to Live” in the U.S., and five are in the South. The top 10 included (1) Green Bay, Wisc.; (2) Huntsville, Ala.; followed by (3) Raleigh-Durham, N.C.; Boulder, Colo.; Sarasota, Fla.; Naples, Fla.; Portland, Maine; Charlotte, N.C.; Colorado Springs, Colo.; and Fayetteville, Ark.

Amazon delaying construction on second Virginia HQ

Amazon has decided to delay construction on its second headquarters in Virginia. The first headquarters is under construction and is expected to open in the summer. The original announcement for a second U.S. headquarters came in 2017, and over 20,000 jobs were projected.

Amazon employees move into HQ2 in Virginia

Over 2,000 employees moved into the celebrated Amazon HQ2 in Arlington, Va., in the spring quarter. The company has hired 8,000 employees in Arlington so far.

Workers relocating for new jobs at lowest level ever recorded

According to executive coaching firm Challenger Gray & Christmas Inc., just 1.6 percent of job seekers relocated for new positions in the first quarter of 2023. According to the firm after surveying 3,000 job seekers, that figure is down from 3.7 percent in the last quarter of 2022 and down from 4.6 percent during the first quarter of 2022. In fact, it is the lowest percentage ever recorded, the company said in the report.

Well, this was predictable: Post pandemic office space vacancy rates are climbing

According to Triangle Business Journal, “Office vacancy rates in the U.S. are expected to keep climbing into next year, according to the latest outlook from the Urban Land Institute. They could approach 20 percent by 2025 before stabilizing — the 20-year average is 14.6 percent. And commercial real estate transaction volume is forecast to drop in 2023 to $425 billion, half of the record volume seen in 2021 and well below the $730 billion figure for 2022. Even by 2025, the figure is forecast to still be below $700 billion. It was $600 billion in 2019.”

Enterprise Florida folds

In May, the Florida House and Senate passed a bill to close the Orlando-based Enterprise Florida, the public-private economic development organization that took over those duties for the state in 1996 from the Florida Department of Commerce that was based in Tallahassee. None of the state’s incentive programs have been changed according to Laura DiBella, who was the CEO of Enterprise Florida. However, according to reports, numerous incentive programs would be fully repealed, including the Office of Film and Entertainment. The new Department of Commerce will take in 20 positions as part of the shift. The state will revert back to the Florida Department of Commerce this fiscal year.

Georgetown, Texas, is America’s fastest growing city

According to the Austin American Statesman, “For the second year in a row, Georgetown — 30 miles north of Austin — is the fastest growing city in the U.S. It set that growth record among all cities with a population of 50,000 or more, according to new data released by the U.S. Census Bureau. The Williamson County city’s growth rate was 14.4 percent from July 1, 2021, through July 1, 2022, resulting in a population estimate of 86,507. Georgetown added 10,887 more residents than it had in the census estimate from a year ago.”

Louisiana LNG exports soar

Louisiana’s three export facilities delivered more than 2.45 trillion cubic feet of LNG in 2022. Overall, the nation’s seven export terminals exported 3.86 trillion cubic feet of liquefied natural gas last year.

Mississippi makes investments in industrial sites

In the spring quarter, Gov. Tate Reeves announced the state of Mississippi will invest $56.7 million in site development projects throughout the state. Site development grant funds made available through the Mississippi Development Authority and Appalachian Regional Commission are assisting local economic development entities in their efforts to spur economic growth by attracting new industry to competitive, shovel-ready sites.

One of the South’s oldest economic development agencies celebrates its 75th year

The Community Development Foundation (CDF), based in Tupelo, Miss., celebrated its 75th anniversary in the spring quarter. CDF was previously directed by the late legend Harry Martin and is now directed by David Rumbarger.

Mississippi town named “Most Affordable Beach Town”

Gulfport, Miss., was named the “Most Affordable Beach Town” in the United States by for 2023. Others included Newport News, Va.; Navarre, Fla.; and Corpus Christi, Texas.

Kentucky has the longest running, lowest unemployment ever recorded in the state

The record comes with a 3.8 percent unemployment rate over the last 15 months. Governor Andy Beshear also announced the state has added 46,000 more jobs in Kentucky since February 2020, a 2.3 percent growth in jobs.

Georgia has received $17.5 billion in investment by Korean firms since 2020

Supporting 23,000 total jobs in the state, Korean companies like KIA, Hyundai Motor Group, SK Group and others are continuing to invest.

Georgia takes over New York for sound stage square footage

Georgia now has over 3 million square feet of sound stages. Topping that mark made the state the second largest in film and television production space in the nation. The report came from FilmLA, a nonprofit that serves as the official film office for the city and county of Los Angeles, which has 6.2 million square feet of production space. New York has 2.8 million square feet. The report also tracks other “competitive jurisdictions” including the United Kingdom, Ontario and British Columbia. Georgia ranked fourth overall among all the locations, according to the Atlanta Business Chronicle.

Shown above is one of Italy-based Enel’s battery energy storage plants. The company is investing more than $1 billion in an Oklahoma solar panel factory in Inola, Okla.Battery storage plants rule

Battery plants are being built and expanding at rates never before seen as utility-scale energy storage facilities are one of the hottest projects in the South today. BlackRock, SK and UBS are investing billions in the energy storage industry. . .SK in particular. The Korean company has contracted with many of the electric vehicle plants currently being built in the South.

