A casino town goes all in on art, culture and innovation. Is it any wonder that young talent is pouring in? By day, this sun-drenched town at the feet of the snow-capped Sierra Nevadas earns its #16 rank for Weather. By night, its neon-lit casinos help Reno to the top spot for Nightlife among our small cities. But it’s not just gamblers taking a chance on the “Biggest Little City in the World.” Increasingly, it’s tech companies and highly educated young workers, who come for the jobs and stay for the enviable location (Lake Tahoe is less than an hour away) and accompanying year-round outdoor lifestyle. Reno residents know location is key—and they take full advantage of the natural assets that help earn their city a #2 ranking for Instagram Hashtags among small U.S. cities. The looming Mt. Rose provides a snowy backdrop, the Truckee River is perfect for a float through town, the slopes are less than an hour’s drive and the rocky cathedrals of Yosemite National Park are a legitimate long-weekend road trip option. But it’s also Reno’s built assets that are separating it from the pack. Its convention center ranks #3, just behind Atlantic City and Redding, California, while its Attractions—from the National Bowling Stadium to the Urban Air Adventure Park trampoline emporium (to say nothing of the Basecamp at the Whitney Peak Hotel and the world’s tallest artificial rock-climbing wall at 164 feet)—are Top 3 in the country.
Money can’t buy happiness, but in prosperous Naples, it can buy a luxe lifestyle amid America’s epic oceanfront bounty. Indeed, the prosperous seaside community is Top 25 in both Household Income and Fortune 500 companies‚ even though the city is really all about sense of place. This city’s #1 ranking in our deep Place category is powered by its top spot in our important Parks and Outdoors subcategory—Naples is located on stretch called the Paradise Coast that’s tucked along southwest Florida’s turquoise Gulf waters and sprinkled with dozens of public spaces and powder-white beaches. Citizens here (Neapolitans!) have always prioritized conservation, smart planning and environmental stewardship, all of which becomes obvious as you stroll the sandy streets. There are dozens of city beaches that will light up your Instagram—the beach volleyball specimens of Lowdermilk Park, or the to-go deliciousness of Vanderbilt Beach and its Beach Box Cafe ice cream and picnic fodder. Right next door is Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park, with its observation tower from which you can shoot the landscape: undulating sand dunes, the Cocohatchee River and mangroves as far as the eye can see. From here, you’ll start making plans to rent a kayak or stand-up paddle board—or call the local real estate agent.
Santa Fe is the urban embodiment of the sentiment that good things come in small packages. Despite being a state capital, Santa Fe has the smallest population in our Small Cities Top 10, at just a few families over 150,000. Despite its size, the fourth largest city in New Mexico (known appropriately as “The City Different”) has distinction to spare, starting with a rich history dating back to its founding in 1610. As the second-oldest city in the United States, it’s also the oldest state capital in the country—and, tucked into the base of the southern Rocky Mountains at 7,000 feet above sea level, the highest as well. This natural bounty has won Santa Fe a #5 ranking in our deep Place category, powered by its Top 3 finish in the Neighborhoods subcategory. It also boasts the fifth-best Programming for U.S. small cities, including #1 in our Shopping subcategory and #4 in Culture (with its 250-plus art galleries). Given all this geographic and cultural beauty, it’s not surprising that Santa Fe is also the most Instagrammed small city in the country.
Savannah is not relying solely on its beloved Spanish moss and cobblestone streets to attract visitors. With more than 150 festivals annually, this Southern gem knows how to celebrate—from the famous St. Patrick’s Day Parade (one of the largest in America) to the two-week Savannah Music Festival in the spring and the Savannah Craft Brew Fest to end the summer on Labor Day weekend. Music, art, culture and food are just a few of the excuses for city-wide parties—and the reason behind the city’s rise to second place for Programming. Increasingly, Savannah is garnering more attention for its food than for its historic sights. The ingredients for the rising culinary scene? Fresh local seafood, Southern home cooking and chef-driven restaurants cropping up throughout the Historic Landmark District, Starland and Tybee Island. As a city so reliant on gatherings and public celebrations, Savannah has been devastated by the COVID-19 outbreak. When visitors and locals do get back on the cobblestone, they’ll have the new JW Savannah Plant Riverside District waiting for them. The former power plant has been transformed into Savannah’s most luxurious hotel and new entertainment destination.
Asheville celebrates its bohemian spirit and artsy roots year-round, with cultural events, festivals and good times that rank first in the country for small cities. Dig down into our Programming category and this mountain gem boasts some stellar nightlife (#1) and shopping (#2). Unsurprisingly, the after-hours scene is a launching pad for musicians, offering what artists of all ages crave in a city: affordability, local beer and good eats. Live music born of the region’s bluegrass roots harmonizes with new talent and innovative sounds to the tune of almost $400 million in the region’s tourism economy, according to the Economic Development Coalition. Of course, with the COVID-19 outbreak, the economic shortfall for this year will be staggering. Asheville continues its ascent in the Museum category with a #2 finish, behind only Santa Fe. Case in point: the recent reopening of the Asheville Art Museum, which features education facilities, an art library, a lecture and performance space, a new Art PLAYce for families and children and the addition of a rooftop sculpture terrace and café.
Alaska’s vibrant port city, which earned a Top 10 ranking for Place, isn’t just a stopover for an increasing number of cruise ships—especially in a COVID-19 world. Anchorage is also a destination for nature-lovers, art buffs, beer enthusiasts and folk who like their urban experience with a dash of the rustic, capped off on a clear day by views of North America’s tallest peaks. All of it is easily accessible via Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, which serves over 5 million passengers annually and is the second most connected among the nation’s small cities. The city’s #4 spot for Parks and Outdoors is obvious when you first set foot here: Anchorage is a prime base for outdoor adventure, from skiing to salmon fishing to kayaking down plentiful rivers—from mild to wild. And while the sun sets early in winter, nature offers excellent compensation with regular displays of the Northern Lights. Locals love to talk about that time a moose walked down the street or a grizzly showed up in the backyard. But in addition to wild visitors, the city’s neighborhoods are home to a surprisingly cosmopolitan population, serviced by Top 10-ranked museums, shopping and restaurants among small cities in the country.
Back in 1967, Boulder became the first city in the country to tax itself specifically to preserve open space. Set at the base of the Rocky Mountains, at the edge of a verdant valley and along the banks of a rushing creek, Boulder today is the kind of city that respects its unrivaled natural setting while offering the energy of an urban playground. That sensibility has attracted the most educated residents in the country among the nation’s small cities. The city boasts more than 300 miles of hiking and biking trails, 45,000 acres of open space and a climate that facilitates getting out there. Residents are some of the fittest people in the country who think nothing of heading out on a five-hour hike. But while the city draws plenty of attention to its outdoor playground, there are more than enough creature comforts, too. Considered the Napa Valley for craft brewing, Boulder is home to some of the country’s finest microbreweries and gourmet restaurants, and year-round concerts and theater productions. Most of the action takes place along the brick-paved Pearl Street Mall, where glasses clinked and conversations flowed. After COVID-19, they will again. After all, with some of the highest household incomes in the country, this town is thirsting to get back on its feet again.
Few small cities anywhere are as connected—and subsequently endowed—as New Jersey’s state capital. The 250-year-old urban center on the Delaware River ranks first in our People category, seventh among America’s small cities for Foreign-born Residents and #13 for Educational Attainment. The diversity of the city—composed of an American tapestry spanning all ancestry, creeds and religions—has always welcomed immigration. So has the city’s performance in our Prosperity category: it tops our small city index for presence of Fortune 500 headquarters, and ranks in the Top 10 for Household Income. Centrality has always been Trenton’s ace card—it even briefly served as the capital city of a young nation in 1784. Its proximity to the economic engine of the Philadelphia metropolitan area and the academic innovation of Princeton—only 10 miles away—makes for a kinetic place that prioritizes the things that matter, including the #8-ranked restaurants among the country’s small cities.
Myrtle Beach has been a playground long before European settlement, since the Waccamaw and Winyah people lived and subsisted on the area’s bounteous 60 miles of shore. When the Intracoastal Waterway was established in 1936 and the town was incorporated two years later, an all-American getaway was born. Last year, 19 million visitors climbed aboard 50 direct flights from around the country to frolic in calm waters, see the Ripley’s odditorium and then go for a medieval dinner. After that, there’s the 1.2-mile-long Oceanfront Boardwalk and Promenade, perfect for walking off the feast. With so much to see and do, it’s no wonder that the city tops our Attractions subcategory for small cities. The climate for business is even better. Myrtle Beach is one of the fastest-growing small cities in the country; already home to 25 international companies, it’s in the Top 10 for foreign direct investment. The business community lauds the location as central, and the Conway–Horry County Airport (the city ranks #18 for Connectivity) is working to further position the city as an East Coast hub.
