Houston’s booming. But hey, so is Huntsville, Alabama!

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Daniel Gross has a new piece in Slate on the economic boomtown that is Houston:

In May, the unemployment rate in the nation’s sixth-largest metropolitan area was a measly 3.8 percent. In the past year, Houston-based companies, which include 26 Fortune 500 firms, added 71,000 jobs to their payrolls. The local United Way closed out its fiscal year with a record $76.1 million in donations. At the Galleria, a high-end shopping oasis, Bridgette Bottone, manager of the De Beers store, notes, “We’re still selling the big guys”: three-carat-plus diamonds that retail for more than $50,000.

The reason for Houston’s current prosperity is pretty obvious: It’s a major center of the global energy industry. But I get enough pitches from economic development PR types (hi, DCI!) that I know there are some non-energy-dependent cities that are doing pretty well, too. I spent some time poking around the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ swell Employment at a Glance tables, and found a bunch with unemployment rates lower than metropolitan Houston’s 3.8% in April. None of them are growing quite as fast as Houston, though (nonfarm employment growth there was up 2.8% over the previous year in April). Metropolitan Washington, D.C., for example, has an unemployment rate of just 3.1%, but job growth is only 0.9%.

Far more impressive is Huntsville, Ala., home of Space Camp®–and, I feel obliged to add, the only place in the world where you’ll be able to get the 2008 editions of Space Camp Barbie® when they go on sale July 4. The April unemployment rate for metro Huntsville was just 2.5%; job growth was 2.5%. Ready to move there?

Here are some other metropolitan areas I found with unemployment rates lower than Houston’s and job growth of 1% or more. (It’s not a complete list.) A few, like Houston, owe much of their job growth to high energy prices–New Orleans definitely; the Corn Belt cities maybe. Others clearly don’t. But other than Seattle, none is anywhere near Houston’s size:

Sioux Falls, S.D.: April unemployment rate, 2.3%; job growth 12 months through April, 2.1%

Salt Lake City: 2.9%; 2.1%

Oklahoma City: 2.9%; 1.5%

New Orleans: 3.0%; 2.2%

Fargo, N.D.: 3.1%; 1.6%

Austin, Texas: 3.3%, 2.5%

Des Moines, Iowa: 3.3%; 1.1%

Omaha, Neb.: 3.4%; 1.0%

Richmond, Va.: 3.5%, 1.1%

Wichita, Kan.: 3.5%; 1.0%

Fayetteville, Ark.: 3.5%; 1.0%

San Antonio: 3.6%, 2.3%

Seattle: 3.7%, 2.0%

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