Auburn, Ala. is ranked #16 among best small metro areas to launch a business according to CNNmoney.com on Oct. 15, 2009.

This national recognition is not the first for the city of 56,088 residents. According to Phillip Dunlap, Director of Economic Development for Auburn, this is one of seven national recognitions Auburn has received in the last two years.

Forbes recognized Auburn as being #10 best small place to launch a business and #1 in projected job growth out of 179 small metro areas.

U.S. News and World Report ranked Auburn, Ala. in their top 10 best places to live in 2009, among other cities such as Austin, Texas, and San Luis Obispo, Calif.

“It’s not spurred by us,” says Dunlap. “We don’t fill out any forms, it’s based on third-party evaluations.”
Dunlap said CNN interviewed many people and businesses around the area in order to assess Auburn’s economic strength and stability. US News and World Report based their rankings by looking at affordable communities with strong economies and plenty of fun things to do.

Dunlap arrived in Auburn in 1984 when the population was 28,471. “We’ve basically doubled in size in 25 years,” says Dunlap.

The population of Auburn is not the only thing that has grown. Jobs within the area have grown too. “We went from 840 jobs in manufacturing to over 4,000 jobs,” says Dunlap.

So what does this growth mean for Auburn? Businesses function like a chain in order to create a strong economy.
“If we diversify and create jobs, it’s a great opportunity for businesses to come here and invest which will create new opportunities,” says Dunlap.

A new infrastructure in the research park will create jobs which will create a need for jobs in real estate and accounting. That, in turn, will cause another need for service businesses like restaurants. All of these provide for the economy and create growth.

“A community can be in one of three stages, growth, decline or stagnant,” says Dunlap. “I’d much rather be in a growth mode.”

There are various issues that are a consequence of rapid growth. One such issue is traffic congestion. “The key is for us to have responsible growth,” says Dunlap.

In order to have responsible, planned growth, Dunlap says the city will continue to recruit the right kinds of businesses; small and medium-sized value-added, technology-based companies that can offer higher levels of employment to citizens.

Absorption studies have been done in the past and show that per acre of land, seven jobs can be added to Auburn. Currently, there are three technology parks in Auburn including Technology Parks North and South as well as Auburn Industrial Park. These parks provide the area with nearly 4,000.

Another technology park, Auburn Technology Park West, sits on 380 acres and is currently in its first phase of development. With the completion of the park, roughly 2,100 new jobs can be brought into Auburn.

“There are currently about 80 jobs in the west tech park right now,” says Dunlap, “so we can accommodate many more for future growth.”

Creating jobs and creating taxes allow for the best public school systems. Auburn City School System has been rated among the top 100 school systems in the nation by Offspring Parenting, a subsidiary of the Wall Street Journal.

Newsweek ranked Auburn High School in the top 2 percent of all high schools in the nation.
“It’s a fact,” says Dunlap. “Auburn has one of the best school systems in Alabama, or even in the Southeast.”
Dunlap says five years from now he sees the Auburn-Opelika area continuing to grow and Auburn University to have a measured growth.

“Our goal is to provide the best schools,” says Dunlap. “The Auburn-Opelika area MSA will continue to be a major player in east Alabama in the future.”

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Tags: CNNMoney.com, Newsweek, Rebecca Bedsole, business, school systems, small metro area, technology

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