The Fourth Annual Talent Attraction Scorecard

Published on Nov 13, 2019

Updated on Nov 3, 2022

Written by Drew Repp

The Fourth Annual Talent Attraction Scorecard

With a tight labor market and technologies that continue to redefine work, the importance of attracting new talent and developing existing workforce continues to increase. 

In the fourth annual Talent Attraction Scorecard we again examine large counties (100,000+ population) and small counties (5,000-99,999 population) that are succeeding in growing their workforce. But this year’s scorecard also looks at standouts in the very smallest counties, those with populations of 5,000 or less. This 2019 report discovers new trends: small Southern counties rising in the ranks, Western cities punching above their weight, and Sunbelt states continuing to thrive.

In communities big or small, urban or rural, talent is on the move. Are they coming to your region?

Talent attraction rankings and trends

<a href='#'><img alt=' ' src='' style='border: none' /></a>

Duval County (Jacksonville), Florida, made an enormous jump to the top spot after being ranked #47 in both  2017 and 2018, pushing Maricopa County (Phoenix), Arizona, to second. Duval’s rapid rise to the top is grounded in a well-rounded educational, demographic, and economic profile, and propelled by a select handful of highly competitive standout firms.

Cameron and Burke: notable standouts

Cameron Parish, Louisiana, and Burke County, Georgia, are notable standouts amongst small counties. With a population of just 7,000, Cameron barely snuck into the small county category. But even with a modest 4% population growth over the last five years, Cameron has seen an astounding 84% increase in job growth over that same period. Burke also saw large job growth, with an 81% growth rate since 2014. And of those new jobs, almost half are skilled, giving a clear advantage when it comes to attracting potential new residents and firms. With the necessary pathways in place, the number of skilled jobs in the area also offers a viable end-goal for workers interested in upskilling or returning to the labor force

Two regions that broke into the top 10, leaping over a thousand places, were Jackson County, West Virginia, and Holmes County, Ohio. Jackson has nearly doubled both its jobs and its workforce participation in the last five years, and increased its skilled jobs by almost half. Meanwhile, Holmes is the overall small-county leader for net migration, and 8.3% of its workforce are remote (compared to the national average of just over 4%).

A theme in the stories of these small counties is that the talent attraction and job growth largely came from within via capital investments by existing companies (energy companies in the case of Cameron and Burke) and infrastructure buildout. Highlighting that investing in existing assets and regional infrastructure is often the most feasible and beneficial route to jumpstart growth and prosperity.

Micro-counties in the game

Storey County, Nevada proves that talent attraction is by no means the exclusive territory of large metropolitan areas. Steadily climbing in our rankings each year, Storey now has the highest overall ranking of any county in the US. The county has seen 7% population growth since 2013 and another 4.5% is projected by 2023. But jobs are growing at a tremendous rate, from 4,058 (roughly its total population) to 17,398. 

Storey has essentially become a commuter hub, a place where people from other regions come to earn and spend money. In Storey’s case, this is the result largely of the Tahoe Reno Industrial Center, home to the Tesla Gigafactory. This highlights the importance of looking at economic development from a regional level – as talent can, and will, migrate beyond city and county boundaries.

The Sunbelt and Western migration

Two geographical trends emerged in the Scorecard this year. The warm, sunny part of the US that stretches from the Southeast to the Southwest known as the Sunbelt contains half of all the talent attraction leaders, and 60% of the large county leaders were in Southern states.

Western states produced roughly a quarter of the top 10 counties, and counties associated with Western cities are prevalent in the top 50. As educated workers flee expensive coastal markets in search of affordability and quality of life, counties that are home or adjacent to the likes of Denver, Boise, and Bend are benefiting greatly. And as remote work becomes more prominent, and spreads to more professions, these regions will continue to benefit. It also presents great opportunity for rural communities that position themselves to capture this migration of talent.

What your community can do

There are many challenges to workforce development, from fragmented service delivery to relevant parties not communicating what they need and can offer. And talent attraction takes place within the larger context of these workforce development challenges. To help guide communities through these challenges, the Talent Attraction Scorecard includes strategies in five phases for attracting talent, developing existing workers, and connecting both to employers:

Read the full scorecard

For a more in-depth look at the current talent attraction trends across the US, download the fourth annual Talent Attraction Scorecard. Learn more about which communities are winning the talent attraction competition, and why, and take a deeper dive into the impacts of remote workers. Most importantly, discover strategies and best practices for your community in all phases of workforce development.


Have a question about the findings? Want to talk through next steps in your talent attraction strategy? Fill out the form below to discuss how Emsi can help.