Residents lean decidedly to the left in this friendly college town, where the yogi on the next mat might just be the CEO of a tech start-up, a prize-winning pickle entrepreneur or a tenured engineering professor. In a city that takes the #4 spot in our People category, you never know who you’ll meet—but you know the experience will be interesting. A quarter of Ann Arbor citizens work at the University of Michigan, an intellectual powerhouse that helps earn this smart small city our #2 ranking for Educational Attainment by residents. They’re drawn to higher education, and Ann Arbor places #3 in our University ranking. With smart graduates who tend to stick around, UM can also take credit for Ann Arbor’s burgeoning tech sector, including companies like Duo Security (acquired by Cisco for $2.35 billion) and the headquarters of global supply chain management software company LLamasoft. Even though the calendar revolves around the university, Ann Arbor truly shines when the students go home for the summer—that’s when locals and visitors take over the place known appropriately as “Tree Town.”
Santa Cruz might be the quintessential coastal California city, with its Beach Boardwalk, artisanal food and drink producers, and laid-back surfer culture. With sports—including wetsuit and mountain bike companies—and marine research as two of the city’s major industries, it’s no wonder Santa Cruz ranks #10 for Parks and Outdoors. The city’s burgeoning tech sector is bolstered by easy proximity to Silicon Valley, and the presence of UC Santa Cruz has earned a tie place for #16 in our University ranking. This strong business climate, meanwhile, powers the city’s #3 Household Income and #11 People rankings. Downtown is already teeming with Banana Slugs—UC Santa Cruz students, that is—and it’s set to grow even further thanks to new zoning rules encouraging more apartments.
As the gateway to the world-famous Napa Valley wine region, Napa is perhaps the most glamorous small city in America. Situated just a short drive from some of the world’s finest wineries and restaurants, including the legendary French Laundry, it’s no surprise this city ranks #2 for Household Income among America’s small cities. For those not willing to drive out to the wineries, Napa boasts many bars and hotels right downtown, giving it a #7 ranking in Nightlife and a #10 ranking in TripAdvisor Reviews. Every fall, the city hosts BottleRock Napa Valley, which has grown into a major stop on the music festival circuit—albeit with an extra emphasis on beverages. Much of the city’s economy comes by way of its vibrant hospitality sector, and from the production and distribution of wine, both of which supply ample opportunity for the city’s large foreign-born population (#8).
Washed by the ocean swell on New Jersey’s shore, world-famous Atlantic City has been a magnet for shoppers, diners, gamblers and people-watchers for centuries. True to its roots, the city’s main industry—at least outside a pandemic—is tourism, and service jobs continue to draw immigrants from around the world, netting a #19 ranking for Foreign-Born Residents. And it’s not just beachgoers and gamblers who take advantage of the deep hospitality: Atlantic City earns a #1 Convention Center ranking for the $126 million, 100,000-square-foot Harrah’s Waterfront Conference Center. The Boardwalk—namesake of the top property in Monopoly—stretches five miles along the beach and is lined with casinos, hotels, retail and eateries. But watch out for selfie sticks—Atlantic City tourism is now bolstered by social media, with the city earning a #5 ranking for Instagram Hashtags and #7 for TripAdvisor Reviews.
There’s a lot to love about this boot-shaped sea island in the Lowcountry of South Carolina, and the thousands of lucky residents who call it home get to play in the sea, sun and sand year-round. The city also boasts unbelievable bike trails and cultural opportunities like the Coastal Discovery Museum, which educates visitors and locals alike on the island’s ecological history and significance. There’s no shortage of ways to have fun in Hilton Head—just for a start, you’re surrounded by beaches to explore and wildlife to see. And beyond the beaches, there’s also iconic lighthouses, fishing, and golfing to keep you busy, whether you’re just visiting or staying for the long haul. Hilton Head is a natural playground for those who love to get in the great outdoors, ranking #3 overall in our Place category and #2 for Parks and Outdoors. And it’s not hard to believe that the city ranks #5 on our list for TripAdvisor Reviews and #4 for Shopping.
After taking over the title of state capital from Detroit in 1847, Lansing became an industrial hotspot, with auto manufacturing driving its growth. General Motors remains a major employer, but Lansing’s economy has diversified due to a surge in insurance, insurtech, medtech and IT businesses. Little wonder it ranked #3 overall in our Prosperity category, being tied for first among small cities for Fortune 500 Companies. Hundreds of new jobs are on the horizon, with 15 projects worth $311 million in private investment approved last year alone. With downtown’s revitalization in the works, the city in the center of the Great Lakes State is growing up. Yet it retains its small-town appeal, ranking #5 for Neighborhoods. Charming character homes surround the Capitol Building, and trails line the banks of the Red Cedar and Grand rivers. Leafy East Lansing is home to Michigan State University, which bolstered the city’s Product profile and tied it for #16 in our University ranking. MSU’s 5,300-acre campus features three medical schools (two human medicine, one veterinary)—the most in the country—and was the first to offer a graduate degree in nuclear physics.
Home to the University of Nebraska’s flagship campus, Lincoln is much more than a college town—it’s a regional hub where settling down to raise a family doesn’t mean settling for less than a cosmopolitan urban experience, albeit a subdued, considered one. While Lincoln may be growing, it’s still a place where strangers greet one another on the sidewalk and the whole community gets together to back Cornhuskers football (or at least they will as soon as we get a vaccine). With a #18 ranking for Educational Attainment, Lincoln has a diversified, knowledge-based economy centered on the university and its research dollars. Families appreciate Lincoln’s affordable cost of living and well-regarded public schools, but the city is also investing millions in public transit and a revitalized downtown, which is attracting younger talent, too. And since joining the Bloomberg Philanthropies What Works Cities initiative in 2016, forward-thinking Lincoln is also working on open-data and performance management programs to make the city work better for everyone.
The next time you arrive at the third-best-connected airport among America’s small cities, don’t just jump in your rental car and head out of town. Kahului’s bounty is a surprise, so stay a while. With a Top 5 finish in our Parks and Outdoors category, the city’s unique climate nourishes green spaces ranging from wildlife and avian refuges (Kanaha Pond State Wildlife Sanctuary) to white-sand state beaches plied by pro (and soon-to-be-pro) surfers. The city may not be a tourist attraction on an island full of them, but its residents—boasting a household income that ranks #6 among America’s small cities—have plenty to do, from local restaurants that act as a delicious, daring test kitchen for the rest of the state to upscale shopping like Whole Foods and luxury car dealerships. The convenience is facilitated by the Kahului Airport (OGG to you and your vacation-planning experience), which ranks #3 in connectivity among America’s small cities and is planning to resume its expansion plans once the pandemic subsides.
Locals sometimes complain that Charlottesville is far from it all, but while the nearest big city (in this case, Washington, D.C.) might be a good distance away, this bustling college town has everything residents need day-to-day, from a dynamic restaurant scene to thriving local cultural institutions. It’s even possible to live car-free here, and many residents get around on two wheels. Thomas Jefferson’s hometown has plenty to recommend it, from a solid local economy grounded in one of the country’s top universities to abundant natural beauty and deep historical significance. He might have written the Declaration of Independence and served as the nation’s third president, but Thomas Jefferson was just as proud of founding the University of Virginia, which tied Charlottesville for #4 in University ranking and earned and its citizens a #7 ranking for Educational Attainment. And while the University of Virginia may be the foundation of the local economy, there are also abundant jobs in health care and tourism.
Like it did in a lot of Rust Belt cities, the manufacturing economy in Fort Wayne took a big hit in the 1980s. But the city has emerged from this local downturn with a 21st-century economy based on transportation and distribution, health-care services, and leisure and hospitality. Yet it hasn’t completely turned its back on the manufacturing sector: the city is a defense industry hub, with companies like BAE Systems and Harris Corporation employing thousands. As part of its civic rejuvenation, Fort Wayne invested heavily in urban renewal, with projects like the Allen County Public Library, Grand Wayne Convention Center and Fort Wayne Museum of Art—which, along with the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo and landmarks like the 1930s Art Deco Lincoln Bank Tower (once the city’s tallest), boosts the city to a #6 rank for Attractions.
From the freeway, Santa Maria’s subdivisions and strip malls nestled amid golden hills might lead you to mistake it for any other California city. But step inside Rancho Nipomo BBQ or Jocko’s and you’ll encounter something altogether unique: Santa Maria–style barbecue. The most famous approach barbecue on the West Coast originated here back when California was part of Mexico, and still features the same simple, oak-fired grilling methods. Plenty of hungry pilots and farmers—who make up the city’s two largest industries—have surely enjoyed this regional cuisine. Vandenberg Air Force Base is Santa Maria’s largest employer, with many other locals, especially the diverse population that drives the city’s ranking of #10 in Foreign Born Residents) supporting the area’s strawberry, grape and lettuce farms. Santa Maria is a fairly prosperous city, ranking #11 for Household Income, and its proximity to UC Santa Barbara powers a tie for #5 in our University ranking. This being central California, the weather’s nice too, ranking #10.
