Image: Stratosphere Tower, Las Vegas
Ethan Miller  /  Getty Images
The Stratosphere Tower in Las Vegas is the tallest freestanding observation tower in the U.S. at 1,149 feet. It's elevators get tourists from the ground to the top in 30 seconds — 1,801 feet per minute.
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updated 10/3/2007 4:37:04 PM ET 2007-10-03T20:37:04

Call it the Elevator Index. If you want to know where the world's hottest economies are, skip the GDP reports, employment statistics and consumer spending trends. All you need to do is answer one question: Where are the fastest elevators?

It isn't a perfect measure, but where the economies zoom, tall buildings go up. And keeping those buildings economically feasible means outfitting them with fast elevators. Getting work done efficiently doesn't happen when employees are shuttled up and down 60 or so stories at a snail's pace. What company wants its workers on an hour-long cigarette break?

Six of the world's 10 fastest elevators are located in the booming economic hubs of Asia and the Middle East, with all but one of them built since 1993. Most are part of the latest generation of skyscrapers, designed to move busy people in a hurry.

As places like Shanghai and the United Arab Emirates move up in the world with increasing speed, their people do the same—in the latest state of the art elevators that rise at a pace of about a floor per second. Modern pressure control systems ensure passengers arrive with minimal stomach churning or ear popping.

The world's two fastest elevators, located in the Taipei 101 building in Taiwan, carry people from the ground to the top (101st floor) in 39 seconds, at an ear-popping 1,010 meters per minute, a speed one third faster than the previous record, according to engineer Roland Piquepaille. Not only are the cars fitted with pressure control systems, they're streamlined to cut down on whistling noise and vibration.

We've come a long way since Elisha Otis, father of the modern Otis Elevator company, put up his first car at 488 Broadway in New York in 1853. Otis is largely credited with developing the modern elevator when he introduced the brake governor, a shaft of spring-loaded weights to slow acceleration and guard against the risk of severed cables.

Some old New York buildings still hold their own when it comes to moving tenants and visitors up and down briskly. The bank of elevators at New York's Empire State Building, built in 1932, checks in as the world's ninth fastest. Certainly, a tourist heavy building, one that already has visitors waiting two hours in line to reach the observation deck on a typical day, needs to keep its 73 elevators up to date.

New York's older Woolworth building was an early pioneer of fast elevators—its cars traveled 213 meters per minute back in 1913, as quick as many buildings today.

But it's the tallest new buildings that move people the fastest now. And most of them are going up in Asia—14 of the world's 20 tallest buildings today are in China, Malaysia or the Middle East, and none of them are more than 17 years old.

Emaar Properties, builders of the soon to be completed Burj Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, which stands to be the world's tallest building upon its scheduled completion in 2008, forked over $36 million to United Technologies' Otis Elevator to supply its 58 elevators. The fleet includes two double-decker cars that can each carry up to 46 people to the building's observation deck at 20 miles per hour.

"Dubai is experiencing unprecedented growth, and is fast becoming one of the most vibrant metropolises in the world. Otis is proud to be a participant," said Otis Elevator president Ari Bousbibi, upon winning the project bid.

© 2012 Forbes.com

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