Where the jobs are

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.

  • Loudoun County, VA

    Clyde’s Willow Creek Farm Restaurant
    Courtesy: Visit Loudoun

    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.

  • Burleigh County, ND

    Bismarck, ND
    City of Bismarck

    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.

  • Bonneville County, ID

    Shaul Schwarz—Reportage by Getty Images for TIME People wait in long lines for crackers and water in Port-au-Prince.

    Job creation could get an atomic-sized boost in Bonneville County soon. French nuclear energy giant AREVA has plans to build a multi-billion dollar uranium enrichment plant here. The development has been held up due to financing issues, but it could provide a big construction boon if it goes ahead.

    AREVA’s choice of Bonneville County is well-calculated. Home to the Idaho National Laboratory, a major R&D facility for the Department of Energy and a key local employer, the county has a strong relationship with the nuclear energy industry.

    Situated in southeast Idaho, Bonneville County is also a major health care and retail center for surrounding areas. With Yellowstone National Park nearby, tourism is a driver of the local economy.

  • Cass County, ND

    Shaul Schwarz—Reportage by Getty Images for TIME A refugee holds an injured child in a tent city.

    Prospering from productivity is one way to describe the story of Cass County. A dedicated employee base and a no-nonsense work ethic are the key lures to this booming business center.

    America’s Heartland is drawing industry leaders like Microsoft and digital map data provider NAVTEQ. Manufacturing, financial services and health care are also represented. Caterpillar’s recent expansion of its facility in West Fargo is expected to add 250 positions over the next three years.

    An added bonus for companies looking to set up shop in Cass County: its Growth Initiative Fund, a community revolving loan fund which provides support for projects that help expand local job creation.

  • Lafayette County, LA

    Shaul Schwarz—Reportage by Getty Images for TIME Men carry a coffin to a grave in an overflowing cemetery in Port-au-Prince

    There’s a lot to savor in Lafayette, which is known as much for its po’ boys as for its pro-business attitude. The hub of Acadiana — Louisiana’s Cajun region — Lafayette is home to companies in a wide range of fields.

    Oil and gas are important to this vibrant parish, but manufacturing, retail, medical services and tech play a big role too. And with direct access to major interstate highways, freight carriers like FedEx and UPS also gravitate here.

    The latest boon for Lafayette? The decision by Louisiana Plating & Coatings early this year to construct an 80,000-square-foot plant that is anticipated to create 120 new jobs. Halliburton, one of LP&C’s chief customers, also has plans to build a manufacturing facility in the area.

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