Founded in 1702 by French settlers, Mobile is the oldest city in the Heart of Dixie. Cruise ships dock in the state’s only deep-water port, which is also home to the World War II–era USS Alabama battleship. The Dora Franklin Finley African-American Heritage Trail and institutions like the Mobile Carnival Museum also reflect the region’s multicultural history. (Do you think Mardi Gras originated in New Orleans? Think again.) The waterfront Arthur R. Outlaw Mobile Convention Center, meanwhile, is a 317,000-square-foot facility that’s considered tops along the Gulf Coast. So many attractions are key selling points: Mobile ranked #9 in our Product category for Convention Center and #8 for Museums. There will be more to tout in the near future, too: the city’s aggressive goals are pinned on the creation of 2,000 new jobs with relatively high annual wages and the procurement of new- and expansion-project capital investment totaling $1.25 billion by 2022.
Though much of life here revolves around the Colorado State campus, Fort Collins is itself a thriving metropolis with big companies, cultural gems like the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery and quirky spots like the Global Village Museum, which holds a collection of international art. The city also has bragging rights to jobs with Fortune 500 companies like Anheuser-Busch and Hewlett-Packard as well as with major health-care giant Kaiser Permanente. Fort Collins has a well-educated workforce, ranking #8 for Educational Attainment and #20 for Household Income. Even though it’s located right at the base of the Rocky Mountains, Fort Collins gets about 300 days of sunshine per year—which is perfect, considering there’s an abundance of outdoor terrain to explore, from the scenic Horsetooth Reservoir to the majestic cliffs of the Cache la Poudre River to, of course, the iconic and beautiful Rocky Mountain National Park.
Located in the heart of Central Illinois, approximately 125 miles southwest of Chicago and 155 miles northeast of St. Louis, the Bloomington–Normal metro area is a safe (ranked #30 for Safety) and vibrant community that embodies Midwest hospitality and ambition.
It was here where Abraham Lincoln proved himself as a top attorney and the town has been attracting talent ever since. More and more corporate headquarters and branch offices have opened in recent years, attracted by historic downtown spaces and, with an average rent well under $1,000, an ability to house employees and draw in young people looking for affordable housing. And plenty of that talent has already arrived: the city’s citizenry ranked #11 in our Educational Attainment subcategory.
But it’s not all work: there are three golf courses in town, plus lots of music venues (see proximity to Chicago and St. Louis) to keep the good times flowing. The Castle Theatre is a must for music lovers—a throwback to spare-no-expense architecture and a reminder to the city of what’s possible.
This upstate New York town 227 miles north of NYC (and almost that distance from Philly) values its education. Ivy League Cornell University (giving the city its #2 rank in our Universities subcategory) and renowned Ithaca College don’t just keep the town hopping with students—the two schools are also the area’s largest employers.
Citizens of this Central Finger Lakes region of New York State, tucked at the southern tip of 40-mile-long Cayuga Lake, walk the academic talk, making Ithaca one of the nation’s smartest small cities (ranked #4 in our Educational Attainment subcategory). It’s easy to see their reasoning for settling here, too: downtown is big-city thriving, with several breweries, irresistible indie restaurants and an underrated nightlife scene.
But it’s what’s just outside of town that’s responsible for the city’s pun-tastic slogan: “Ithaca Is Gorges.” The 100+ gorges and waterfalls located within 10 miles of downtown include the 215-foot Taughannock Falls, actually three stories taller than Niagara Falls, all of it part of 28,000 acres of accessible public forestland.
With four Superbowl rings to brag about, the NFL’s Packers set the tone around here, and in the fall social life revolves around game day. (It’s obvious why Green Bay is first in the Professional Sports Teams category for small cities.) But while Packers fandom binds the community, there’s also a lively entertainment district along the Fox River and on Main Street, resulting in the #21 ranking for Nightlife. But while joining the “Cheeseheads” might be obligatory, even the off season is alluring. Green Bay’s strategic Great Lakes location makes for an economy centered on shipping and manufacturing—although, unlike other traditional blue-collar hubs, unemployment is lower than the national average. Schneider National, one of the country’s largest privately owned trucking companies, is based here, as is a growing health-care sector. Yes, winters can be brutal, but in the summer the Great Lakes get greater. With scenic cycling and walking trails along the Fox River, the serene, 700-acre Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary set within city limits, and beautiful Door County just a 45-minute drive away, Green Bay residents mine the most from their summers.
Even if you’ve never set foot in Wilmington, you probably recognize some of its sights: the scenic Riverwalk, the vibrant nightlife along the Cape Fear River, the Boardwalk and the stunning antebellum mansions that line the quaint streets. With more than 400 film and television credits under its belt, it’s no wonder the city is affectionately known as Hollywood East. It’s also no surprise that a place that brings together beaches, history and natural beauty has its waterfront regularly listed among the prettiest and most enjoyable in the country. In our ranking, Wilmington finished #6 for Programming, including #7 for Restaurants and #4 for Nightlife. Residents and visitors alike continue to flock to the recently expanded 1.75-mile Wilmington Riverwalk, where brick-lined streets with cafés and boutiques in the historic district lead to new hotels and restaurants, a performing arts center, the Port City Marina and an outdoor event concert venue.
The birthplace of Route 66 is known as the Queen City of the Ozarks. The city surrounded by lakes and caves appeals to fishermen and spelunkers, as it does to country-music lovers, college students and ball fans. (Springfield’s Double-A affiliate belongs to Major League Baseball’s St. Louis Cardinals.) Engineering, health care and IT are among the top industries and together powered Springfield to a #17 finish in our Prosperity category: consider, for example, O’Reilly Auto Parts, which employs nearly 4,000 people. Where Springfield truly shines is in Programming (#15). It ranked #13 in Restaurants, with more than 1,000 to choose from. Wineries, craft breweries and microdistilleries are joining the indie food and beverage scene. Springfield performed well for Nightlife (#17), with everything from art walks to comedy clubs available to residents and visitors. Draws such as the Route 66 Car Museum and the certified haunted Pythian Castle helped earn it a #4 spot in Attractions and an overall Product ranking of #14. In 2019, the city announced the development of a comprehensive plan to set a sharp vision for its future—its first such initiative since 1998.
Midland is a fast-growing small city in West Texas with a diversified economy that includes the health-care, energy and agricultural sectors. As the home of the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, Midland has become a hub for health-care research and innovation. The city also serves as the support center for the Permian Basin drilling region, which is expected to produce 5.4 million barrels of oil per day by 2023—that’s double 2017 levels. This strong business climate pushes Midland up to #8 in our Household Income ranking, and a new food hall and four-star hotel downtown will enable residents to spend that money locally. Of course, Midland isn’t all business—it’s also a nice place to live. The city’s excellent weather and low crime rate (both ranking #4) give it a #4 overall ranking in our important Place category… yet its proximity to Big Bend National Park also makes it a great place to escape from.
Davenport is part of the Quad Cities, which also includes Iowa’s Bettendorf and Moline, East Moline, and Rock Island in Illinois (yes, that’s technically five cities). Distinguishing Davenport on the banks of the Mississippi is its status as the region’s economic powerhouse. It reached the Top 10 in our Prosperity category (#8), thanks to the heavy presence of companies such as Kraft Heinz, Nestle Purina and John Deere. Midway between Chicago and Des Moines, Davenport ranked high in our Product category (#32), notably due to its airport connectivity (#16). Four airlines served 11 nonstop hubs through Quad City International Airport as of early 2020, but of course the COVID-19 pandemic has changed that, for now. Along with educational services and health care, arts and entertainment are a significant employer. Not coincidentally, Davenport performs well in our main Programming category (#23), ranking #10 for Nightlife, #21 for Museums (consider the glass Figge Art Museum) and #22 for Culture (take the annual Riverssance fest). Not surprisingly, construction of hundreds of downtown apartments is underway to house those being drawn to the city.
The bounty of small but mighty Bend has been whispered about by mountain bikers, brewers and skiers for decades. A regular contender in outdoors-media “best towns to live” lists, this former logging center sits 3,600 feet above sea level, on the eastern edge of the Cascade Range along the Deschutes River. The Ponderosa pine forests and high desert are a sandbox for all kinds of self-propelled pursuits, facilitated by a progressive local leadership that once opened a whitewater kayaking park right in town. Given all that, the city’s #8 Parks and Outdoors ranking somehow seems disappointing, especially when you add Mount Bachelor, not even 30 minutes away and catering to skiers and snowboarders in the winter and lift-riding downhill bikers in summers. Almost 100 outdoor-related businesses call Bend home, as do an increasing number of tech firms and more than 20 craft breweries. And Bend being Bend, it’s also home to the country’s last Blockbuster.
The history of Pensacola and its proximity to the Alabama border help explain the vibe of this city—and its Southern hospitality. Over the course of its years, Pensacola has been ruled by the British, the Spanish, the French, the Confederacy and the United States—hence, its nickname of “The City of Five Flags.” Founded in 1559, Pensacola has rigorously preserved its historic architecture, ranking #17 for Neighborhoods and Top 25 in our deep Place category. Of its 52 miles of sugar-white beaches stretching alongside one of America’s oldest settlements, Pensacola Beach is in the forefront, with TripAdvisor ranking it as one of the five best in the nation—helping power the city to its #6 ranking for Parks and Outdoors. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, tourism spending was on the rise in the area, with visitors to Escambia County spending more than $800 million in 2018. Obviously, Visit Pensacola’s “Tourism Works” campaign, which launched the previous year to promote the industry’s impact on the economy, is working itself. The campaign focuses on the jobs and tax revenue, but more so on the “quality of place” that tourism creates for residents.
