Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody's Analytics, attributes the current recovery's 50-state hodgepodge to the fact that industries such as technology, biotech and global finance are no longer concentrated in hubs such as New York and the Silicon Valley, but rather are spread across the country.
"You can find pockets of strength everywhere and pockets of weakness everywhere," he says.
Here's a look at the jobs recovery in some of the strongest, weakest and middle-of-the-pack states.
Fuel and food drive leaders
Just four states -- oil-producing strongholds North Dakota, Louisiana, Alaska and Texas -- have returned to peak employment, riding a global energy boom. Other energy and agricultural states in the nation's breadbasket, including Oklahoma, Nebraska and South Dakota, are within a percentage point of their peak. All these states lost relatively few or no jobs in the downturn and have benefited from a worldwide surge in food and energy prices.
North Dakota, for example, grew payrolls through the recession. Unconventional drilling techniques are extracting oil from rock formations, pushing the state past Alaska as the nation's No.2 oil producer behind Texas. Since 2007, oil production in the state has increased fivefold, and employment in the mining and logging sector has swelled from 5,000 to 22,000. The surge is causing hotel-room shortages as roughnecks flood the state for three-week stints, boosting payrolls in leisure and hospitality and professional and business services to all-time highs.
"We are the land of milk and honey," says Andy Peterson, president of the North Dakota Chamber of Commerce.
Entrepreneur Shannon Gangl is reaping benefits on all fronts. Occupancy at his three hotels in Bismarck has risen from 65% to more than 80%, leading him to boost staffing to 250 from 200.
A Montana Mike's franchisee that Gangl recently opened in Minot to take advantage of the oil boom set a national company record for opening-week sales. Hiring 130 workers for the restaurant was so tough that he's paying them twice what employees earn at his other eateries in the state, forcing him to charge an extra $2 per entre.
And with sales at his concrete-pouring company up fivefold vs. three years ago, Gangl stopped taking bids for 2012 projects two months ago. He recently bought several 10-seat planes to shuttle oil executives from offices in Bismarck to Williston oil fields. "The opportunities are endless right now," he says.
Some States Roar Back
Some states lost jobs moderately in the downturn and have rebounded strongly on technology, biotech and natural gas drilling. Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, for instance, each lost more than 4% of their payrolls but have recouped more than half those losses.
A natural gas drilling boom in Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale near Pittsburgh has nearly doubled energy-industry employment the past five years and offset sharp job losses by Philadelphia's budget-strapped city government, according to BLS and Moody's. The natural gas frenzy is lifting makers of the pipes needed to transport the fuel to electricity producers and chemical manufacturers.
Dura-Bond laid off 150 of its 500 workers in the recession as financing for long-haul gas pipes dried up, Vice President Jason Norris says. But since then, sales are up 50%. Besides building the pipe-coating plant, slated to open this fall, the Export, Pa., company has increased staffing at its three existing Pennsylvania factories by 10% to 400. "I have a lot more business because of the Marcellus," Norris says.
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