Metropolitan areas in the Carolinas and Georgia, paced by Wilmington and Raleigh-Cary, demonstrate the region’s growing economic impact in the latest “Best Performing Cities” survey from the Milken Institute.

Wilmington vaulted to second place from 59th in last year’s survey, its economy being driven by increased commerce through its port and the city’s ability to capitalize on increased foreign trade, the report said.

The Institute, which ranks metro areas in categories such as job growth, salaries growth and economic impact of the high tech sector, reported that Wilmington ranked seventh in one-year job growth and sixth in high tech sector output from 2001 to 2006.

Raleigh-Cary, meanwhile, jumped to 10th from 45th, driven by a sharp increase on job growth (13th nationally) and high-tech gross domestic product improvement (20th).

Durham, meanwhile, soared 32 spots to 74th from 106th.

Atlanta climbed into the top 100, rising to 86th from 118th.

Rankings are based on 2006 economic data. Ocala, Fla. ranked first. Orlando and Naples placed fifth and sixth respectively, helping the southeast overall take many of the top spots.

The report cited entrepreneurship as a major reason for the strength of cities that achieved high rankings.

“There are dynamic forces at play at the national level that are being reflected at the local metro level,” said Ross DeVol, the report’s author and director of Regional Economics at the Institute. “Despite the global and national forces at play from year-to-year, one of the key distinguishing characteristics of successful places over the long-term is the entrepreneurial strength of its residents. Entrepreneurs replenish the jobs lost in declining industries and firms.”

The Institute is a non-profit organization focused on economic issues. It is located in Santa Monica, Calif.

Several other metro areas in the Carolinas and Georgia also improved in the ratings. Among the 200 largest metros:

Myrtle Beach climbed to 11th from 35.

Charleston climbed to 12th from 22nd.

The Charlotte metro vaulted to 23rd from 69th.

Savannah improved to 34th from 78th.

Columbia leaped to 69th from 134th.

Fayetteville improved one spot to 80th.

Asheville jumped to 117th from 171st.

Greenville, S.C. rose to 121st from 178th.

Columbus improved to 127th from 174th.

Greensboro-High Point advanced to 136th from 172nd.

The only regional metro to decline was Winston-Salem, which slipped to 128th from 117th.

The top 10 metros overall, with 2005 data rank were:

1. Ocala, Florida (13)

2. Wilmington, North Carolina (59)

3. Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, California (10)

4. Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, Arizona (15)

5. Orlando-Kissimmee, Florida (6)

6. Naples-Marco Island, Florida (3)

7. McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, Texas (7)

8. Provo-Orem, Utah (23)

9. Las Vegas-Paradise, Nevada (11)

10. Raleigh-Cary, North Carolina (45)

Nine of the 10 bottom performers were from the Midwest.