The recession that began in 2007 and worsened with the 2008 financial crisis was the worst in living memory — the worst U.S. downturn, in fact, since the Great Depression. But it didn’t affect every corner of the country equally. Some areas, like the real estate-driven markets of the desert Southwest and the decaying industrial precincts of the Rust Belt, have yet to fully recover. Others, including the states on this list, barely suffered at all. Here’s a look at five seemingly recession-proof states that came out of the Great Recession stronger than ever.
It’s impossible to talk about states with great economies without mentioning Texas, the only big state to come out of the recession better off than it went in. Texas’s performance is due to an unusual confluence of factors that existed long before the downturn: relatively cheap housing, lots of buildable land, lax zoning policies, minimal red tape for new businesses, a diverse economy and ample energy reserves. The second and final points are perhaps the most important, the second because Texas largely avoided the real estate price collapse that affected much of the rest of the country (at least, until now) and the last because the price of oil recovered from its recessionary nadir far faster than other economic indicators (again, until now).
2. North Dakota
Speaking of oil: North Dakota’s Bakken formation has a lot of it. When prices rose in the wake of the recession, sparsely populated North Dakota went into boom mode. Thanks to an already maxed-out labor force, the state had to import thousands of workers from every corner of the country, sparking a small building boom even as the real estate market languished elsewhere. And it wasn’t just construction workers and highly paid roughnecks who benefited from North Dakota’s boom: In the western part of the state, entry-level service jobs were virtually impossible to fill at the outset, leading McDonald’s and Wal-Mart to offer four-figure signing bonuses and $20-an-hour wages for a time.
Unlike Texas and North Dakota, Delaware doesn’t enjoy bounteous hydrocarbon reserves or lots of cheap, buildable land. Rather, it benefits from an abundance of human capital: talented financiers, hardworking poultry farmers and a robust, people-driven tourism industry that’s steadily gaining ground in a competitive Northeastern market. But, arguably, the “Delaware difference” was made by the innovative state officials who served during the downturn, putting ambitious, politically risky economic stimulus plans in place and working tirelessly to attract employers.
Though it lacks world-beating energy reserves, Nebraska benefits from its proximity to other energy-rich regions: Colorado, Wyoming and the Dakotas. Its largest city, Omaha, is like a colder, smaller Dallas, with lots of cheap land and a diverse economy that isn’t overly invested in a single sector. (Omaha does have a massive, largely recession-proof insurance sector that was able to avoid substantial job cuts during the downturn.) Meanwhile, its agricultural hinterland has done very well in an era of expensive beef, pork and soybeans.
When you think about Wyoming, you probably picture Yellowstone’s geysers or the Tetons’ craggy peaks. That’s because Wyoming’s real source of wealth, the massive coal, oil and gas deposits that lie beneath its eastern and central plains, don’t look so nice on a postcard. The state’s well-paid, fully employed workers love them, though.