The largest city in Alachua County is set within 75 miles of beaches on the coasts of the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico. In between are wilderness trails and freshwater springs, making it a nature lover’s haven. But where Gainesville really flexes its muscle is in our Product category (#17), led by the University of Florida earning a tie for #5 spot in the University ranking. UF contributes more than $8 billion to the local economy annually, generating more than 100,000 jobs and acquiring more than $700 million in research. Upping Gainesville’s Product cred is its #23 ranking for Attractions, which range from a wildlife sanctuary to a historic homestead on a historic homestead. The citizenry is also well educated, as evidenced by the #16 ranking for Educational Attainment. Retaining talent is a key goal of the Greater Gainesville Chamber: by focusing on areas of strength—human life sciences, agricultural science & technology, and clean technology—the organization seeks to create 2,500 jobs for a total of $250 million in new capital investment by 2025.
There is no more fitting category for State College than “college town.” The 8,000-acre Pennsylvania State University calls the borough home, and Penn State’s Nittany Lions football team plays at the 107,000-seat Beaver Stadium. Some 40,000 students shop local, while the land-grant institution contributes more than $11.6 billion to the state’s economy and supports more than 105,000 jobs. With views of the Appalachians and ski resorts nearby, State College is also known as Happy Valley. Boosting its livability is the fact that it’s the safest small town in America. The borough ranked high for People (#17), with a #9 standing for Educational Attainment. Nearly 93% of adults here have at least a high school education, and 40% have a bachelor’s degree or higher. Perhaps it’s an easy sell, but there’s much to work with in terms of Promotion; State College ranked #5 in this category, with a #3 for Google Searches. Situated within the I-99 Innovation Corridor and boasting a strong presence of tech and life sciences, State College is a launchpad for what’s next, with several new incubators in town—many started by students who recognized their sweet spot and stayed.
Once widely known as the setting of John Steinbeck’s novels about rural California, Salinas has embraced the latest technology while continuing to be “the salad bowl of the world.” The Salinas Valley is one of the most fertile areas in the country, generating an economic impact of more than $8 billion per year and attracting a large foreign-born community (ranked #2 among America’s small cities). Its proximity to Silicon Valley has made Salinas an important agtech hub: since 2015, the city has played host to the Forbes AgTech Summit. Prosperity has followed, as seen by the city’s #22 ranking for Household Income. The city calendar is punctuated by community events like the El Grito festival celebrating Mexican culture and Ciclovía Salinas, an open-streets event that reclaims a 1.5-mile stretch of road for bikes and pedestrians. The sunny, picturesque Salinas Valley, ranking #22 for Weather, is a short drive away from Monterey and its world-famous aquarium.
Self-described as a “micro-urban” community and home to the University of Illinois, Champaign prides itself on its diverse economy. Education, health care and banking are leading employers, while jobs are also abundant in light manufacturing and social services. The diversity extends to demographics, too—in fact, outside of Chicago, the county has one of the largest immigrant populations in Illinois. Champaign made the Top 20 in our People category, at #19, with a #14 ranking for Educational Attainment and #40 for Foreign Born Residents. Hailing from nearly 80 countries (from Colombia to Democratic Republic of Congo), immigrants make up more than 20% of the area’s STEM and education workforce. And while Champaign residents may work hard, they also have plenty of options to play hard, with an overall Programming score of #17, driven by high rankings in Culture (#10) and Nightlife (#8). Expect arts and entertainment sectors (among others) to further flourish: the 11-acre Yards project proposes a hotel and conference center, office tower, apartments, University of Illinois sports arena and more, generating an expected $112 million-plus in annual economic activity.
Situated on the eastern shore of Lake Champlain with sweeping views of the Adirondack and Green Mountains, Burlington is known for outdoor recreation, architecture and small-town charm. Despite occupying a mere 10 square miles, or just under 2% of the land mass of Chittenden County, it’s the largest and most developed community in the Green State. Alongside health care and financial services, tourism is a major employer. The University of Vermont’s Fleming Museum is a draw, as is Church Street Marketplace, a National Register Historic District. Residents here are educated, with nearly 92% earning a high school degree or higher, and 26% a bachelor’s degree or higher. The city finished Top 10 for Educational Attainment and hit an overall People ranking of #23. Planning staff recently launched the city’s first comprehensive economic development strategy: the little engine that could will be home to a third of the region’s jobs over the next several decades, as the progressive city seeks to become a Net Zero Energy community by 2030.
The sunny and perpetually mild Mediterranean-type climate allows you to get outside all year long, ranking SLO #13 in our Weather subcategory. Good thing, too, because the city is stacked with reasons to be outdoors. Its location among loamy, vineyard-dotted hills and forested mountains is still just minutes from undeveloped coastline and dramatic eye candy like Morro Bay.
These days, SLO is moving fast—to protect its natural bounty while laying the foundation for a more inclusive community. From attempts to repurpose aging infrastructure like the Morro Bay power plant to nurturing new talent in partnership with California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly)—consistently ranked one of the top public colleges in the country—SLO is creating its future collaboratively.
But there’s always time for wine—and fresh local produce. SLO’s Thursday evening farmers’ market is one of the best on the West Coast, helping raise the city to its #16 ranking for Shopping.
Royal palm trees swaying in subtropical breezes off Charlotte Harbor, cyclists rolling along scenic paved paths and homeowners sipping lemonade on wide verandas: life in Punta Gorda is nothing if not relaxed. Access is outstanding, the city earning #1 spot for its airport connectivity, with three nearby airports providing nonstop flights to destinations like Toronto; Washington, D.C.; Dusseldorf; and Aalborg, Denmark. Plus, two U.S. highways intersect here: a strategic location just off Interstate 75 contributes to the city’s #10 ranking overall for Product. Punta Gorda reached a notable #22 ranking in our Place category, thanks to a low crime rate (#16) and high marks for Parks and Outdoors (#17). The beloved 19-acre Punta Gorda Nature Park features plenty of wildlife viewing amid naturally occurring wetlands. The number of jobs is set to skyrocket, too: Fort Myers-based Intrepid Aerospace recently signed a letter of intent to build a $1.8-million temporary hangar—expected to become permanent—to work on commercial aircraft.
The South Bend Mishawaka region landed definitively on the map of the American imagination in 2019 when native son and former local mayor Pete Buttigieg made a run for the Democratic presidential nomination. But the area, about a hundred miles east of Chicago, has been growing in stature under the radar for, well, centuries: 178-year-old Notre Dame University, an institution that balances its Catholic origins with cutting-edge scientific research, has given the region its first-place ranking for Universities among small cities. But Notre Dame is not alone—there is a range of innovative learning institutions around South Bend, and the insular grande dame is beginning to engage with the community with innovative results—the respected IDEA Centre and IDEA Week, which help bring entrepreneurial efforts to market, are cases in point. Mayor Pete saw the future of South Bend when he took office in 2012, working to rejuvenate South Bend’s derelict Studebaker factory and downtown, installing dark fibre and repositioning the region as a hub for future innovation. Today, it’s ready to welcome new residents and retain current ones with an attractive mix of prosperity and quality of life.
Eye-opening fact: Iowa City is a UNESCO City of Literature, the world’s third after Edinburgh and Melbourne. (Grads from University of Iowa’s Writers Workshop, which dates back more than 80 years, include John Irving and Jane Smiley.) Those who call the city home are one of its greatest strengths, with the citizenry ranking Top 5 for Educational Attainment in the country. Nearly 34% of the area’s population has a bachelor’s degree, and close to 28% has earned a master’s. The city ranks #32 for Foreign Born Residents (just over 14%, according to the most recent census data), while Household Income, at a median of approximately $61,000, ranks at #34. Several large projects are currently in development, including the $50-million, 5,000-seat Xtream Arena as well as the university’s $33.5-million Brain Sciences Building and $50-million Stanley Museum of Art.
Incorporated by English settlers in 1639 and once the summer home of John F. Kennedy, mid-Cape Barnstable Town is comprised of seven enclaves (including Barnstable Village) and is set among more than 100 miles of sandy beaches. Fishing, boating, surfing and snorkeling are more than tourist attractions; they’re a way of life. Combine the city’s #26 ranking for Parks and Outdoors (supported by its thousands of acres of ever-shifting sand dunes) and its #9-ranked sense of Safety driving a #21 tie spot for Neighborhoods and it’s easy to see why the city situated 74 miles southeast of Boston ranked #17 overall in our Place category. Sixteen percent of residents have a graduate degree, helping it rank #15 for Educational Attainment; it reached #25 for Household Income, with a median of $68,919. Considered Cape Cod’s economic and commercial hub, Barnstable Town aims to invest in people’s health with a proposed Cape Cod Hospital Downtown Campus expansion.
