Surprising Migration and Consistent Growth

Each year, Lightcast takes a deep dive into our data and examines the talent attraction landscape across the US. To do this, we pull data from our Lightcast data platform on job growth, education attainment, regional competitiveness, and more to build our Talent Attraction Scorecard. The result is a ranking of every state, every large county (population over 100,000), and every small county (population between 5,000 and 100,000) on the most vital economic development factors. 

A talent attraction study wouldn’t be much without migration data. Lightcast uses IRS migration data—year-to-year address changes reported on tax returns—to determine which communities are gaining new residents. Migration data for this year’s Scorecard provides a clearer picture of what happened in the COVID years of 2020 and 2021, including some surprise showings, with Kentucky ranking No. 4 in the migration category and Missouri No. 5. Conventionally, the Sunbelt and popular remote work destinations tend to do well in talent attraction; these two states buck that trend. 

Surprises such as Kentucky and Missouri are countered by consistent trends elsewhere. All but one of the large counties in the top 10—Fort Bend County, TX (Houston)—have been there before. Now in its eighth year, the Talent Attraction Scorecard allows communities and regions to reinforce positive activity while acknowledging where changes need to be made for greater growth.      


Mountain West

Regional success was driven by job growth and education attainment. Idaho, Utah, Montana, and Nevada all reached the top 10 in education attainment, and Idaho, Utah, Arizona, Montana, and Nevada were all in the top 10 for job growth.

Overall the rankings are: Idaho (No. 4), Utah (No. 6), Arizona (No. 8), and Nevada (No. 9) lead a strong showing of Mountain West states. Montana just missed the top ten at No. 11, and Colorado replicated last year's performance at No. 15.

“Innovative industries are choosing to grow in Arizona and Maricopa County resulting in a steady increase of skilled job opportunities. Combined with an agile higher education ecosystem that meets the needs of today’s economy and that of the future, Greater Phoenix leads as a nationally competitive region with an environment that supports talent and employers alike.”

Chris Camacho
President and CEO, Greater Phoenix Economic Council


Migration is a key indicator of talent attraction, and the Southeast was buoyed by its strong performance in that category. Five of the top 10 states for migration are Southeastern: Florida, North Carolina, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Georgia.

The Southeast’s high rankings were also driven by new employment opportunities, with four states in the top 10 for job growth. Overall, the Southeast placed three states in the top 10 and seven in the top 15, with Florida setting the standard at No. 1 overall.

“Across North Central Texas, we prioritize workforce development and business needs. Our efforts to cultivate a skilled workforce are evident in Collin and Denton counties - ranking 4th and 6th in job growth and 2nd and 7th in migration, respectively. Our region represents diverse industries, indicating that businesses can find the skilled talent they need within our workforce development service area. North Central Texas remains an attractive hub for career seekers with unlimited opportunities for professional and sustainable growth. The synergy between businesses finding a skilled workforce and career seekers finding opportunities fuels our region’s prosperity.”

Phedra Redifer
Executive Director, Workforce Solutions for North Central Texas

Large County Risers

Talent attraction and development is a long game. Strategies take time to incorporate and results develop over the years. Whether it’s K-12 programming or a new college degree in the latest technology, the fruits of even the best talent pipelines can take time. That being said, a lot can happen in a year. That talent attraction campaign can start hitting the right chord, causing boomerangs to start returning, or the opening of a new facility can draw talent to the region. Here are the large counties that have seen the biggest long- and short-term rises.

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Small Counties, Big Growth

For smaller counties, nurturing and growing local talent presents unique challenges that the larger metros don’t see. Without the same resources or visibility, the impact of smaller counties’ efforts typically builds up slowly. However, change can also come swiftly within a year: a successful local talent attraction or education initiative might suddenly resonate, bringing former residents back home, or the launch of a key facility could attract new talent to the area. Here's a look at the smaller counties that have seen significant growth and reached the top of this year’s talent attraction rankings.

Tech Hubs and Talent Attraction

The Tech Hubs program of the Economic Development Administration is a huge opportunity for award winners, grantees, and designees. But as seen with the CHIPS Act, the ultimate success of Tech Hubs will be determined by how well communities can source talent.    

At a macro level, states with strong Scorecard rankings are well-positioned to support their Tech Hubs. This is especially true for those with strong scores in the education attainment category, which serves as an indicator of a skilled workforce. On the other hand, states ranking lowly in that metric may have more of an uphill battle to meet their talent needs. 

However, Tech Hubs can also serve as a talent attraction magnet. Talent with education or experience in the Hub’s key technology focus area, or those with a desire to pursue such careers, may be drawn to the region. Moving forward, states can use their Tech Hubs to bolster their talent pool and attract new workers to meet their goals. 

Remote Work

Remote work's ascendence has had a global impact while also reshaping talent attraction in the US. Using American Community Survey data from Lightcast’s data platform, we’re able to examine the proportion of remote workers in each county, and found the average share was 7%.

retro postcard city street

Putting This Knowledge Into Practice

by Dr. Christopher Laney, Lightcast Director of Government Affairs & Workforce Strategy

Attracting and retaining talent is essential to further economic growth within states and communities. Whether you are at the top or bottom of the rankings, there are opportunities and steps that can lead to further improvement. Multiple industries in all states are feeling the strain of talent shortages, and a cohesive strategy in workforce and economic development is required to help your region thrive. Lightcast works with states and communities across the country who have found ways to develop talent strategies that lead towards greater economic success.

