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Where the jobs are

Aug 20, 2012

It's still a tough job market, but these 25 counties can make it a lot easier to find work and a great place to live.

Clyde’s Willow Creek Farm Restaurant
Courtesy: Visit Loudoun

Loudoun County, VA

Got data? Loudoun County does. Lots of it. With its expansive fiber networks and a swarm of tech workers, it's a major traffic hub on the East Coast.

Major employers include Verizon Business and AOL, but the latest boom to hit this pocket of Northern Virginia's high-tech economy? Data centers, which now occupy 4.3 million square feet in the county, earning Loudoun the nickname "Data Center Alley."

Easy access to the nation's capital and Dulles International Airport also creates opportunities for government and the airline and freight servicing industries. The planned extension of the Washington Metro into Loudoun, which recently got a green light for funding, is expected to lure more young professionals to the region.

Don’t Be Fooled, It’s Gridlock Time in Washington

Get ready for gridlock.

Despite the passage Thursday of a massive budget bill to fund the government, Congress is unlikely to pass any other major piece of legislation this year—with the possible exception of a long overdue farm bill. Reforms to immigration policy, the National Security Agency and the health care reform law have been, and will remain, under the purview of the White House. President Barack Obama's so-called “year of action” will take place, if anywhere, solely in the realm of the executive branch.

Run down the list of issues, and the cause for pessimism is clear. The Senate last year passed comprehensive immigration reform with the support of 14 Republicans, establishing a 13-year pathway to citizenship for millions for immigrants in the country illegally. But the measure remains dead in the House—the GOP majority will release a set of principles this year, but as National Journal reports, “it will not include any concrete proposal." A Republican member from Texas spoke up at the party's weekly luncheon Tuesday only to declare that it was his favorite meeting yet because no one mentioned immigration, a House aide present told TIME.

The immigration reform effort has turned from policy to politics, with Republicans feeling little urgency to pass anything before the midterm elections, even as party leaders fret about another presidential race with Hispanics voting in droves against their party.

“There is no good time to do it,” Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) says. “It’s tough no matter when you do it.”

Meanwhile, Obama is set to announce executive actions Friday to reform the NSA, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) says, and call on Congress to do the rest.

“Many of us are going to be working to do exactly that, but it won’t be easy,” says Schiff, who participated in a meeting with Obama on the issue last week. “[With] our track record, if you were a betting man, you’d have to bet against us.”

Possible reforms include the creation of a public advocate to represent privacy concerns in the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and new, increased limits on the NSA’s access to bulk telephone data. But Congress is unlikely to make either change, which privacy advocates say don’t go far enough.

And although reforming aspects of the Affordable Care Act remains a focus for many lawmakers—last week almost 70 Democrats supported a bill that would alert users of breaches involving their personal data—the issue is too toxic on Capitol Hill for any serious movement, especially with the Administration continuing to give Democrats cover by granting exemptions and deadline extensions as it sees fit.

“I don’t know what we’re going to do on Obamacare,” Simpson says. “I don’t know what we can do, we’ve tried just about everything.”

Even the first high-profile legislative fight of the year, extending emergency unemployment insurance—which has the support of the President and the Senate—has faltered. Democrats claim to have a winning issue on their hands, with more than one million Americans losing their benefits, but most Republicans so far aren’t feeling the political pain.

“At this point the Senate seems to appear incapable of passing anything and the President hasn’t proposed anything,” Rep. Tim Price (R-Ga.) says.

The lone bright spot is the farm bill. Rep. Colin Peterson (D-Minn.) told reporters Thursday that his intention is to get a bill drafted by next week. Historically, the bill has been easily renewed, but the last five-year measure was passed in 2008. This year the hurdles include dairy price supports, catfish inspection jurisdiction, and a controversial amendment that forbids states from imposing agricultural standards, such as California’s barring of eggs from states that allow their farmers to pen hens in tiny cages. But even as the two sides appear to be coming together, some remain anxious that things could fall apart. As one Senate Democratic leadership aide put to TIME: “In this environment, I don’t think anything is a safe bet.”

“I don’t think we’re going to be able to generate the kind of trust that you need for the majority of people to look to the government to solve the major problems,” says Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), who is retiring this year after 24 years in office. “You probably have at least as good, probably better, shot at making a difference outside the institution than within it today.”

