Sure, developers want to go where the action is. And that often means flocking to major metropolitan areas or first-ring suburbs. But if a developer threw a dart at a map and hit Bismarck, N.D.—not exactly a hotbed of activity—he’d find one of the healthiest rental markets in the country.
In May, Bismarck had the lowest unemployment rate for any major U.S. metropolitan area, at 2.5 percent (compared with the national rate of 8.2 percent), according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Bismarck’s energy, medical, and technical-services industries are booming and its supply of rental housing is low, according to Justin Hammer, director of residential property management for Minot, N.D.–based IRET Properties.
“There’s a seemingly unlimited amount of work to be had in the energy industry in North Dakota, and the high-paying salaries [these jobs] provide offset the price of living,” Hammer says.
The economic impact of the oil boom under way in North Dakota is a big reason why Fargo and Grand Forks made the list as well. And it’s no coincidence that some apartment firms, like Kirkland, Wash.–based Weidner Apartment Homes, have done very well by staking a claim in energy-rich secondary markets—the firm has a big presence in Midland, Texas, for instance, No. 7 on the list.
The majority of the other top 10 cities with the lowest unemployment rates are in the Midwest, including Iowa City, Iowa, which hosts a large medical center, and Lincoln, Neb., named the fifth-best city for business and careers by Forbes in 2010.
But a few cities on the East Coast, including Burlington, Vt., and Portsmouth, N.H., also have enviable unemployment. Both cities have thriving health care, education, and retail sectors. With those sectors continuing to grow, the demand for housing also will increase.