The Baseline: Where Your Region Stands

Workforce and economic development is complex. It requires a cohesive approach across many stakeholders and businesses. A successful strategy often results from support across various entities in a community, rather than one-off studies or efforts focused only on specific sectors or initiatives. Securing a designation as a tech or semiconductor hub can be a big boost to a region, but there are other key industries that can help you grow as well. Locating additional pockets of talent in your state can also make a dramatic impact.

Lightcast has developed Demographic Drought, a national study on workforce demographics examining the many different indicators leading to talent shortages. This year, we developed a state-specific study for Minnesota that dives deep into worker shortages affecting the state economy. Having a broad understanding of your state’s challenges can help formulate next-step strategies, including targeted populations, skills, emerging industries, and more. One of the key indicators in Lightcast’s Talent Attraction methodology is the creation of skilled jobs: are you developing the skills your region needs for today and tomorrow?

Talent Migration

It’s helpful to know where you’re ranked against other communities and states. However, to develop strategies and craft a path forward, you need a granular understanding of where you are, not just where your competition is.

At Lightcast, we’ve developed a Talent Migration Dashboard that provides insights focused on three key indicators: retention, attrition, and attraction. We move beyond just looking at how many net people are moving or leaving your community by using data to answer questions like: 

    Are your young professionals moving out of the area? 

    What individuals from what occupations are moving into your region? 

    Are higher earners moving more than lower earners?

Lightcast can provide a full study and determine the measurable indicators that mean success in your community. The Lightcast Talent Migration Dashboard can provide ongoing insights to gauge the impacts of your strategy. 

Skills Strategy

Lightcast’s unique supply and demand model provides insights to better understand skill gaps within communities, and this allows us to identify skills, workers, and other talent pipeline characteristics of the industries and occupations you want to target. By revealing potential talent gaps, Lightcast can offer skills-based strategies to help move talent into undersupplied occupations, based on what we know of the skills held by workers in oversupplied jobs. 

Industry Sector Analysis

Communities across the country are working to capitalize on federal grants for emerging industries such as semiconductors and electric vehicles. At the same time, investments in Tech Hubs have increased competition for communities to collaborate and develop strategies for these initiatives. While these are exciting opportunities in which Lightcast has provided insights both pre- and post-grant funding, we believe developing a sector strategy across all targeted and emerging industries is essential to a state’s plan. At Lightcast, we provide granular and geographic detail within industries to better understand the baseline of where communities are now, and where they can go.

Shaping the Future of Talent Attraction

Talent attraction is always a dynamic field, but the eighth annual Lightcast Talent Attraction Scorecard reveals a key insight: consistency is crucial. While unexpected players like Kentucky, Missouri and Vermont have shown remarkable performance, the high marks from Scorecard mainstays like Texas, Florida, and Maricopa County each point to the importance of maintaining stable, attractive environments for talent.

But the successes of those regions didn't come from nowhere—they're the result of dedicated efforts to enhance job opportunities, educational excellence, and overall livability. Communities looking to emulate this success should start by creating a stable and attractive environment for talent. This involves not only promoting job growth across diverse sectors but also investing in educational programs that align with industry needs. Establishing strong partnerships with local educational institutions can ensure that the workforce is not only large in numbers but also rich in relevant skills.

Whether your community is at the top of the list this year or you're gearing up for 2024, these strategies are how you can set a course towards becoming hubs of talent and innovation, creating a stable economic future in an ever-changing global landscape.


The following six metrics were equally weighted to create a z-score index. Based on population, counties were broken into categories of large (100,000+), small (5,000–99,999), and micro (less than 4,999) and were then ranked based on their z-score. All data (except net migration) is from Lightcast’s 2022.3 data set for wage-and-salary employees. Net migration data is from the Internal Revenue Service's (IRS) Statistics of Income Division (SOI).

Net Migration
Net Migration

Net migration uses IRS data collected between 2017 and 2021 to measure the net new residents that came to a county from inside or outside its state. Net migration is a composite index of the number of returns filed (which approximates the number of households that migrated), the number of personal exemptions claimed (which approximates the number of individuals), and the change in net flow between 2017 and 2021.

Overall job growth
Overall Job Growth

Overall job growth is the 2018–2022 percent job change for all wage-and-salary employees.

Educational Attainment
Educational Attainment

Educational attainment is the 2018–2022 percent change for adults over 25 with at least an associate's degree.

Regional Competitiveness
Regional Competitiveness

Regional competitiveness is the 2018–2022 competitive effect for skilled occupations using shift share. Competitive effect explains how much of job change is due to a region’s unique competitive advantages. This explains which counties are gaining (or losing) a greater share of skilled labor.

Annual Openings per Capita
Annual Openings per Capita

Annual openings per capita are the sum of 2018–2022 new jobs and replacement jobs (i.e., openings due to attrition) per 1,000 residents. Some regions might not create a flood of new jobs, but because of the attrition of its workforce through retirements, etc., replacement job needs could be high.

Skilled job growth
Skilled Job Growth

Skilled job growth is a composite index of the percent change and percentage point change between 2018–2022 for occupations that fall into one or more of the following three categories: those that typically require 1) a postsecondary certificate or above, 2) long-term on-the-job training, an apprenticeship, or residency/internship, or 3) five years or more of work experience in a related occupation. This allows us to see growth of jobs in occupations that require formal education (from a certificate to an advanced degree) and those in which experience or on-the-job training is preferred by employers. All education levels are reported at the national level by the BLS.

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2023 Talent Attraction Scorecard

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Drew Repp and Tim Hatton

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Data Assembly

Matt Walsh and Jade Rohloff

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Data Visualization

Hannah Grieser

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Daniel Botkin and Ashley Stevenson

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