Study: Best Counties to Work in 2014

Got a hankering for a better job? How about a better-paying one? If you've been yearning for a change, then it makes sense to consider all of your options, including moving to another locale. We looked from coast to coast to find the best counties for employment - these are places where job growth is on fire and wages are rising.

Between 2012 and 2013, nearly 79 percent of job creation occurred in the nation's largest counties. We selected the crème de la crème among them. Our list of best places to work are counties where both job opportunities and wages are moving in a positive direction and look to continue that way in 2014.

Study Methodology

We used data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics to look at the nation's 334 largest counties, which had average employment levels of over 75,000 in 2012. To choose the best among them, we assessed three factors:

  1. Average wages
  2. Wage growth
  3. Employment growth

To meet our criteria, all three of a county’s factors had to beat the national averages for March 2012 to March 2013, the dates covered by the most recent data. During that time, average weekly wages grew by 0.6%, or $6, resulting in an average U.S. paycheck of $989. Employment growth in the U.S. grew over 1.6%.

The pared-down list left us with a list of counties with seemingly attractive job markets, but we still needed to ensure that our selections are truly on a positive trajectory.

For reassurance, we turned to the Federal Reserve to get a detailed view of each county's employment history. Cross-referencing the two lists let us pinpoint counties with unemployment rates that stayed below the national average in 2013.

From March 2012 to March 2013, national employment grew 1.6%.

Top 10 Best Counties to Work

10. Delaware County, OH

  • Average weekly wages: $1,859
  • Wage growth: 0.9%
  • Employment growth: 2.3%

North of Columbus, Delaware is a fast growing county that has received accolades for being one of Ohio's healthiest. It hosts large employers such as JP Morgan & Chase and Kroger and has developed a long running trend of keeping joblessness well below the national average. Delaware hasn't seen an unemployment rate above 7% since mid-2010. As of August, Delaware's unemployment rate was 5.1%, over half a percent lower than the rate of 5.8% reported in January.

9. Snohomish County, WA

  • Average weekly wages: $1,085
  • Wage growth: 1.7%
  • Employment growth: 2.8%

Known for its large biotech and aerospace industries, Snohomish sits north of King County. Last year, Snohomish started out with an unemployment rate of 8.6%, also above the national average. But the number of jobless declined more than 1% within eight months. That positive trend continued into 2013, when in August, the county's jobless rate fell to 6.2%.

8. Cobb County, GA

  • Average weekly wages: $1,092
  • Wage growth: 1.8%
  • Employment growth: 2%

Cobb, which is in the Atlanta metro area, hosts the corporate offices and headquarters of major companies such as GE, Lockheed Martin, and The Weather Channel. Both its wage growth and employment growth beat Georgia's average last year. Though the unemployment rate is a bit volatile compared to many of the best counties, Cobb's labor story is one involving notable improvement. The jobless rate was 8.6% at the start of 2012 but has been whittled down to 7.2% by August 2013.

7. Marin County, CA

  • Average weekly wages: $1,138
  • Wage growth: 1.2%
  • Employment growth: 2.9%

Marin lies on the California coast, north of San Francisco. It kicked off 2012 with an unemployment rate of 6.7%, but by September, it was below 6%, and unemployment has not climbed back above that mark since. In 2013, Marin's employment picture has improved further with unemployment falling from 5.6% in January to an even 5% in August.

6. Ramsey County, MN

  • Average weekly wages: $1,169
  • Wage growth: 1.9%
  • Employment growth: 4.4%

Ramsey houses the state capital St. Paul. Though it's densely populated compared to most Minnesota counties, Ramsey has a long running trend of keeping joblessness well below the national average. In 2012, unemployment danced on both sides of 6% but remained below that level in 2013. In August, unemployment fell to 5%. The county can also brag on its wages, which jumped $49 per week last year, placing it in eighth place for wage growth among the nation's largest counties.

5. Arapahoe County, CO

  • Average weekly wages: $1,193
  • Wage growth: 1%
  • Employment growth: 3.7%

Located in the Denver metro area, Arapahoe's major employers include aerospace, healthcare, and telecommunications firms. Employment conditions in the county have improved substantially over the past year. In January 2012, Arapahoe's unemployment rate hit 8.5%, exceeding the national average. But by July of that year, its unemployment had fallen below the U.S. average. The county has maintained that positive trend, and as of August 2013, unemployment was 6.6%.

4. Loudoun County, VA

  • Average weekly wages: $1,198
  • Wage growth: 2.4%
  • Employment growth: 2.9%

Loudoun is located in the D.C. metro area. Its median household income of over $119,000 was the highest in the nation in 2012, according to the Census Bureau. Unemployment in Loudoun has been under 5% since mid-2010 and was at 4.2% in August. The county's economy has largely benefited from its proximity to the nation's capital and revenues from federal contracting. Though state and county agencies are also major employers, Loudoun houses an array of private sector employers that aren't directly linked to government, such as AOL, Verizon, and FedEx.

3. King County, WA

  • Average weekly wages: $1,288
  • Wage growth: 1.6%
  • Employment growth: 3.1%

King County, home of Seattle, provides Washington's largest labor market. Though the county wasn't spared from the effects of the recession, King is the leader in the state's post-crisis recovery. Aerospace is still a major industry, and the county has seen significant job growth in professional services, retail trade, and manufacturing. Unemployment was 7% in March 2012. But over the next 12 months, more than 35,000 jobs were added, placing King among the top 10 counties for employment growth. Finally, by August 2013, the unemployment rate fell to 5.6%.

2. Benton County, AR

  • Average weekly wages: $1,339
  • Wage growth: 14.3%
  • Employment growth: 2.7%

Benton County has a large industrial sector that includes major companies such as Glad Manufacturing and Johnson & Johnson. The county seat of Benton County, Bentonville is the home of Walmart. The county is also a leading poultry producer, so it's quite fitting to find Tyson nearby in Springdale city (Benton County / Washington County). Benton had the second largest wage hike from 2012 to 2013, with average pay growing $168 per week. The county's unemployment trended lower most of last year, paving the way for Benton to open 2013 with a 6% unemployment rate. That figure has continued to fall, and unemployment was 5.4% as of August.

1. San Mateo County, CA

  • Average weekly wages: $1,859
  • Wage growth: 14.8%
  • Employment growth: 3.4%

On a map, San Mateo lies between San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean, and with this list, it sits atop the list of best places to work. The county has a vibrant, diverse economy that includes software companies, venture capital firms, and biotech firms. Major employers include Oracle, Kaiser Permanente, and United Airlines. From March 2012 to March 2013, the county's average weekly wages jumped $239, beating wage growth over all other major counties. Unemployment also saw a steep decline, falling 2 percentage points, from 7.3% in January 2012 to 5.3% in August 2013.

Some counties surely have higher wages or better employment statistics than those found here. But in our view, you can't judge a place based on just one positive attribute. Similarly, our mix of multiple factors may not result in the ideal location for one person. However, our broad view of wages and job markets does provide a data-backed starting point for anyone looking for a fresh start in a promising area where they are most likely to come across promising jobs and wages.

Some places have better opportunities for certain skills, better housing for people with families, or better social scenes for singles looking to unwind after work. Decide which factors are the highest priority for you before you make the big move.

Michelle Smith is a contributing writer at CreditDonkey, a credit card comparison and reviews website. Write to Michelle Smith at Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for our latest posts.

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