When asked what other bipartisan compromises can be expected after the budget bill passed, Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) laughed before nodding to the must-pass increase of the debt ceiling: “It’s hard to see a whole lot else being done."

Courtesy: City of Cedar Park

Williamson County, TX

Central Texas' Williamson County hits the bull's eye when it comes to offering incentives for big business. Corporate tax breaks and low property taxes have attracted the likes of top-flight companies such as Dell, which employs 13,000 at its headquarters in Round Rock.

The rapid development of nearby Austin has spurred the growth of so-called "super suburbs" like Williamson County's Round Rock and Cedar Park, where affordable housing, cultural offerings and numerous parks and trails win points with young families.

In a tough economy, the county's incentives are looking particularly enticing to companies. Health care equipment maker Thermo Fisher Scientific said in December it's planning to move some of its production from Wisconsin, bringing 150 new jobs.

Don’t Be Fooled, It’s Gridlock Time in Washington

Get ready for gridlock.

Despite the passage Thursday of a massive budget bill to fund the government, Congress is unlikely to pass any other major piece of legislation this year—with the possible exception of a long overdue farm bill. Reforms to immigration policy, the National Security Agency and the health care reform law have been, and will remain, under the purview of the White House. President Barack Obama's so-called “year of action” will take place, if anywhere, solely in the realm of the executive branch.

Run down the list of issues, and the cause for pessimism is clear. The Senate last year passed comprehensive immigration reform with the support of 14 Republicans, establishing a 13-year pathway to citizenship for millions for immigrants in the country illegally. But the measure remains dead in the House—the GOP majority will release a set of principles this year, but as National Journal reports, “it will not include any concrete proposal." A Republican member from Texas spoke up at the party's weekly luncheon Tuesday only to declare that it was his favorite meeting yet because no one mentioned immigration, a House aide present told TIME.

The immigration reform effort has turned from policy to politics, with Republicans feeling little urgency to pass anything before the midterm elections, even as party leaders fret about another presidential race with Hispanics voting in droves against their party.

“There is no good time to do it,” Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) says. “It’s tough no matter when you do it.”

Meanwhile, Obama is set to announce executive actions Friday to reform the NSA, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) says, and call on Congress to do the rest.

“Many of us are going to be working to do exactly that, but it won’t be easy,” says Schiff, who participated in a meeting with Obama on the issue last week. “[With] our track record, if you were a betting man, you’d have to bet against us.”

Possible reforms include the creation of a public advocate to represent privacy concerns in the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and new, increased limits on the NSA’s access to bulk telephone data. But Congress is unlikely to make either change, which privacy advocates say don’t go far enough.

And although reforming aspects of the Affordable Care Act remains a focus for many lawmakers—last week almost 70 Democrats supported a bill that would alert users of breaches involving their personal data—the issue is too toxic on Capitol Hill for any serious movement, especially with the Administration continuing to give Democrats cover by granting exemptions and deadline extensions as it sees fit.

“I don’t know what we’re going to do on Obamacare,” Simpson says. “I don’t know what we can do, we’ve tried just about everything.”

Even the first high-profile legislative fight of the year, extending emergency unemployment insurance—which has the support of the President and the Senate—has faltered. Democrats claim to have a winning issue on their hands, with more than one million Americans losing their benefits, but most Republicans so far aren’t feeling the political pain.

“At this point the Senate seems to appear incapable of passing anything and the President hasn’t proposed anything,” Rep. Tim Price (R-Ga.) says.

The lone bright spot is the farm bill. Rep. Colin Peterson (D-Minn.) told reporters Thursday that his intention is to get a bill drafted by next week. Historically, the bill has been easily renewed, but the last five-year measure was passed in 2008. This year the hurdles include dairy price supports, catfish inspection jurisdiction, and a controversial amendment that forbids states from imposing agricultural standards, such as California’s barring of eggs from states that allow their farmers to pen hens in tiny cages. But even as the two sides appear to be coming together, some remain anxious that things could fall apart. As one Senate Democratic leadership aide put to TIME: “In this environment, I don’t think anything is a safe bet.”

