Despite the misfiring of the global fiscal engine and the intermittent crashes and booms rumbling across the US economy, there's a discernible purring sound emanating from certain regions. These are places—like Greater Fort Lauderdale and Northern Kentucky and California's San Bernardino County—where economic development strategies have proven to possess enough gas to keep the car on the road.

In Manhattan's new Silicon Alleys, smaller and less-desirable spaces are being developed as technology incubators. And in older urban downtowns like Nashville's—where the stillness had sometimes seemed deafening in recent years—the cadence of pounding hammers and pedestrian footfall is picking up as big, fast-growing companies take advantage of targeted incentives and lowered rents.

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