Florida State University might be one of the first things to pop to mind on mention of this Big Bend–area city, but Tallahassee is also home to a world-renowned equestrian competition, a historic stop on the Mississippi Blues Trail, two mosques, an all-female roller derby team and more. Nevertheless, it’s the post-secondary scene that distinguishes the state capital. In addition to FSU and Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, many smaller colleges thrive here. Tallahassee made it into the Top 10 for our Universities subcategory (#9), contributing to its overall #19 ranking for Product. (Also playing a role were its equal rankings for Attractions and Museums, both #35.) The financial outlook is sunny: a recent analysis of just six of the 100 or so projects in development found a combined economic impact of $775 million and a yield of more than 6,000 jobs. If you’ve got it, flaunt it: Tallahassee ranked #29 overall for Promotion, largely due to its social media savvy (#6 for Facebook Check-ins, #8 for Instagram Hashtags and #18 for TripAdvisor Reviews). #Impressive.
What’s in a name? In the case of Kalamazoo, the answer is a mystery. The origins of the city’s handle are uncertain, though the most widely accepted theory is that it was derived from a Potawatomi Native American legend. Located halfway between Detroit and Chicago in the heart of the Great Lakes Region (there are 83 lakes in Kalamazoo County alone), the city prides itself on prioritizing education: the Kalamazoo Promise is a pledge by a group of anonymous donors to cover tuition at any of Michigan’s universities or colleges for all graduates of Kalamazoo public high schools. Pharmacy and medical sciences are major industries here, and the city is home to Fortune 500 medtech giant Stryker: it ranked #7 overall for Prosperity, landing in the top 100 for Household Income (#98), which sits at a median of $42,759. Downtown revitalization is coming: the Kalamazoo City Commission has approved the Downtown Economic Growth Authority and a plan to reinvest $66 million in state and local taxes for infrastructure, business retention and building rehabilitation during the next 30 years.
Despite its prairie cool, thriving DIY arts and culinary scene and entrepreneurial spark, Fargo has slipped under the radar over the past decade. The city, which comes in at #49 for Prosperity, is home to Microsoft’s third-largest campus in North America, one that employs more than 1,800 people. Fargo startups are also getting a fair share of the national spotlight, including Appareo Systems, a leader in electronic and computer products for the aerospace and defense industries. Silicon Prairie, the Heartland’s version of Silicon Valley, is not only thriving, it’s also helping to attract and retain talent. The median age of Fargo residents is 31, which makes sense when you take into account that a good 30,000 of the people who live here are college students at North Dakota State University.
The largest city in Southern Oregon has long been a gateway to a dizzying bounty of America’s northern West Coast greatest hits—from Crater Lake to the northeast, the theater lovers’ pilgrimage to the city of Ashland and, more recently, the vineyards of the Rogue Valley. With more than 200 days of annual sunshine, easy access to the wild Rogue River, striking waterfalls and lush rainforest, Medford was always happy to be basecamp for the legions of mountain bikers, hikers, golfers and fishing enthusiasts. The volume of sites is surely a reason why the city ranks #27 for Connectivity. The Medford Airport has been growing steadily and topped 1 million passengers last year. But the city offers myriad reasons to stay a while—maybe permanently. The area’s economic development leaders are increasingly talking about being a Pacific Northwest business hub, while recent resident and actor Jim Belushi is helping restore the city’s historic Holly Theater into a 1,000-seat venue that will reignite the city’s downtown.
The waterfront that derives its name from Lake Erie and the Eriez Native American Nation is also known as “Flagship City,” with one of the few remaining ships from the War of 1812, Oliver Hazard Perry’s Niagara, anchored just offshore. Insurance, tourism, health care, manufacturing and higher education are among its major sectors. Home to Erie Insurance Group (a Fortune 500 company) and sitting at #196 for Household Income (median $52,576), Erie ranked #15 in our overall Prosperity category. It’s a vibrant place, coming in at #30 for Programming: arts organizations from the Glass Growers Gallery to the Erie Philharmonic contributed to its #15 ranking in the Culture subcategory; tax-free clothing and shoes helped it reach #34 in Shopping. In the works: the transformation of the region into a secure cyber-services hub through the recently launched Erie Innovation District; there’s also the Erie County Convention Center Authority’s Bayfront Place Development Plan (with retail, residential, office space and views of Presque Isle Bay) at an estimated cost of up to $300 million.
As the largest coastal city in Texas and one of the nation’s main ports, Corpus Christi is an economic powerhouse among U.S. small cities. And a big engine behind that powerhouse is the tourism heritage of being the gateway to Padre Island. Corpus Christi boasts miles of beaches and multitudes of activities, including #11-ranked restaurants—don’t miss the gulf seafood, especially shrimp and oysters. Of course the area is best known globally for its spring break revelry, when the beaches around Corpus Christi Bay and Padre Island become a mass of humanity for the better part of the month. Even the pandemic didn’t stop too many from feeling the lure of the place, as newsfeeds showed the usual crowds, undeterred by the risk of infection. They of course documented it all on social media, which explains why the city ranks #3 nationally in our Facebook Check-ins subcategory and #7 for Instagram Hashtags.
The largest city in Southern Indiana, sitting along the Ohio River on the Kentucky border, is the state’s third-largest metro. An economic force for more than a century, Evansville, like so many, fell on hard times in the late ’70s and early ’80s as manufacturing jobs dried up and the population fled to the suburbs. But visionary, city-sponsored revitalization and preservation of the impressive early-1900s brick buildings has gone a long way to bring Evansville back to its former glory, with a low cost of living helping boost citizens further. Riverside, a U.S. Historic District since 1978, boasts a lot of the hot casinos, restaurants and bars that helped the city rank #36 for Nightlife. The city’s proud heritage is obvious in its #14 ranking for attractions. The Victory Theatre is a vintage 1,950-seat venue that is home to the Evansville Philharmonic Orchestra. It also boasts the Children’s Museum of Evansville, the Evansville Museum, and the Reitz Home Museum, a beautiful example of Victorian architecture located a stone’s throw from the Ohio River.
Also known as Athens-Clarke County (following the 1990 move to unify two governments), Athens is the birthplace of American higher education: in 1785, the University of Georgia was founded as the nation’s first land-grant institution. Along with UGA, technical schools and colleges boosted the city’s standing in our Universities category (#8) and Product overall (#30), the latter also including its #24 ranking for Convention Center: the Classic Center hosts an average of 660 events a year, outperforming similar venues in larger cities two to one. The city has spawned several famous musical acts, including REM and the Black Crowes, and is widely considered to have launched “alternative” music. Its arts and entertainment scenes continue to thrive. The “Classic City,” situated 70 miles east of Atlanta, ranked #27 for Programming overall, including high rankings in Culture (#13), Nightlife (#33) and Restaurants (#49). Creatives and college students enjoy everything from the Georgia Museum of Art to the annual AthFest, which draws close to 200 bands. Agribusiness is a major economic driver, too, as is tourism: a proposed Classic Center expansion would generate an additional $33 million per year in economic impact, an increase of 100,000 hotel room nights and more than 600 jobs.
The very land of Las Cruces is written with history: ancient Mogollon petroglyphs within and around the city date back as far as 200 AD. The sun shines 320 days a year here, earning Las Cruces ( “the crosses” in Spanish) the #4 spot for Weather among America’s small cities. That’s just one subcategory that helped it rank high overall in our Place category, at #23. It was also #18 for Neighborhoods. Several stunning hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding trails are found within 10 miles of the city center. The home of New Mexico State University excelled in our People category too, ranking #21 overall, with #15 for Foreign Born Residents (just over 12% of citizenry). Agriculture and defense/aerospace are among its key industries, while a highlight of the city’s Economic Development Plan is a major renovation to Las Cruces International Airport to accommodate an additional 20,000 passengers annually by 2022, sure to improve its already impressive #11 Connectivity ranking.
The city is not only known for the Mayo Clinic; it in fact grew out of the renowned medical center’s beginnings. Dr William Worrall Mayo came to the region in 1863 from England via Minnesota, going on to become the county doctor. Ultimately, after responding to a devastating tornado and at the urging of local nuns, he and his sons opened a permanent medical facility. About three million people visit Rochester every year, many of them for treatment at the Mayo Clinic. In addition to this economic powerhouse, advanced manufacturing and life sciences are other key sectors. (The home base of IBM, the city also has a highly skilled software workforce), It ranked equally high (#34) in both our People and Prosperity categories. Approximately 46% of residents have a bachelor’s degree or higher (ranking #25 for Educational Attainment), while 14% of the cities population is foreign born(#58). A leading city in our Fortune 500 category (home to Thermo Fisher Scientific, among others), Rochester ranked #16 for Household Income ($70,749). The largest private-public investment in the state’s history, Destination Medical Center will see more than $5-billion in projected private investments over a 20-year period.