“I don’t think we’re going to be able to generate the kind of trust that you need for the majority of people to look to the government to solve the major problems,” says Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), who is retiring this year after 24 years in office. “You probably have at least as good, probably better, shot at making a difference outside the institution than within it today.”

When asked what other bipartisan compromises can be expected after the budget bill passed, Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) laughed before nodding to the must-pass increase of the debt ceiling: “It’s hard to see a whole lot else being done."

Don’t Be Fooled, It’s Gridlock Time in Washington

Get ready for gridlock.

Despite the passage Thursday of a massive budget bill to fund the government, Congress is unlikely to pass any other major piece of legislation this year—with the possible exception of a long overdue farm bill. Reforms to immigration policy, the National Security Agency and the health care reform law have been, and will remain, under the purview of the White House. President Barack Obama's so-called “year of action” will take place, if anywhere, solely in the realm of the executive branch.

Run down the list of issues, and the cause for pessimism is clear. The Senate last year passed comprehensive immigration reform with the support of 14 Republicans, establishing a 13-year pathway to citizenship for millions for immigrants in the country illegally. But the measure remains dead in the House—the GOP majority will release a set of principles this year, but as National Journal reports, “it will not include any concrete proposal." A Republican member from Texas spoke up at the party's weekly luncheon Tuesday only to declare that it was his favorite meeting yet because no one mentioned immigration, a House aide present told TIME.

The immigration reform effort has turned from policy to politics, with Republicans feeling little urgency to pass anything before the midterm elections, even as party leaders fret about another presidential race with Hispanics voting in droves against their party.

“There is no good time to do it,” Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) says. “It’s tough no matter when you do it.”

Meanwhile, Obama is set to announce executive actions Friday to reform the NSA, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) says, and call on Congress to do the rest.

“Many of us are going to be working to do exactly that, but it won’t be easy,” says Schiff, who participated in a meeting with Obama on the issue last week. “[With] our track record, if you were a betting man, you’d have to bet against us.”

Possible reforms include the creation of a public advocate to represent privacy concerns in the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and new, increased limits on the NSA’s access to bulk telephone data. But Congress is unlikely to make either change, which privacy advocates say don’t go far enough.

And although reforming aspects of the Affordable Care Act remains a focus for many lawmakers—last week almost 70 Democrats supported a bill that would alert users of breaches involving their personal data—the issue is too toxic on Capitol Hill for any serious movement, especially with the Administration continuing to give Democrats cover by granting exemptions and deadline extensions as it sees fit.

“I don’t know what we’re going to do on Obamacare,” Simpson says. “I don’t know what we can do, we’ve tried just about everything.”

Even the first high-profile legislative fight of the year, extending emergency unemployment insurance—which has the support of the President and the Senate—has faltered. Democrats claim to have a winning issue on their hands, with more than one million Americans losing their benefits, but most Republicans so far aren’t feeling the political pain.

“At this point the Senate seems to appear incapable of passing anything and the President hasn’t proposed anything,” Rep. Tim Price (R-Ga.) says.

The lone bright spot is the farm bill. Rep. Colin Peterson (D-Minn.) told reporters Thursday that his intention is to get a bill drafted by next week. Historically, the bill has been easily renewed, but the last five-year measure was passed in 2008. This year the hurdles include dairy price supports, catfish inspection jurisdiction, and a controversial amendment that forbids states from imposing agricultural standards, such as California’s barring of eggs from states that allow their farmers to pen hens in tiny cages. But even as the two sides appear to be coming together, some remain anxious that things could fall apart. As one Senate Democratic leadership aide put to TIME: “In this environment, I don’t think anything is a safe bet.”

“I don’t think we’re going to be able to generate the kind of trust that you need for the majority of people to look to the government to solve the major problems,” says Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), who is retiring this year after 24 years in office. “You probably have at least as good, probably better, shot at making a difference outside the institution than within it today.”

When asked what other bipartisan compromises can be expected after the budget bill passed, Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) laughed before nodding to the must-pass increase of the debt ceiling: “It’s hard to see a whole lot else being done."

Courtesy: Allen CVB

Collin County, TX

Collin County is no longer just the country cousin of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. With an influx of young families -- overall population is up 59% since 2000 -- its vast pool of workers is helping the area develop its own business base.