Spending on film productions in North Carolina tops $258 million in 2022

Filmmakers spent more than $258 million on productions in North Carolina last year, the sixth highest year-end total since 2000, when the state started offering incentives to support its film industry. “North Carolina continues to attract great film, television and streaming projects that bring good jobs to our state,” said Governor Roy Cooper. “Last year, these projects helped create 16,000 job opportunities, including 3,000 crew and talent positions for our state’s highly skilled production workforce.” In 2022, 74 film, television and streaming projects had production-related activities in all eight of the state’s prosperity zones, including previously announced North Carolina Film and Entertainment Grant awardees.

A new Research Triangle county is now the fastest growing

Franklin County, located in the Research Triangle of the Raleigh-Durham region, is now the fastest growing in population between 2021 and 2022, according to new population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. At 3.8 percent, Franklin County’s population expanded greater than Johnston or Chatham counties. Johnston County is still red hot from a growth perspective. The county grew its population by 3.3 percent during the one-year interval. And it’s three times as large as Franklin, so its actual gain of residents was much higher for the year at 7,500 compared to 2,700 for Franklin, according to the Triangle Business Journal.

Harnett County, N.C., is home to the old Erwin Cotton Mills plant that has stood for more than 100 years. Once called the “Denim Capital of the World,” the site is about to see a regeneration as a new business park in  Erwin, N.C.Old denim mill south of Raleigh to breathe new life

Harnett County, N.C., is home to the old Erwin Cotton Mills plant that has stood for more than 100 years. Once called the “Denim Capital of the World,” the site is about to see a regeneration into a new business park in Erwin, N.C. The small town of 5,000 people is about 50 minutes south of Raleigh between U.S. Highway 421 and the Cape Fear River. Erwin is about 10 minutes west of Interstate 95. The buyer of the facility will transform it into more than 1 million square feet of spaces ranging from 2,000 to 400,000 square feet for prospective tenants.

FDI in Alabama soars

Foreign direct investment, mostly in automotive and aerospace, is on the rise in Alabama. Since 2018, foreign companies have launched investment projects valued at more than $13 billion across the state, generating nearly 17,000 job commitments, according to the Alabama Department of Commerce.

Alabama sets $10 billion investments record

Manufacturers and service providers made an estimated total of $10.1 billion in investments in Alabama last year. The total broke the previous record of $8.7 billion in 2018. The numbers are from the 2022 Alabama Economic Development Impact Report, which the Alabama Department of Commerce released in the spring quarter.

Investments in Louisiana topped $20 billion in 2022

Companies invested nearly $21 billion in capital in 2022, according to Louisiana Economic Development. The investments created about 18,000 new jobs.

UAB Birmingham economic effect: $12 billion, over 107,000 jobs

A report from the University of Alabama at Birmingham shows that the school and its massive healthcare complex generated more than $12 billion for Alabama’s economy in 2022. This includes wages, job generation and other factors. In comparison, UAB was responsible for $4.6 billion in economic impact in 2008. The University also sustained or supported over 107,000 jobs and $256 million in local taxes last year.

Record-breaking year for Georgia trade

In the spring, Gov. Brian Kemp joined the Department of Economic Development in announcing that the State of Georgia achieved a record-breaking year for international trade for the second year in a row. In 2022, Georgia’s total trade exceeded $196 billion across 221 countries and territories.

Georgia Power’s Plant Vogtle reactor is sending power to homes

The Atlanta Journal Constitution reported in the spring that Plant Vogtle’s first of two nuclear reactors is now 100 percent operational at its site near Augusta. Georgia Power said Unit 3 reached its maximum output of 1,100 megawatts in the spring quarter.

Arkansas unemployment reaches record low

In April, Arkansas saw its unemployment rate reach a record low of 2.8 percent. The U.S. jobless rate in April was 3.4 percent, down one tenth of a percentage point from March.

Southern mega-markets surge in job growth

Dallas, Atlanta, Houston and Miami have surged in job growth since the beginning of 2020. Employment levels as of January 2023 increased by 9 percent in Dallas, followed by Atlanta, Houston and Miami with increases of 4.9 percent, 3.9 percent and 3.6 percent

Tennessee Governor Lee signs Transportation Modernization Act into law

Governor Bill Lee signed the historic, bipartisan legislation, creating a $3.3 billion investment to modernize Tennessee’s transportation needs in rural and urban communities.

Kentucky town wins 2023 Best Southern Small Town

In the spring quarter, Maysville, Ky., was named Best Southern Small Town by USA Today readers. The publication explained in its piece that the small town cited “embodied charm and hospitality while also attracting visitors worldwide.”

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear to lead Tenn-Tom Waterway Authority

Gov. Andy Beshear will be heading up a four-state effort to promote the development of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway and its economic and trade potential. A release from Beshear’s office announced his election as the 2023 chairman of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway Development Authority.

“Unprecedented” coastal restoration project granted final funds in Louisiana

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation is granting $660 million from a 2013 settlement of federal criminal charges involving the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon disaster to help rebuild Louisiana’s coastline. The money is part of a $3 billion project that will help slow losses of Louisiana land on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. The “unprecedented” funding, according to the Baton Rouge Advocate, could top $3 billion from various sources. 

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