A new report that measures how "dynamic" economies are at the nation's metro level put the Charleston area at eighth in its weight class.
The Charleston and North Charleston economy is quickly growing, setting it apart from other medium-size cities, according to the analysis released Monday by the Walton Family Foundation.
The region's thriving aerospace and manufacturing sectors drove the area's score up, said Ross DeVol, lead researcher on the report.
Successful entrepreneurs bolster a region's economy, the Walton research shows. Metros with the most dynamic economies have done a good job of supporting entrepreneurs, who tend to create high-paying jobs.
Charleston's top 10 ranking was in the category for metropolitan areas with between 500,000 and 1 million residents. DeVol said that puts it among the mid-sized cities seeking to expand their economies enough to join the ranks of the biggest U.S. metro areas.
"They all aspire to be much more," DeVol said. "They’re at the stage where they need to fill in some of the missing gaps to get them to the next stage."
The region placed 42nd overall out of 379 metropolitan areas in all. Midland, Texas, came in first.
Charleston wasn't South Carolina's only high-performing metro. The smaller Beaufort and Hilton Head area came in at 35th, earning high marks for its support of early-stage businesses. And the Myrtle Beach-North Myrtle Beach region was ranked at No. 48.
Despite its reputation as the "Silicon Harbor," Charleston lagged behind in a new metric the foundation developed, which measures whether entrepreneurs have been able to start businesses and develop them. A good score indicates an rea will be adding more high-quality jobs. Charleston did better than the U.S. average but showed room for improvement, DeVol said.
More investment and attention could be poured into the so-called knowledge economy, including the biotech and technology fields, he said.
"It’s still in a fairly nascent stage," DeVol said. "There's a lot of growth, but it’s not showing a lot of employment yet."
The lack of investment dollars in the South may be helping to hold Charleston back. Considerably less capital is funneled into the Southeast's startup firms, according to a report from BIP Capital.
This is the first year the Walton Family Foundation has published the rankings. The Bentonville, Ark-based organization is led by the family of Sam Walton, the late founder of retail giants Walmart and Sam's Club.
DeVol and a team of other economic researchers plan to form a think tank called Heartland Forward that will issue policy recommendations based on the findings.