A few area companies have been hit hard by the sluggish economy. Big employers J.C. Penney and HP both recently streamlined operations. But others are growing fast. Oil and gas firm Denbury Resources is expanding its corporate campus in Plano, which is expected to add hundreds of jobs.

Collin County is keeping its eye on the long term and shoring up infrastructure. Its airport just opened a new runway, and the county is investing millions in road improvement projects.

Mike.Zapata—Mike.Zapata

Denton County, TX

Manufacturing is Peerless in Denton County. Earlier this month, PMFG's Peerless Mfg. Co. broke ground on an 80,000-square-foot facility that will employ more than 150 when fully operational.

In addition to manufacturing, retail is important to the local economy. The presence of the University of North Texas, a major research school, also helps drive the medical services sector.

Like many booming areas in North Texas, a business-friendly climate, combined with the lure of small-town Americana and an affordable way of life, has helped fuel Denton's popularity. Retail and commercial construction are on the upswing. The area's latest development is Belmont, a $1 billion, mixed-use construction project that will add an estimated 3,500 homes when completed.

California Driver Found Not Guilty for Wearing Google Glass While Driving

A California woman who was ticketed in October for wearing Google Glass while driving was found not guilty Wednesday when a judge ruled there was no evidence that she actually used the device while driving.

Cecilia Abadae was ticket for speeding on Interstate 15 on October 29 of last year and received an extra citation for wearing Google Glass behind the wheel. Abadie said she was not using the hands-free device, she was just wearing it, and that it automatically activated when the officer approached her vehicle, NBC San Diego reports.

The citation was for driving with a visible monitor in the car, but Abadie's lawyers argued that Google Glass was invented after that law, which typically refers to TV monitors and video screens, was passed.

“There’s nothing illegal about wearing Google Glass while driving your vehicle," Abadie's attorney said.

[NBC]

California Driver Found Not Guilty for Wearing Google Glass While Driving

A California woman who was ticketed in October for wearing Google Glass while driving was found not guilty Wednesday when a judge ruled there was no evidence that she actually used the device while driving.

Cecilia Abadae was ticket for speeding on Interstate 15 on October 29 of last year and received an extra citation for wearing Google Glass behind the wheel. Abadie said she was not using the hands-free device, she was just wearing it, and that it automatically activated when the officer approached her vehicle, NBC San Diego reports.

The citation was for driving with a visible monitor in the car, but Abadie's lawyers argued that Google Glass was invented after that law, which typically refers to TV monitors and video screens, was passed.

“There’s nothing illegal about wearing Google Glass while driving your vehicle," Abadie's attorney said.

[NBC]

California Driver Found Not Guilty for Wearing Google Glass While Driving

A California woman who was ticketed in October for wearing Google Glass while driving was found not guilty Wednesday when a judge ruled there was no evidence that she actually used the device while driving.

Cecilia Abadae was ticket for speeding on Interstate 15 on October 29 of last year and received an extra citation for wearing Google Glass behind the wheel. Abadie said she was not using the hands-free device, she was just wearing it, and that it automatically activated when the officer approached her vehicle, NBC San Diego reports.

The citation was for driving with a visible monitor in the car, but Abadie's lawyers argued that Google Glass was invented after that law, which typically refers to TV monitors and video screens, was passed.

“There’s nothing illegal about wearing Google Glass while driving your vehicle," Abadie's attorney said.

[NBC]

California Driver Found Not Guilty for Wearing Google Glass While Driving

A California woman who was ticketed in October for wearing Google Glass while driving was found not guilty Wednesday when a judge ruled there was no evidence that she actually used the device while driving.

Cecilia Abadae was ticket for speeding on Interstate 15 on October 29 of last year and received an extra citation for wearing Google Glass behind the wheel. Abadie said she was not using the hands-free device, she was just wearing it, and that it automatically activated when the officer approached her vehicle, NBC San Diego reports.

The citation was for driving with a visible monitor in the car, but Abadie's lawyers argued that Google Glass was invented after that law, which typically refers to TV monitors and video screens, was passed.

“There’s nothing illegal about wearing Google Glass while driving your vehicle," Abadie's attorney said.

