10 Best Cities for Jobs in Financial Services: 2012

Smaller markets are proving to provide big opportunities for job hunters

Accounting Principals, a job placement agency for financial and accounting professionals, on Friday released the 10 best cities for job seekers interested in the finance and accounting industry.

The list was compiled based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and internal data from Accounting Principals’ regional branches. Cities were selected based on projected finance and accounting job opportunities based on the volume of job openings over the past six months, as well as a general assessment of the overall economic environment in each market. They were listed in order of the number of requests for workers in both the temporary and permanent sector in finance and accounting, taking into consideration the size of the market, according to Jodi Chavez, senior vice president for Accounting Principals.

“Smaller markets are seeing the growth that has primarily been reserved for larger markets,” Chavez told AdvisorOne on Monday. “It speaks to the fact that there are very good finance and accounting positions across the country. You don’t have to live in a major metropolitan area to benefit from those opportunities.”

Jodi Chavez, Senior Vice President, Accounting PrincipalsUnemployment is not necessarily low in these cities, but in most it is lower than the national average. In the time between the survey’s completion in December 2011 and January 2012, the latest data available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment increased in seven of the 10 cities. Chavez (left) said the effect on the financial sector was "not that concerning."

“The unemployment rate for true financial and accounting positions is traditionally dramatically lower than the overall number,” she said. “So while the overall number may adjust, we don’t think that adjustment is coming from the finance and accounting sector.” 

Overall, unemployment in the private sector improved in February, as the labor market added 227,000 jobs and the unemployment rate was unchanged from January at 8.3%. 

See what the Top 7 Cities for Financial Job Seekers were in 2011.

(Do you disagree with the cities on Account Principals’ list? How’s the job market in your city? Let us know in the comment section.)

Downtown Chicago.10. Chicago

Population: 9.4 million

Chicago was the only city besides San Francisco to stay on the list in 2012. When Accounting Principals published its top seven cities in 2011, Chicago was No. 4. The city held on to the top 10 through its “dedication to the financial services as well as biotech and pharmaceuticals,” Chavez said.

Chicago had one of the highest unemployment rates on the list in December and still did in January, rising from 9.3% to 9.6% in that time period. However, recent growth in the financial services, manufacturing, real estate and legal industries, as well as a close proximity to strong business schools, give it a leg up over other cities.

“Chicago is a very robust market, very similar to New York or San Francisco in terms of its diversity of companies,” Chavez said.

Raleigh skyline9. Raleigh, N.C.

Population: 1.1 million

Before the recession, Raleigh was one of the fastest growing regions in the country. It has fared relatively well through the downturn compared with other cities.

“Raleigh seems to have been able to ride out the downturn because of their diversification of companies,” Chavez said. “Raleigh is interesting because it’s a smaller market, but it’s very diverse. It houses health care, but it also has technology and pharmaceuticals as well as biotech. Biotech was one that we didn’t see that industry hit as severely as the others.”

Biotechnology, health care and pharmaceuticals are top hiring industries, in addition to technology and education. In fact, three major universities in the area contribute to a rich base of skilled potential workers.

The survey notes that no single industry dominates, and even within sectors there is a wide range of companies. Other factors that draw potential workers to the city include “great weather [and] Southern hospitality.”

Unemployment increased to 8.4% in January from 8% in December.

Kansas road sign.8. Overland Park/Kansas City, Kan.

Population: 173,372 (Kansas City metro area: 2 million)

Financial services, especially the mortgage industry, engineering, transportation and manufacturing and consumer products are the top industries hiring in Overland Park and Kansas City, but the survey notes that much of the hiring growth in the area is temporary.

“This allows companies to manage their cost through flexible hiring until they know the final headcount need, as well as to determine if the candidate is a true fit with the company,” Chavez said. “As a whole, more companies are using temporary workers for the first time. It’s a trend that’s starting to catch on.”

In the past, companies that hired temporary workers and moved them to more permanent positions seemed to be happy with the strategy, Chavez said. “Now with the economy so much stronger but still a little bit fluid, this is a nice application,” she said. “There are more small markets on the list than there were before, and I think a lot of that is coming from the temporary sector.”

Unemployment in December was 7.3%, below the national average, and the area was one of the few to enjoy a drop in unemployment in January, when its jobless rate fell to 7.2%.

Tulsa skyline.7. Tulsa, Okla.

Population: 937,478

Of the cities in the top 10, Tulsa has one of the lowest unemployment rates (6.6% in December when the survey was conducted and 7% in January). Tulsa was fortunate enough to make it through the recession with less of a hit than other cities, the survey says.

“They have a strong health care sector, and we saw health care and private education stay somewhat steady through the downturn,” Chavez said. “Because of the health care and oil and gas mix that Tulsa offers, that’s one of the reasons why we saw that stay somewhat flat.”