Taking its name from the American Indians’ Sioux Tribe and the Big Sioux River waterfalls, this city is South Dakota’s cultural heart. The annual SculptureWalk is the nation’s largest exhibit of public art; a permanent addition came last year with the stainless-steel Arc of Dreams spanning the river, its 85-foot high center gap representing the leap of faith that dreamers take to see their wishes come true. Biomedical, finance and banking, and advanced manufacturing are some of the key industries. With excellent Connectivity (#18, due to 14 direct flights to U.S. cities) and Convention Center size (#55, owing to the 100,000 square-foot Convention Center being connected to a hotel, arena, and 12,000-seat Denny Sanford PREMIER Center), Sioux Falls ranked #29 for Product overall. It also made it into our top 50 for Programming, at #42, with strong results for Nightlife (#21) and Restaurants (#40). A #50 for Promotion stemmed from a multiway tie at #9 for Google Trends and #38 for TripAdvisor Reviews. Future bragging rights: the mega site of Foundation Park will have full rail service by BNSF Railway and boost the area’s marketability for shipping, receiving, and new business.
Lawrence lies 45 minutes west of Kansas City and counts the University of Kansas and Haskell Indian Nations University among its standout features. The latter is the only inter-tribal university for Native Americans in the nation, representing more than 150 tribes. No surprise, then, that the city ranked #24 for Universities, contributing to an overall #92 ranking for Product. With places like the 45,000-piece Spencer Museum of Art and Clinton State Park (which has one of the state’s largest marinas), Lawrence excelled in terms of Museums (#35) and Attractions (#80). The city founded in 1854 has a highly educated and diverse population, ranking #10 for People. It wowed with its #3 ranking for Educational Attainment. Almost 100% of the workforce has at least a high school diploma. Nearly 29% of residents have a Master’s degree and another 10% have a Doctorate; approximately 9% are Foreign Born (#69). You’ll find education and health care to be major employers. A capstone in the city’s growth is the new Lawrence VenturePark. Once completed, all three phases will yield more than 555,000 square feet of industrial and business space at an estimated investment of $31-million.
It comes as no surprise that College Station is a quintessential college town, with highly educated residents and a quality of life suited to students and faculty at Texas A&M University. College Station is situated in the heart of Texas’ Brazos Valley, halfway between Houston and Dallas, and along the proposed Texas Central high speed rail line. As the home of one of the largest universities in the country, College Station ranks #11 in universities. Education is also the largest sector in College Station, with nearly 20,000 people employed by Texas A&M University and Health Sciences Center. Businesses are expanding to support the education and research field. Fujifilm recently announced a $35 million expansion of its Flexible Biomanufacturing Facility to develop gene therapies. The brainy work taking place on campus and off is reflected in College Station’s workforce: the city ranks #17 in educational attainment, and #16 in the people composite.
The Apollo astronauts who visited the moon got there on a Saturn V rocket, with Huntsville laying claim to making the game-changing heavy lift vehicle (a replica 36 storeys tall is a local landmark). Space, defence, and technology remain major industries in northern Alabama’s economic hub, home to NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) and Cummings Research Park, the fourth largest in the world. You may not be able to travel there via spacecraft but Connectivity is a strong suit in Rocket City, ranking #25 with direct flights to 10 destinations. Easy access was just one factor contributing to Huntsville’s #28 spot for Product overall. With draws such as the U.S. Space & Rocket Center and EarlyWorks Family of Museums (a group of three destinations on one site), it ranked #11 for Attractions and #21 for Museums. The county seat of Madison county is soaring in terms of Promotion, at #39; it was in our top 10 for Google Trends (#9) and ranked #21 for Instagram hashtags, #25 for Facebook Check-ins, and #31 for TripAdvisor reviews. Those favorable visitor write-ups will likely keep coming: The Big Picture downtown master plan is well underway, with 12 major construction projects announced or in development in 2019 in one square mile alone, with investments estimated to be over $400-million.
A college town midway between the state’s largest metropolitan areas of St. Louis and Kansas City, CoMo is known for Mizzou—the University of Missouri—Columbia College, Stephens College, and Missouri School of Journalism. Besides education, key economic drivers include health care, insurance, and technology. The city’s residents are highly successful, giving Missouri’s fourth most-populous city a #14 ranking in our People category. Within that, it ranked #6 for Educational Attainment: Nearly 95% of Columbians finished high school, nearly 53% completed college, and close to 13% have a graduate degree. It reached #72 for Foreign Born, at 8.6%. The lively, progressive place performed well in Promotion (#37, with a #16 ranking for Google Searches and #28 for Google Trends) and in Programming (#59). With events like the renowned We Always Swing jazz fest, Columbia earned a #355 standing for Culture, while plenty of bars and pubs appealing to students helped it rank and #43 for Nightlife). Next up: the 10-year Loop Corridor Plan will improve the Business Loop, a stretch a half mile from downtown, which will bring in local, small-scale manufacturers, public gathering spaces, safer sidewalks and more at a cost of up to $15-million.
Location, location, location: Manchester sits in a sweet spot within 90 minutes of the White Mountain and Lakes Region and the Atlantic Coast, 53 miles from Boston, a two-hour drive to Providence, Rhode Island, and five hours to New York City and Montreal. The Merrimack River runs through it, while Lake Massabesic lies smack in the middle. The Queen City (so-called because it’s larger than the state capital of Concord) made our top 10 for Household Income, ranking #10 with a median of $58,227. That figure, coupled with a presence of Fortune500 companies, yielded a #28 ranking overall for Prosperity. With 10 colleges and universities and technology, manufacturing, communications, financial services, and health care among its major sectors, Manchester ranked #31 in our People category. More than 87% of residents finished high school or higher, and nearly 29% earned their bachelor degree or higher, catapulting the city to a #26 ranking for Educational Attainment. Nearly 14% of residents in the city of immigrants are Foreign Born, for a #46 standing. With more than 60% of the city’s workforce employed in small business (fewer than 10 employees), a highlight in the Manchester Master Plan is small business retention and growth.
Located 90 minutes south of Portland, Eugene stretches out along the confluence of the McKenzie and Willamette rivers and has for years embodied the Pacific Northwest ideal: the outdoors minutes from the front door, a locally sourced food supply and obsession with food security, and green hills stretching in every direction, just like the wine regions and craft breweries. The tight-knit community makes its own fun, with am impressive #10 ranking in our diverse Programming category. The Culture subcategory, ranked #10 among America’s small cities, is big here, driven by the Hult Center, Eugene’s performing arts mainstay, as well as the University of Oregon’s wellspring of creativity and innovation. Another subcategory driving the impressive Programming performance is Shopping (for which Eugene ranks #12) due to a diversity of downtown boutiques and the 5th Street Public Market, which spotlights Oregon-made gifts and high-end fashion. With so many things to do, locals and visitors rarely lack anything to eat, in the #16-ranked restaurants, ranging from brew pubs and local favorites like Sizzle Pie to dessert destinations like Voodoo Doughnuts.
The 62,000-acre Red Cliffs National Conservation Area is here, a breathtaking park situated at the convergence of a trio of distinct ecosystems: the Mojave Desert, Great Basin National Park, and Colorado Plateau. A four-minute drive from downtown St. George are desert tortoises, cholla cacti, and other species of plants and animals that don’t typically coexist. A breathtaking place to go mountain biking, hiking, or horseback riding, the reserve is just one recreational area that makes living in St. George so appealing. It ranked a whopping #7 in our Place category, in part because of its #28 spot for Parks and Outdoors. The city also made our top 10 for Weather (#9), #22 for Crime Rate (it’s lower than the state average), and #31 for Neighborhoods, some known for top-rated golf clubs (Green Springs) or for views of Big Red Mountain and lava flows (Snow Canyon). About two hours from Las Vegas and four from Salt Lake City by car, St. George ranked high on our overall Product Category, at #58. Connectivity played a role, it coming in at #53 with direct flights to places like Denver and Phoenix, and #34 for Convention Center Size: within the Dixie Convention Center is the Rosenbruch World Wildlife Museum. Looking ahead, up to 400 new jobs could arise with RS Technologies, Inc setting up a utility-pole manufacturing facility over the next seven years in an agreement worth $35-million with the Economic Development Corporation of Utah and the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development.
Located at the northern tip of the San Francisco Bay, Vallejo enjoys a mix of suburban quietude, and the East Bay’s vibrant urban culture. This historically industrial city is being retooled for California’s contemporary industries. A modular housing factory recently opened within the city limits, and major film studios and wine production facilities are planned. An easy ferry ride to downtown San Francisco makes for a beautiful commute to the center of the tech economy. All of this opportunity gives the city its #4 raking in Household Income, and #18 People overall ranking. This highly diverse city, ranking #13 in Foreign Born residents, has produced some of the Bay Area’s most successful rappers, including Mac Dre and E-40. Vallejo’s beautiful weather (#29 within the Place subcategory) makes it the perfect place to cruise in on a hot rod or a low rider.