[NBC]

Lawmakers Launch Probe of Christie Bridge Scandal

The New Jersey state Senate formally began an investigation Thursday into the traffic scandal that has ensnared Gov. Chris Christie and threatened his presidential hopes.

The Senate unanimously authorized a bipartisan committee to investigate the incident, in which Christie aides closed lanes leading to the George Washington Bridge as political punishment for a small-town mayor in north Jersey who didn't endorse Christie's reelection bid. The state Assembly and federal authorities are also probing the incident, but the Senate pledged an expansive investigation with subpoena power, and a round of more than a dozen subpoenas were issued almost immediately after the panel was formed.

“The investigation will be deliberative, thoughtful and thorough,” said Senate President Steve Sweeney. “It will pursue all aspects of this case and go wherever the evidence takes it. We want to get the full story and we want the truth about what happened and who was involved.”

Christie, a likely Republican presidential candidate in 2016, fired a top aide last week, apologized and said he did not know about the political payback ploy. His administration hired outside counsel Thursday to investigate how the scheme played out and to facilitate cooperation with the growing number of investigations underway.

The committee in the state Assembly that is investigating the lane closures hit a road block last week when a subpoenaed former transportation official at the center of the scandal refused to answer any questions, citing his constitutional rights to stay silent.

A man shot dead by police during a looting spree downtown lies on the ground.
A man shot dead by police during a looting spree downtown lies on the ground. Shaul Schwarz—Reportage by Getty Images for TIME

Houston County, GA

Houston County is taking off, thanks to Robins Air Force base. The state's largest industrial complex and a critical source of jobs, the base employs almost 26,000 and has a huge impact on the area's economy.

The local industrial sector may still be recovering from the Great Recession, but that hasn't kept people away. The county's population keeps growing rapidly, and in the next few years, is expected to have climbed 80% since 1990.

Manufacturing plays an important role in Houston County's economy, and local boosters are trying to meet the employment needs of their expanding community. Located at the crossroads of Georgia, the county wants to keep attracting businesses and entrepreneurs with its low property tax rates, acres of available land and direct access to Interstate 75, which runs through Atlanta.

French President Hollande and first lady Valerie Trierweiler after a meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris
French President François Hollande and Valérie Trierweiler accompany guests following a meeting at the Élysée Palace in Paris on Oct. 1, 2013Philippe Wojazer / Reuters

French President Sends Flowers to Hospitalized Girlfriend

The partner of President François Hollande told a radio station Thursday that the French head of state had not visited her in the hospital, but that he was not neglecting her in her time of need.

The Guardian reports that Valérie Trierweiler said the French President sent her chocolates and flowers, after doctors banned him from visiting her.

Trierweiler, 48, was sent to the hospital last week after French media began reporting that Hollande was having an affair with actress Julie Gayet. Trierweiler is reportedly suffering from extreme exhaustion and low blood pressure.

The practice of restricting hospital visits is “widespread practice in cases of psychological distress,” local radio station RTL said.

Local media are speculating that Trierweiler intends to stay with Hollande, though Hollande did not comment on the status of their relationship in a press conference Tuesday.

While Trierweiler may ultimately forgive the French president, some in France appear fed up with his stinky behavior. On Thursday, a truck dumped a load of manure outside the French parliament building in an apparent protest.

MORE: Who is Julie Gayet?

[The Guardian]

French President Sends Chocolate and Flowers to Hospitalized Partner

The partner of President François Hollande told a radio station Thursday that the French head of state had not visited her in the hospital, but that he was not neglecting her in her time of need.

The Guardian reports that Valérie Trierweiler said the French President sent her chocolates and flowers, after doctors banned him from visiting her.

Trierweiler, 48, was sent to the hospital last week after French media began reporting that Hollande was having an affair with actress Julie Gayet. Trierweiler is reportedly suffering from extreme exhaustion and low blood pressure.

The practice of restricting hospital visits is “widespread practice in cases of psychological distress,” local radio station RTL said.

Local media are speculating that Trierweiler intends to stay with Hollande, though Hollande did not comment on the status of their relationship in a press conference Tuesday.

While Trierweiler may ultimately forgive the French president, some in France appear fed up with his stinky behavior. On Thursday, a truck dumped a load of manure outside the French parliament building in an apparent protest.