Tax incentives offered by Oklahoma have also drawn companies to the state, Chavez said.

Even so, as the economy rebounds, qualified candidates can be difficult to find and competition for talent is high.

The cost of living is “reasonable,” the survey notes, and offers a strong community of Gen Y workers and high cultural diversity. The top hiring industries are energy, banking, manufacturing and health care.

Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders. (Photo: AP)6. Dallas

Population: 6.3 million

Like in Houston, the energy sector is a major source of growth in Dallas. Oil, gas and energy are the top growing industries in the city, in addition to nonprofits, construction and manufacturing, health care, retail, technology and hospitality.

Although Houston and Dallas have similar unemployment rates overall, and share similar geography (Dallas is about 250 miles north of Houston), companies haven’t brought their headquarters to Dallas as often as they have Houston, Chavez said.  

The Dallas metropolitan area incorporates Fort Worth and Arlington and covers 12 counties. As one of the biggest cities in the country, there are naturally a lot of job opportunities, the survey notes. Furthermore, the combination of a relatively low unemployment rate (7.2% in December and 7.5% in January) and growing industries gives Dallas more stability than other cities.

Atlanta skyline.5. Atlanta

Population: 5.2 million

Atlanta had the highest unemployment on the list at 9.4% as of December but was one of the few cities that experienced a drop in unemployment, to 9.2% in January. Companies that previously operated with few workers are finally adding to their staffs, the survey found.

An increase in opportunities at attractive companies and a relatively low cost of living has drawn people to the city. Real estate, hospitality and consumer products and manufacturing are the top industries hiring in Atlanta.

San Francisco's Lombard Street.4. San Francisco

Population: 4.3 million

In 2011, Accounting Principals ranked San Francisco as the best city in which to find a job in the financial services sector. Its new position at No. 4 is not a reflection of any major negative changes in the city, though.

“It’s not a matter of something happened in San Francisco,” Chavez said. “It’s more a matter of something great happened in the other three cities that they surpassed San Francisco.”

If one sector of business is doing poorly in San Francisco, the survey notes, there is another sector that is usually growing. The city enjoys some of the fastest growth among small- to medium-sized business and is home to the most Fortune 500 companies in the world. For that reason, and its proximity to Silicon Valley, Chavez said San Francisco will always be strong. “We expect that it will always maintain a spot in the top 10.”

Pay rates are competitive, and the survey calls out the high incidence of telecommuting and a typically casual work atmosphere as contributors to a “great work-life balance.”

Unemployment overall in December was 7.3%, rising slightly to 7.5% in January.

Statue of Liberty3. New York

Population: 8.1 million

Accountants are in high demand in the Big Apple. Four of the five skills in demand listed in the survey were for accounting positions.

New York’s popularity in general brings workers from all over, and the survey notes the city’s mentoring and competitive edge is high, driving excellence. The city is home to the headquarters of many global organizations.

Ironically, further encouraging job growth in New York is leanness at financial services companies. As some professionals began to feel overworked when the economic recovery started and hiring at their firms didn’t pick up, they began looking for other opportunities. The resulting job openings allowed some movement in the financial industry.

Unemployment in December was 8.2%, lower than the national average unemployment rate of 8.5% at the time. In January, unemployment in New York rose to 9.6%.

State capitol building in Richmond.2. Richmond, Va.

Population: 1.2 million

Richmond has enjoyed high growth in multiple industries, such as financial services, distribution and health care. Reasonable taxes and a low cost of living are also bringing businesses in the financial services sector to the area.

Unemployment overall was 6.8% as of December 2011. Richmond was one of the few cities on the list to enjoy a decrease in unemployment, falling to 6.6% in January. Furthermore, unemployment rates in the accounting and finance industries specifically are lower than in other parts of the country, according to the survey.

Houston skyline.1. Houston

Population: 5.9 million

One of Houston’s top selling points for the labor market is its energy sector presence. One of the top industries hiring, according to the report, the energy sector also tends to have a large demand for accounting and finance professionals.

“Houston is an interesting market because not only does it have the oil and gas sector, it’s a regional headquarter hotspot, providing a lot of companies with a regional location,” Chavez said. “Companies traditionally move their financial and accounting departments to a centralized hub, and because of its geography, Houston is a desirable location.”

Furthermore, tax incentives in the state, along with the presence of the aforementioned oil and gas industry, made a “very nice combination to grow jobs,” Chavez added.

In addition to energy, the technology, manufacturing and service sectors are top hirers in the city.

Overall unemployment was 7.3% as of December 2011, making it one of the largest cities in the country with a jobless rate lower than the national average. In January, the unemployment rate increased to 7.6%, still below the national average of 8.3%.

(Do you disagree with the cities on Account Principals’ list? How’s the job market in your city? Let us know in the comment section.)

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