Pumper: Austin is at the top of his list.

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NEW YORK CITY-This morning, various experts shared their thoughts on why second-tier cities are hidden hotspots, offering institutional and private investors sure (well, almost sure) returns.

Certainly, they offer some respite from the investors swarming to the obvious, primary markets, such as San Francisco or Los Angeles. As Todd Liker, managing director at Oak Tree Capital Management, said in the recent Transwestern/Real Estate Forum Capital Markets Symposium, “It’s very difficult for us to make the math work and achieve opportunistic returns when large core and core-plus institutional investors are chasing major deals in the primary markets.”

So what are their top picks? Austin was often the first city mentioned. “First and foremost,” says Steve Pumper, Transwestern‘s capital markets EMD. He cites not only its barriers to entry, but also the fact that it’s the state capital, plays home to the University of Texas (“If it’s not the largest university in the country, at least it’s in the top five”); and it’s strong tech base.

Denver is also on Pumper’s list, because of its post-recessionary recovery. Both Denver and Austin stand to gain from an expected outflow of business from California as that state deals with the burden of its tax increases.

While Atlanta and Phoenix were hard hit by the recent economic unpleasantness, both are recovering nicely, and Phoenix, he believes, also stands to gain from California’s over-taxation blues.

Minneapolis made it to the list, as well, rounding out the top five, because of its nest of Fortune 500 companies and labor force fueled in large part by the University of Minnesota.

Will you see the wild returns of a New York or San Fran if you bed down in Minneapolis or Austin? Probably not. But as Liker said: “A moderate recovery and/or a good leasing strategy can yield attractive returns and if a robust economic recovery occurs, you’re going to do exceptionally well.”