The French Quarter is seen in the foreground with the city skyline behind August 25, 2006 in New Orleans, La., one year after Hurricane Katrina. New Orleans tops the Brookings Institution's current list of metropolitan areas in the U.S. recovering the best since the recession. - 

Tess Vigeland: Well if Stockton wants an example of how to turn a city around, it could do worse than to look at New Orleans. The Brookings Institution has been tracking the 100 biggest metropolitan areas to see how well they've recovered from the recession. It crunches numbers for job creation, unemployment rate, real estate values and business output.

And as of the first quarter of this year, top slot goes to The Big Easy. At the bottom? Little Rock, Ark.

Marketplace's Mitchell Hartman explains what's behind the ups and downs.

Mitchell Hartman: This report doesn’t tell us where the there’s the most job growth, the least unemployment.

Alan Berube: This is not America’s Best Communities. This is ‘What’s the progress of the recovery like in metropolitan America today?’

Alan Berube at the Brookings Institution says there are places at the top of the list that never really crashed and are still doing well -- Austin and Houston, Texas.

Go 1,500 miles north, to Michigan’s old rust belt, and there are also winners.

Berube: Detroit is the home of the Big Three. But a lot of sophisticated advanced manufacturing in Grand Rapids -- absolutely pummeled in the recession and even the lead-up to the recession. But manufacturing and exports of manufactured goods have been one of the strongest drivers.

Another driver: domestic energy -- oil or natural gas, drilled or fracked or piped.

Mike Conway runs the Mahoning Valley Economic Development Corporation in the formerly ‘dying’ steel town of Youngstown, Ohio. It’s ranked 10th for recovery. Conway says they’ve got parts-suppliers rushing in to support the booming natural gas industry.

Mike Conway: We’re also seeing manufacturing activity locating directly here to supply the drilling activity -- the first significant steel-related expansion in the past 30 years.

Same story down in the Gulf, where New Orleans and Houston are both riding a wave of oil and petrochemicals.

So who brings up the rear? Again, Alan Berube.

Berube: Madison, Wis.; Baton Rouge, La.; Jackson, Miss.; Honolulu, Hawaii; Harrisburg, Pa.

Notice a pattern? State capitals.

While the private sector has been steadily adding to payrolls, tight budgets have sent government employment down by more than half-a-million jobs since the economy hit bottom.

I’m Mitchell Hartman for Marketplace.


Follow Mitchell Hartman at @entrepreneurguy