MORE: Who is Julie Gayet?

[The Guardian]

Bismarck, ND
City of Bismarck

Burleigh County, ND

North Dakota has struck black gold, and Burleigh County is feeling the trickle-down effect. While it isn't one of the state's oil patch counties, the discovery of the gushing Bakken Shale to the west has it riding on a rush that's turned the area into Boomtown, USA. With an unemployment rate of 3.5% for 2011, Burleigh County boasts the lowest unemployment rate on our list.

A reputation for dependable workers draws businesses to the county, and easy access to transportation links goes over well with companies with goods to move. Burlington Northern Santa Fe's freight rail network serves the area, and Interstate 94, a major east-west artery, runs through the county.

Look for opportunities in Bismarck, which serves as a retail and health care hub. Aetna is a key employer, and two major hospitals, Medcenter One Health Systems and St. Alexius Medical Center, are located here.

File photo of French President Hollande and first lady Valerie Trierweiler after a meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris

French President Francois Hollande (L) and first lady Valerie Trierweiler accompany guests following a meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris in this October 1, 2013 file photo. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer/Files (FRANCE - Tags: POLITICS ENTERTAINMENT SOCIETY HEALTH)

Ken Graham—© Accent Alaska - All Rights Reserved

Anchorage County, AK

It may be cold in Anchorage, but business is heating back up in this international trade hub. In the first five months of the year, employment jumped by 1,440 jobs from the same period last year -- an encouraging sign the local economy is bouncing back post-recession.

What's keeping things humming along? For one, Ted Stevens International Airport. A strategic refueling stop for international air cargo flights, the field is responsible for roughly one in 10 jobs in Anchorage.

While aviation and cargo are particularly sensitive to swings in the economy, other opportunities are buffering the job front. Tourism and mining are both on the upswing.

Ariel Sharon

In April 1979, I traveled with Ariel Sharon, then Israel's Minister of Agriculture, on a visit to the Golan Heights. Throughout the trip, I had cautioned myself not to be caught up by his irresistible charm, and I made a point of calling him "Mr. Sharon," which irritated him: he preferred to be called Arik, his nickname. Finally, Sharon turned to one of his aides. "As I told you before‚ we did not break him," he said, referring to me. "Even after all these hours, he still believes that I am a chauvinist."

Sharon often felt misunderstood and misrepresented as a knee-jerk belligerent. I asked him if he had liked participating in war. The former army general began his response solemnly, saying only a man like him--a man who had fought in all of Israel's wars and sustained injuries in two of them--could love peace as much as he did. But then, in a more pensive vein, he added that, to him, fighting was like farming: both activities were essential to life. And yes, he loved them both. When he had his car stopped to take something out of the trunk, I noticed a Kalashnikov rifle and a shovel. "You can never know when any of these might come in handy," he said.

Like Moshe Dayan and Yitzhak Rabin, Sharon, who died on Jan. 11 at the age of 85, was a mythic figure. But he was driven predominantly by an arrogance of power and lacked much of Dayan's and Rabin's statesmanship. His 2005 decision as Prime Minister to forcibly evict Jewish settlers and pull back Israeli soldiers from the Gaza Strip has often been attributed to "a new Arik," at last ready to move toward peace with the Palestinians. But the following year, he suffered a stroke and slipped into a coma, so we never learned if there really was a new Arik. The old one was no peacemaker.

Segev, an Israeli historian, is writing a biography of David Ben-Gurion

Look Out Google and Apple, Here Comes Dr. Dre

One of the nice things about being Jimmy Iovine is that when you call Dr. Dre, the world's most famous hip-hop producer, he actually picks up the phone. That's likely because the two have had a habit over the years of making millions on various collaborations. Iovine--who first earned a name for himself behind the mixing console, recording rock classics such as Bruce Springsteen's Born to Run and U2's Rattle and Hum--signed a deal with Dre's Aftermath Entertainment in 1996, after Dre had established himself as a hitmaker with the seminal rap squad N.W.A. Since then, Dre has produced Eminem, 50 Cent, Eve and Gwen Stefani for Iovine's company, Interscope Records. And for more than five years, the two have been partners in Beats by Dre, one of the hottest brands in consumer electronics. Beats has succeeded in transforming headphones from a ubiquitous freebie thrown in the box with your phone or music player into a must-have fashion accessory--one consumers are willing to pay $300 for.

