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The Best Places In America For Business And Careers

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The U.S. continues its slow slog out of the Great Recession of the late 2000s. The Gross National Product is up 2.2% on average the past five years after declining in 2008 and 2009. GNP fell 0.7% in the first quarter of 2015 due in part to a strong U.S. dollar and lousy weather. But there are pockets of the U.S. thriving thanks to attractive work forces and reasonable business costs.

Forbes crunched the numbers on the 401 metropolitan statistical areas in the U.S. to gauge the best and worst business climates. The result is our 17th annual list of the Best Places for Business and Careers.

Denver ranks No. 1 for the first time, moving up from a fourth place finish in 2014. The Denver-Aurora-Lakewood metro area, home to 2.8 million people, is attractive for its diverse economy, highly educated labor force and outdoor recreational opportunities. Companies are increasingly choosing Denver as the site for new operations or to relocate.

Panasonic Enterprise Solutions, a new technology and solar energy division of Panasonic North America, selected Denver over 22 cities in December for its primary U.S. innovation and sales hub. The company’s president, Jim Doyle, cited Denver’s proximity to nearby universities, Denver International Airport and $1.5 million in incentives for choosing the Mile High City. “It became somewhat of a slam dunk,” Doyle told the Denver Business Journal. It is expected to create 330 jobs at an average wage of nearly $90,000.

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Lockheed Martin LMT +0.48% recently relocated the headquarters of its commercial space operations to its Denver campus. The $46 billion-in-sales aerospace and defense contractor has more than 4,500 employees in the Denver area. “The great quality of life here makes it easier to attract and retain highly talented people,” says Barry Noakes, chief engineer for Lockheed’s commercial space business. “There’s a strong network of universities in the area that combine world-class research with outstanding engineering graduates.” Noakes also highlights the network of aerospace businesses in Colorado. Denver has the largest number of private aerospace jobs  of any metro area in the U.S., with an average wage of $119,000.

In addition to aerospace, Denver has a significant foothold in aviation, bioscience, energy, financial services, information technology, healthcare and telecommunications. The companies in these industries benefit from Denver and neighboring Boulder, which contain one of the most educated workforces in the country. Workers recognize Denver’s allure with more than 100,000 out-of-state migrants moving to Denver between 2010 and 2014, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. It is the fifth biggest influx for any metro area.

Read more at Fortune: Best Cities For Business 2016