The Improving Markets Index is off to a good start. Launched last month by the NAHB and First American, the index?which defines "improving" as having posted gains in employment, home prices , and single-family housing permits for six consecutive months?nearly doubled its list of qualifying markets in October, growing to 23 markets, compared to 12 in September.

Many of the newcomers appeared in states that had not been represented on the list before, such as Iowa, Illinois, and South Carolina.

The communities that achieved or maintained the six-month benchmark for improvement in all three categories in October include Alexandria, La.; TX; Amarillo, Texas; Anchorage, Alaska; Bismarck, N.D.; Casper, Wyo.; Fairbanks, Alaska; Fayetteville, N.C.; Houma, La.; Iowa City, Iowa; Jonesboro, Ark.; Kankakee, Ill.; McAllen, Texas; Midland, Texas; New Orleans; Odessa, Texas; Pine Bluff, Ark.; Pittsburgh; Sherman, Texas; Sumter, S.C.; Waco, Texas; Waterloo, Iowa; Wichita Falls, Texas; and Winston-Salem, N.C.

The list would have doubled in size compared to last month had it not been for Bangor, Maine, which dropped off due to a decline in local building permits.

While Pittsburgh and New Orleans make a showing for large markets, the majority of the list is made up of less-populated areas. "In the Oil Belt from Texas to Wyoming we see a lot of strength from the energy and agricultural industries," said David Crowe, the NAHB's chief economist, on a call with Builder today. "But there are lots of other areas on the list that we don't see a unifying strength factor for."

As for the future, Crowe says that October's growth rate "probably isn't sustainable." Indeed, as of last December, the number of communities that would have qualified for the list had it been published stood at five, Crowe says. But while the progress going forward may be slower, Crowe feels that "the likelihood that we'll continue to add more metropolitan areas is pretty high."

Claire Easley is a senior editor at Builder.