"The younger generation had no idea what music was supposed to sound like," says Iovine, 60, leaning back into a spacious couch in the living room of his home in Los Angeles' Holmby Hills neighborhood, a block from the Playboy Mansion. "Both of us take great pride in the fact that this company is turning a lot of young people on to quality sound," he continues, a hint of Brooklyn in his voice. "I knew people were going to dig it, but I didn't know it was going to be this big," adds Dre, 48, over speakerphone.

Beats' signature thundering bass, sometimes criticized as overwhelming, is well suited to modern music driven by the bottom end and offers a direct challenge to competitors such as Bose and Sennheiser. Beats' design--bulky, dazzlingly colored--stands out in a crowd. (The next time you're in an airport terminal or crowded subway car, look around. The brightest object in your field of vision is likely to be a set of Beats perched on a teenager's head.)

But to see Beats merely as celebrity-endorsed headphones misses the mark. As with any successful luxury product, Beats isn't just selling functionality or fashion. It's offering access to the ostentatious lifestyles of the pop stars Iovine and Dre have turned into household names.

The formula has won over legions, pushing the Santa Monica, Calif.--based company's annual revenue to more than $1 billion. According to market researcher NPD Group, the privately held Beats controls almost a third of the $1.8 billion U.S. headphone market. Since its founding in 2008, Dre and Iovine have expanded the business to include wireless boom boxes, computer speakers and audio systems in cars.

Now the two are embarking on the riskiest gamble in the company's short history. They are betting that if the Beats image can sell tony headphones, it can also win customers in the record industry's most crowded and tumultuous new sector: streaming music. On Jan. 21, the company will launch Beats Music, a subscription service for phones, tablets and computers. The app will offer access to an unlimited number of songs, as well as an innovative way of creating custom playlists, for about $10 a month.

Beats Music will have to compete with the likes of Spotify and Pandora, not to mention Apple and Google. To date, nobody has figured out a way to make much money from streaming. Even with royalty rates slashed to levels that make musicians howl, profits have been meager at best. Currently, the vast majority of subscribers are listening for free on ad-supported plans. But aside from a short trial period, Iovine won't be giving anything away for free.

To launch the music service, Beats has brought another pop star into the fold: Trent Reznor, the sulking mastermind behind Nine Inch Nails. Reznor, who has arranged the award-winning soundtracks of films like The Social Network and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo in recent years, has been tasked with turning a piece of software people are used to getting for nothing into something they will want to pay a premium for. Which sounds daunting--until you consider that Beats is the company that got people to cast their free earbuds aside and pay a premium to replace them.

An Earful

There are two sets of speakers in a recording studio. One pair is tiny, the other is huge. The tiny ones are for the engineer and producer so they can hear clearly what is going on in the music. The big ones are for the musicians. They are tuned to sound as if the drum track could crush a city block or the singer is the second coming of Beyoncé. Audiophiles like headphones with sound like that of the tiny speakers--accurate. Traditionally, selling expensive headphones meant catering to them.

Then came a chance meeting between Dre and Iovine on Malibu's Carbon Beach in 2006. The rap kingpin was unhappy with his advisers. "They want me to sell sneakers," he complained to Iovine.

"F-ck sneakers," Iovine responded. "Let's sell speakers." The pair ultimately partnered with Monster, a manufacturer of high-end audio gear, to create a line of headphones.

Dre's insight was that even though finicky music fans want the tiny-speaker sound, most people would prefer the swaggering bravado of studio playback. Iovine, meanwhile, enlisted his network of stars to make the headphones cool. A succession of special editions--jewel-like Heartbeats by Lady Gaga meant to appeal to young girls, workout-oriented Powerbeats by LeBron James--helped the brand broaden its appeal.

The company also went to great lengths to make its products feel worth the price. It hired Robert Brunner, Apple's industrial-design director for most of the 1990s, to define the look and feel. That's why opening a new pair of Beats involves an elaborate ritual of unpacking. "I always felt that the buying and unveiling of something should have some drama about it," says Brunner. "We just want to make sure people felt like, Wow, I got something really special here."

