In terms of movers, Merced, Calif. saw the biggest gain from a year ago, rising 105 spots to 63rd, thanks to a correction in one of the housing markets hit hardest by the bubble's collapse. Among decliners, BP's oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico happened in 2010, but the decreased drilling activity in the Gulf persists and continues to hamper drilling-service centers like Lafayette, La., which dropped 82 places to 93rd.
The Milken Institute's index ranks cities based on growth in jobs, wages and salaries, and technology output. It weighs those factors over a five-year span to account for varying business cycles and the latest year's performance, and then adds 12-month job growth performance to account for recent momentum.
Cities in Texas measure strongly across all those categories, and its "assertive recruiting" of out-of-state businesses adds to the state's "secret sauce," but DeVol acknowledges that it also has another big chip in its favor: the state happens to be sitting on a gigantic pile of natural resources. While the Milken Institute touts the other sectors bolstering Texas economies, increased oil and gas exploration, in large part thanks to new drilling techniques, remains a crucial source of fuel for the state's growth engine.