Jobs create pockets of prosperity in America

SACRAMENTO, Calif. —There really are jobs out there. Just not enough of them.

It's true: America's bleak economic landscape includes pockets of prosperity. Factories are expanding in the Sacramento area, the Rust Belt and elsewhere. The tech sector is humming, from Silicon Valley to North Carolina.

Las Vegas casinos are hiring again. High energy prices are creating work in obvious places like Oklahoma and Texas, as well as the hinterlands of North Dakota, an oil-rich state that boasts the nation's lowest unemployment rate. The health care industry remains fairly strong just about everywhere.

Even if the U.S. economy is sputtering, companies are benefiting from a growing worldwide demand for their products and services.

Make no mistake, though: In many places, even the birth of a factory can get lost in waves of news about a faltering recovery and a 9.1 percent national unemployment rate.

Generally, the job market is brighter in communities that avoided the excesses of the housing bubble. The unemployment rate in Oklahoma City, where there wasn't much of a housing boom, is 5.7 percent — the lowest among large U.S. metro areas.

Oklahoma City, which has a working oil well on the grounds of the state Capitol, is reaping the benefits of the run-up in energy prices. In the last year alone, 1,300 energy jobs have been created in the city.

A boom in shale oil, plus strong crop prices, have driven unemployment in North Dakota to 3.3 percent, the lowest in the country.

"Oil and gas are obviously carrying us, but the agricultural economy is doing pretty good, too," said Steve Pine of Great Northern Energy, an oil-services firm in Bismarck.

North Dakota and Oklahoma City are clear outliers, however. For most parts of the country — even those doing relatively well — the recession remains a nagging reality.

The revival in some U.S. factories is less about the American economy and more about the global environment. The cheap dollar makes U.S.-made goods a bargain overseas, and growing Asian economies fuel demand.

Result: Shipments from California's ports have returned to pre-recession levels.

That's helping create jobs in some of the unlikeliest places — including Midwestern factory towns that had long been written off.

"The Rust Belt-y kinds of places aren't doing too badly these days," said Steve Cochrane, who tracks regional economies for the Moody's Analytics consulting firm. "Peoria, Ill.; Milwaukee, Wis.; Fort Wayne, Ind. —these are very diversified manufacturing centers."

U.S. factories have added nearly 290,000 jobs since late 2009. Yet that's just a sliver of the 2 million-plus factory jobs lost to the recession.