By 2011, sales had surged to more than half a billion dollars annually. That year, Taiwanese cell-phone maker HTC put up $300 million to buy a 51% stake in Beats. The partnership, which seemed like an ideal way to match the headphones business with the fast-growing one for mobile devices, allowed Iovine and Dre to break away from Monster completely by the end of 2012 and set up their own manufacturing. But despite aggressive co-branding, the HTC partnership didn't yield any mega-hits. Last year, the duo bought back outstanding shares from HTC and raised a $500 million investment from the Carlyle Group, a private-equity giant. Dre and Iovine still own a controlling stake in the company.

Music Men

Today, the Beats offices in Santa Monica are just across Cloverfield Boulevard from Universal Music. This makes it easy for Iovine to commute from his "day job" as the chairman of Interscope Geffen A&M, a merged label that is now a division of Universal. The bright, modern offices are run by Luke Wood, a former alt-rock guitarist, music-biz PR man and Interscope executive who crossed the street permanently in 2011 to become Beats' chief operating officer.

Beats employs dozens of audio and electrical engineers, some of whom toil in a room filled with speakers and sound-dampening foam, measuring sound-wave curves while quickly switching between a Beats prototype and a competitor's models. Around the corner, designers think up new color schemes and patterns for upcoming limited-edition headphones. A green-and-yellow pair destined for the Brazilian soccer star Neymar has a verse from Deuteronomy inscribed above one of the earpieces. Deus não vos deixará, nem vos desamparará, it reads--God will never abandon you, nor forsake you.

Beats customers will soon have one more painstakingly crafted product to consider, but if the company's headphones are made to be seen, the Beats Music service will only be heard. For the past decade, Reznor, who once recorded for Interscope, has been tinkering with the potential for technology and social media to expand his audience--new ways to sell music, market concert tickets and draw fans deeper into his world. Since taking the title of chief creative officer of Beats Music in 2013, Reznor has been the arbiter of whether the UX--user experience--is working, much the way Dre initially established the bass-heavy sound of Beats headphones.

The app, which will come preloaded on some AT&T phones, offers Mad Lib--style options for exploring the extensive music catalog, which is built on the bones of a previous service, MOG, that Beats reportedly bought for about $14 million in 2012. A listener can, for example, tell the app that he or she is "in the car" with "my boo" and looking to "pre-party" to "old skool dance." That particular combination of cues results in a playlist that includes Luscious Jackson's "Don't Look Back," Isaac Hayes' "Never Can Say Goodbye" and Prince's "When You Were Mine."

Ideally, Reznor says, users will never have to use the search function because Beats' proprietary mix of software and programmed playlists will keep suggesting the right music for a particular moment. "It was a conscious decision really to keep [it] simple," Reznor says. "Making it fun, making it joy-filled, taking this concept of the miracle of music showing up in your pocket." In other words, Beats wants to become your music-obsessed friend who is always recommending great new albums.

Iovine and Beats Music CEO Ian Rogers, a veteran of several online music ventures, think people will pay to have a friend like that. "This whole thing of curation isn't really tech companies' game," Iovine says. "All these services are built completely off algorithms. The songs they give you one after the other really have nothing to do with each other in the emotional sense."

If Beats Music sticks to its pledge to be entirely subscription based, it will need roughly 5 million users to pull a profit after covering licensing costs, estimates Roger Entner, a telecom analyst with Recon Analytics. Industry observers say the curated experience of Beats Music could be attractive to a national audience that still heavily depends on the radio to find its music. "It has the potential to be the biggest thing since Spotify," says Entner.

One thing is certain: Beats will be spending to make sure consumers know about the service. AT&T will also provide a massive marketing boost, since it will be collecting subscription fees directly from customers. "We know how to market things you've never heard of before," boasts Iovine. "We know how to break Lady Gaga on $400,000 in every country in the world."

It's true: Lady Gaga, who signed to Interscope in 2007, has sold about 24 million copies of her first two albums worldwide. But her most recent release, November's Artpop, has sold fewer than a million. An old-school record man like Iovine knows that even the brightest stars can fizzle. The only question is whether Beats Music will extend his hot streak or end it.

--With reporting by Noah Rayman

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