No tale of big-time growth would be complete without listing the three star mega-regions of the desert Southwest -- No. 9 Las Vegas , No. 25 Reno, Nev., and No. 36 Phoenix. These cities have all enjoyed buoyant job and population growth over the past three years, much of it centered on expanding business and financial services, as well construction growth.

The Vegas boom extends well beyond the famed strip and into the surrounding suburbs. Entertainment and tourism gained 14.2% since 2002, but job growth has been even bigger in financial and professional business services, and most particularly, construction, up almost 50%. Natives of Las Vegas, like German Florez, are using the expertise developed in the building boom to expand into property-oriented services. His Meridas Capital (Inc. 500 No. 197), located in suburban Henderson, is now the fastest-growing privately owned mortgage firm in the western U.S.

Long known for its tourism and red-hot construction sector, the growth of Merdias points to the rapid development of the area's diversified business-service economy. Other superstar cities include Reno, which like Vegas, continues to suck up more and more of California's companies and people. IRS data reveals that nearly 12,600 households from the San Francisco region alone have moved to the Reno area since 2000.

Critical as well to the region's success has been the movement of entrepreneurs like Ron Geraty, whose Allere Medical (Inc. 500 No. 366) moved to Reno from San Francisco in 1999. Geraty has taken advantage of Reno's lower costs and taxes to expand from 25 to 200 employees. "Coming here, we didn't give up anything," Geraty claims. "Only the negatives."

Not all of California is losing out, however. There is considerable growth in many of the interior parts of the state, such as No. 35 Riverside-San Bernardino, which ranks No. 5 among our list of largest metros. This area, suggests Redlands, Calif.-based economist John Husing, shows the advantage of having "cheap dirt."

Land and housing prices may be rising in the sprawling eastern suburbs of Southern California, but with housing prices still at least 50% of that along coast, both people and business continue to flock. Back in the 1970s and 1980s, these lower costs lured working-class people, warehouses, and factories. Now higher-end employment in professional and business services industries are increasingly are fueling the boom.

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