Flagstaff is known as “The City of Seven Wonders”, sitting in the middle of the world’s largest pine forest (Coconino National Forest) and surrounded by the Grand Canyon, Sunset Crater National Monument, the San Francisco Peaks, as well as other natural treasures. A year-round paradise for outdoors lovers with the 56 miles of non-motorized shared pathways in the Flagstaff Urban Trails System, it ranked #26 in our Place category, with a #12 spot for Parks and Outdoors. Adding to its appeal is its climate (#41 for Weather), sunny for summer hiking and crisp for winter sports. Yet there’s far more to this popular Route 66 stop than access to nature. It has a vibrant arts scene (with its own symphony orchestra and annual Navajo, Hopi, and Zuni festivals), ranking #22 for Culture. Along with a #31 rank for shopping (notably in historic downtown boutiques) and #55 for Nightlife and Museums (Museum of Northern Arizona celebrates the Colorado Plateau), Flagstaff landed #61 overall for Programming. Key sectors include advanced manufacturing, bioscience, and astronomy. Now testing: Northern Arizona University’s pilot program to ship wood chips to South Korea would help with forest restoration and bring income into Flagstaff. Also noteworthy: the transportation tax renewal will bring in an anticipated $29-million over the next 20 years specifically for pedestrian, bicycle, and trail infrastructure projects.
First inhabited by Creek Indians, named after Christopher Columbus, and known as the Fountain City, the city lays claim to being the site of the last battle of the Civil War. Situated on the Alabama border on the Chattahoochee River, it has the world’s largest urban white-water course and plenty of other water sports, from paddle boarding to flat-water tubing. Government, manufacturing, and research are some of the economic drivers, the city reaching #16 in our Prosperity category. It’s home to several Fortune 500 companies, many, like Aflac Inc., in the insurance sector, and the Household Income (#179) is median $45,389. A diverse dining scene, from barbecue to Vietnamese, helped the city land #34 ranking in Restaurants, that subcategory being one contributing factor to its overall #46 Program ranking. Adding to the buzz is a Culture score of #22: check out the Columbus Ballet, Springer Opera House, and Pasaquan, a seven-acre “psychedelic wonderland”. The city is a high achiever in terms of Promotion, at #36, ranking #21 for Google Searches and #28 for Google Trends. Making waves: 10 projects that will bring more than $92-million in new capital investments and hundreds of jobs beginning in early 2021 with companies such as Zummit Plastics and Hampton Inn looking to expand in the area.
Snowbirds love this place: Yuma holds the Guinness World Record for sunniest city on Earth. It’s also the country’s least humid and driest (with an annual rainfall of about three inches per year), but not as intensely hot as Miami or Key West. Little wonder that the largest Arizona city outside of Phoenix and Tucson ranked #2 for Weather, helping it reach #11 in our overall Place category. Under that (unnecessary) umbrella was a #48 spot for Parks and Outdoors (the Imperial Sand Dunes really do have a Star Wars connection, while the Yuma East Wetlands are a stone’s throw from downtown) and relatively low crime rate (#55). The city is proud of its diversity, with nearly 27% being Foreign Born (#5), and 64t of Yuma county residents saying they are of Hispanic origin. Overall, it ranked #28 in our People category. Agriculture, military, and tourism are the main industries. The Yuma School District is investing $32-million into a middle school campus this year; meanwhile, there’s work linked to Trump’s border wall: the Department of Defense recently awarded three new contracts to build 36 miles of replacement fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border, two of which will be installed near Yuma, totalling $316-million.
Redding sits in the shadow of Mt. Shasta, the second-highest mountain in the Cascade Range and the fifth-highest in California, making the city a mecca for the outdoorsy set. The 14,179 foot mountain, and the massive Lake Shasta reservoir, offer excellent, year-round recreational opportunities, giving the city its #31 Parks and Outdoors ranking. The city also boasts the second-highest rated Convention Center of all small cities—suggesting the city could be especially hard-hit during social distancing. Between its strong convention center and its highly-rated attractions (#35), including the Turtle Bay Recreation Park and wildlife center, Redding ranks #12 on Product. Formerly a major logging and industrial hub, Redding’s economy is now more service-dependent, counting healthcare, government, and retail as its three largest sectors. Construction is sure to be trending up, too, as the city recovers from the Carr Fire in 2018.
With defense, education, and technology among its main industries, California is our #1 city for Household Income (median $83,760). This prestigious ranking contributed to its overall #20 spot for Prosperity. Situated on Chesapeake Bay, 50 miles south of Washington DC, the city is just four miles from the 14,500-acre Patuxent River Naval Air Station, a significant research, development, testing, and evaluation site for the US Navy. California is aggressively marketing itself, reaching our top 10 for Promotion (#9), with #4 ranking for Google Searches. At #43 for Educational Attainment (with 38% of residents having a Bachelor’s degree or higher) and within our top 100 for Foreign Born (#93, nearly 5%), the waterfront city stood at #66 for People. More than 43,000 jobs in the region will require a Bachelor’s or higher by 2024, with a new innovation district soon to take flight in Southern Maryland through millions of dollars in state funding.
Tucked into the Eastern Washington urban area known as the Tri-Cities, Kennewick is the biggest of the bunch, sprawling out over 25 square miles westward from the Columbia River. The city, about three and a half hours from both Seattle and Portland, is the region’s retail shopping and business hub, featuring an economy rooted in agriculture and nuclear waste—yup, the cleanup of the Cold War-era Hanford reactor is big business here. The city ranks an impressive #32 in our Household Income subcategory and #23 for Foreign-born Residents, many coming for the plentiful agricultural jobs around the region. There’s also plenty of things to spend it on, too, from minor-league sports, to entertainment. The Kennewick Three Rivers Entertainment District is home to the Toyota Center and Three Rivers Convention Center. The #32-ranked Weather subcategory (yes, in Washington state!) means plenty of golf at one of three courses or hanging out at one of the 27 beautifully maintained parks.
The site of the 1863 American Civil War battle is today the base of the Lincoln Leadership Institute at Gettysburg, which offers training for top executives, many from Fortune 100 companies like Pfizer, FedEx, and GE. Building business goes hand in hand with enhancing quality of life. A key part of the Community & Economic Development department’s mandate is to improve residential areas, a commitment that helped earn the city #2 spot for Neighborhoods. Along with a low crime rate, Gettysburg ranked #8 in our Place category. Another priority is the Gettysburg Gateway Connectivity Project, a multiblock $11-million revitalization plan that will connect to Federal Park Service Land (Gettysburg National Military Park and the David Wills House) at each end of the historic center’s Baltimore street (where Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address took place).
Situated in the Texas panhandle halfway between Albuquerque and Oklahoma City on Route 66, Amarillo is a quintessential southwestern town that’s serious about business. The city’s popular Convention Center ranks #28, serving as the centerpiece of a diverse economy, which is getting set to welcome a brand new campus for the Texas Tech School of Veterinary Medicine and a new facility for SSI Foods. Amarillo ranks #23 in Attractions, offering plenty of local flavor to tourists. Cadillac Ranch, a unique art installation featuring 10 Cadillacs buried hood-first in the ground, served as an inspiration for the popular Disney movie, Cars, as well as the franchise’s new park at Disneyland. At the Big Texan Steak Ranch, diners bold enough to finish a 72-ounce steak in under an hour, eat free.
Lubbock may be the 11th largest city in Texas, but it’s no small fry in terms of culture, providing the launchpad for legendary musicians like Buddy Holly, Waylon Jennings, and Roy Orbison. As the host city of the National Cowboy Symposium, Lubbock’s culture isn’t restricted to music. The city also ranks #26 in Restaurants, #29 in Museums, and #22 in Culture. Unfortunately, this also means the city’s major attractions, like the Museum of Texas Tech University and the Science Spectrum and Omni Theater, are suffering during the coronavirus outbreak. The city’s economy is powered in large part by Texas Tech, which has helped Lubbock become a significant tech and healthcare/biosciences hub, although those are by no means the city’s only sectors. Texas Pipe and Machine LLC, a specialized machining company, and the call center VXI Global Solutions recently announced major investments in Lubbock adding hundreds of jobs.
The city is one of 19 that make up the Fox Cities along the banks of the Fox River. Among its draws are Lawrence University and its Conservatory of Music; the Hearthstone Historic House Museum displays original Thomas Edison lights. With 11 nonstop destinations from Appleton International Airport, the city ranked #18 for Connectivity, contributing to its overall #37 rank for Product. Adding to its strong score in this category was Convention Center Size (#60). The Fox Cities Exhibition Center, which opened in 2018, has 30,000 square feet of exhibition halls, 17,000 square feet of outdoor space, and more. The city ranked #46 for Prosperity, with a #28 ranking for Household Income (median $56,459). Appleton’s financial well-being will get a significant boost when U.S. Venture (which distributes petroleum and renewable energy products, lubricants, tires, and parts for the automotive aftermarket) moves into downtown in 2022. The new headquarters will generate an estimated $770-million in economic activity annually.
B’gosh, there’s a lot happening in Oshkosh. The city on the western shore of Lake Winnebago banked by the Fox River and Lake Butte des Morts is a leading city for Fortune 500 companies, such as Oshkosh Corporation, which makes specialty vehicles for farming, the U.S. military, and fire departments. This along with making our Top 100 for Household Income (#92, median of $48,346) Oshkosh ranked #5 in our Prosperity category. It also made the top 100 for Place (#99) with low crime rate (#41) and pleasant climate (#92). A major development is in the works for its Sawdust District, which will see the former industrial corridor transformed into a residential, retail, and entertainment district.
