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Study: Somerton among cities on the rise in Arizona

By Joyce Lobeck, Yuma Sun staff writer | Posted: Sunday, August 17, 2014 4:20 pm

Once the symbol of the nation’s housing crisis, Arizona now is experiencing an impressive spike in residents and overall revival of local economies. Among those leading the way are three communities in Yuma County.

In a first-time study, consumer advocacy site NerdWallet crunched the numbers in 56 communities in Arizona with populations of 4,000 or more to find the cities “on the rise.” Analysis examined growth from 2009 to 2012 in the working-age population 16 and older, percentage of employed residents and median income for full-time, year-round workers.

The municipalities of Somerton and San Luis, Ariz., and Fortuna Foothills ranked among the top 20.

Somerton was ranked No. 5 in the report with an overall growth score of 67.4. That includes 26.4 percent growth in working-age population, 21.4 percent employment growth and 8.8 percent median income growth for a 2012 median income of $27,365.

Somerton has a strong agriculture base, said analyst Kamran Rosen. In addition, the Cocopah Resort Casino and Conference Center is a major employer for the community. And development of the Yepco Industrial Park is an attraction for light industry.

The community’s proximity to the city of Yuma also is a plus for Somerton, Rosen said.

San Luis, Ariz., was ranked No. 11 with an overall growth score of 58.3. That includes 13.1 percent growth in working-age population, 14.6 percent growth in employment and 8 percent median income growth for a 2012 median income of $26,883.

The Fortuna Foothills ranked No. 14 with an overall growth score of 56.3. It had a working-age growth of 2.6 percent, employment growth of 15.2 percent and 10.5 percent median income growth for a median income of $43,159 in 2012.

The city of Yuma was ranked No. 27 with an overall growth score of 44.5. That included 8.4 percent growth in the working-age population, 4.9 percent employment growth and a decline of 1.1 percent in median income growth for a median income of $35,205 in 2012.

A few takeaways from the study include:

• The Grand Canyon state is now beating the national average in population growth – 3.7 percent for the past 31 months versus the U.S. average of 2.4 percent. And housing permits are expected to double by 2016.

• Income and job growth are looking equally positive. According to the University of Arizona’s Economic and Business Research Center, employment increased 2.1 percent and personal income climbed 2.7 percent in 2013.

As with most rosy economic news, there is another, less optimistic, side. Arizona still has a long way to go before it replaces all the jobs lost in the Great Recession. A recent report from the W.P. Carey School of Business places blame on an economy centered on construction. It will take longer to gain all of those jobs back.

In researching Arizona, certain trends became apparent. Here’s what the top places had in common:

• Arizona is planning on population growth as a large driver for its economy. Several places on the list are building master planned communities to bolster their reputations as affordable, attractive residential areas.

• The Tucson and Phoenix metropolitan areas account for a disproportionate amount of growth on the list. All but two places on the top 10 – one of them Somerton – were within 60 miles of one of these two cities.

• Industries are changing in Arizona. The economies in several places on the list that have been rooted in agriculture and mining are transitioning to industries such as solar energy and aerospace.

Rosen said the source for the study’s data was the Census American Community Survey 5-year estimates. While this is the first year for the study, the plan is to make it annual.

Check out the study at http://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/cities/economics/cities-on-the-rise-arizona