The Latino Archipelago
Not all of our high fliers are located in what you might think as garden spots. As the heated recent debate over illegal immigration proves, the migration of millions of people from south of the border has had a big impact. Whatever the negatives some claim are associated with this migration, the economic boost has been impressive. Indeed some of our fastest growing areas -- such as No. 1 Yuma, Ariz., No. 12 McAllen, Texas, and No. 18 El Centro, Calif. -- derive their growth not from attracting yuppies and nerds, but due to their proximity to the fast-growing trade corridor of the Mexican border region, as well rapid demographic expansion of a local, predominately Hispanic population.
Few places epitomize this trend more than Yuma, ranked No. 1 overall. This desert area of slightly more than 100,000 makes an unlikely leader. Phoenix economist Elliot Pollack nails the factors driving growth -- an expanding service sector, a migration from Californians in search of low-cost housing, and trade with Mexico.
But local entrepreneur John Jesson, founder of the Gowan Group, an agricultural-service firm with worldwide operations, says that's not the whole story. Jesson also gives much credit to the work ethic of the largely Latino population, both immigrants and their children.
"There's a willing and energetic labor that comes here at a basic level, who then develop into supervisors and technicians," Jesson adds, who employs 400 of his 600 employees in the Yuma area. "The children of the migrants are now the ones who run the farms around here.