Water play is big here, the city in the centre of Florida’s Treasure Coast boasting Indian River Lagoon, St. Lucie River, wetlands at Savannas Preserve State Park, and 21 miles of beaches. With other outside attractions including Clover Park (where the New York Mets have spring training) and PGA Village (54 championship holes at PGA Golf Club), Port St. Lucie ranked #25 for Parks and Outdoors. Add in one of the lowest crime rates in the country (ranking #6), you’ve got the city coming in at #24 for Place overall. It has a diverse and well-educated population, ranking #25 in our Foreign Born category (nearly 19%) and #112 for Educational Attainment (nearly 21% of residents have a Bachelor’s degree or higher). In response to skills gaps identified by the St. Lucie Economic Development Committee and to boost interest in trades and manufacturing industries, the city is in the final stages of approving Somerset Career Academy Inc. The charter school would help train the local workforce to meet the demands of construction, manufacturing, healthcare—all growing industries here.
York has various claims to fame: as the country’s original capital; the words “The United States of America” were first spoken here; it’s where certain Harley-Davidson vehicles have been made since 1973. Located within the state’s Dutch Country Roads Region, 54 miles north of Baltimore, the city revs along with a strong presence of manufacturing, retail trade, and health care. Raising awareness of the historic city has been a priority as of late. The Brand York project 2017, funded through a hotel room tax to drive tourism and economic development, last year announced its “Have It Made Here” tagline. The research-based campaign is paying off: York ranked #2 in our Promotion category, with a #2 spot for Google Searches and #28 for Google Trends. Making our top 50 for Prosperity (#47), it ranked #29 for Household Income (median $30,283). Downtown is about to get a facelift: Royal Square Development and Construction is a $14-million project that will transform several buildings in the area into appealing retail and residential spaces.
Home of the newest addition to the prestigious University of California system, Merced is an agricultural city quickly adapting to the knowledge economy. The university, which opened in 2005, powers the city’s #19 University ranking and #22 People ranking. The university, whose students are more than 50% Latino, is also a major engine of upward mobility in this city with a large foreign-born population, ranking #3. Agriculture is Merced County’s top sector, accounting for $3-billion of economic output each year, but the government, health and education sectors are also growing fast. Improved rail connections to the Bay Area and the rest of California via the state’s under construction high speed Rail line will provide new economic opportunities for the city in the coming years. Great weather (#12), and easy access to Yosemite National Park and other natural wonders provide plenty of recreational opportunities for residents.
This desert city, located 42 feet below sea level, is surely one of the most unique on our list. Located in the largely agricultural Imperial Valley about 100 miles east of San Diego, El Centro’s economy is dominated by government, retail, and education. With Mexico just 10 miles down the road, the city hosts the largest foreign born population of all small cities in America (#1), and boasts the #12 ranking in People overall. El Centro also has the best weather of all small cities (#1), with sunshine nearly every day of the year. Desert recreational activities abound: The nearby Algodones Dunes are the largest dune field in the U.S. and a popular destination for off-road vehicles. Nearby Slab City is an alternative community filled with large-scale, DIY art installations like Salvation Mountain and East Jesus that have recently become Instagram sensations (#103 in our Promotion subcategory).
The city’s namesake, Horace Greeley, editor and founder of the New York Tribune supported women’s rights and opposed slavery. It’s said he only ever visited the northern Colorado area once, in 1870. With agricultural roots that led it to being one of the first planned communities in the nation, the city acquired an early reputation for meat-packing; major industries today include health care and education. Nestled northeast of Denver by about 50 miles where the South Platte and Cache La Poudre rivers meet, the home of the University of Northern Colorado ranked #13 for Household Income (median $55,007), contributing to its #31 spot overall in our Prosperity category. It also performed well in our Place category, at #42 with a relatively low crime rate (#77) and dry climate (#17 for Weather). The master-planned City Center (a certified Colorado Creative District) is taking shape; a $43.2-million, 264-unit multi-housing structure called Ten West is due for completion in 2021 and touts access to more than 7,100 employers within a 20-minute drive.
Known as “The Gateway City,” Laredo is the third most populous city on the U.S.-Mexico border with a unique bi-national culture and economy. The city handled a whopping 40% of U.S.-Mexico trade in 2019, powering a strong transportation and logistics sector. Prospects are good for these businesses, with the construction of the Milo Interchange, $400-million in upgrades to I-35 leading up to the border checkpoint set to be completed in 2023. It’s not surprising this international city, ranking #6 in Foreign-Born population and #26 in People overall, has great restaurants (#41). It’s also growing fast, attracting new residents and businesses thanks to its sunny weather (#19). Laredo’s location on the Rio Grande offers unique recreational opportunities, like Slaughter Park, which is a popular destination for birders and hikers.
A college town located between Austin and Dallas, Waco is a small city with big city amenities. Its revitalizing downtown, anchored by the historic Waco Suspension Bridge, is a popular destination for shopping (#9) and restaurants (#39). The Brazos Promenade, a proposed $100-million, mixed-use riverfront development is poised to make downtown even more vibrant. The city also has a number of unique, family-friendly museums (#29), including the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame, and the Waco Mammoth site, exhibiting the fossils of prehistoric Woolly Mammoths. With weather like this, ranking #25, it’s no surprise Dr. Pepper was invented here to quench Wacoans thirst. The presence of Baylor University bolsters the city’s high-skill workforce, with major employers including aerospace, financial services, healthcare, and advanced manufacturing. Between Baylor, Texas Tech State University, and McLennan Community College, Waco earns the #13 spot in University ranking.
Built on the banks of the Yellowstone River, Billings (named after Frederick Billings, a one-time president of Northern Pacific Railroad) is the gateway to Bighorn Canyon and calls itself the Montana Trailhead. Its population has nearly doubled every 30 years since its founding in 1882. Transportation, agriculture, energy, and health care are significant industries in the main Montana business district. With direct flights to 10 U.S. cities, it made our top 10 for Connectivity (#7). With Montana State University and Rocky Mountain College among its educational institutions, it ranked #68 for Universities, yielding an overall #34 spot in our Product category. The city has a colourful artistic side, ranking high for Attractions (#23) and Culture (#35; check out the 1903 Moss Mansion, listed on the National Register of Historic Places) for an overall Programming rank of #55. On the city’s to-do list: the West End Reservoir, for fishing, canoeing, swimming, tubing and as an assurance that water will never run out (as it did in 2011 after an oil leak into the river). With a walking trail and water treatment plant, it’s expected to cost $120-million and be completed in 2024.
Washington state’s capital, located in the heart of the booming Puget Sound region (an hour south of Seattle and two north of Portland), is an affordable, increasingly coveted hometown. Governor Jay Inslee’s recent (but unsuccessful) run for president and subsequent sabre-rattling with the Trump administration has shined the spotlight on his progressive, ambitious home base. Like its namesake Evergreen State, Olympia is surrounded by fresh and salt water and a verdant bounty of parks which rank #35 in the nation. There are zen-inducing walks at Percival Landing’s marina or Capitol Lake in town, as well as the 314-acre waterfront Priest Point Park. When it comes to working, Olympia ranks an impressive #15 in our Household Income subcategory (and #33 for overall Prosperity), with the state government as the largest employer by far, with more than 20,000 workers. Local and federal governments also employ thousands. The citizenry ranks #29 in Educational Attainment. The city feeds its ambition with craft breweries, local seafood and coffee shops—so many coffee shops—from local mini-empire Olympia Coffee to the skull-art-obsessed Burial Grounds.
If it was good enough for Abraham Lincoln… The home of the 16th president is also where Barack Obama started his political career. Springfield sits within 40 miles of Chicago, St. Louise, and Indianapolis, a draw for tourists with its rich history but also a model, forward-thinking city with a relatively new business incubator and the eco-friendly, 80-acre Southwind Park, which has wetlands, sensory gardens and a wind turbine and offers fishing, kite-flying and more while being fully accessible to all, notably people with physical and cognitive challenges. Sites like the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum and Dana-Thomas House-A Frank Lloyd Wright Design gave Springfield a #21 spot for Museums; Evenings at craft breweries and all-ages concerts lifted the city to a #15 ranking for Nightlife, something the city will need to reclaim after the pandemic. Combined, those features landed Springfield in our top 50 for Programming, at #47. As part of the bipartisan Rebuild Illinois capital plan, intended the Springfield Rail Improvements Project is well underway. The $315-million project, with a 2025 completion date, will alleviate rail congestion in the downtown core, with the intention of boosting the state’s global status as a supply chain hub.
Business is booming in Burlington. Honda Aero, the jet engine manufacturer for Honda and other aircraft builders, has its headquarters here; Sheetz Corporation operates a 245,000 square foot regional distribution center; Alamance Regional Medical Center has expanded to meet the health-care needs of the growing community; and more than 2 million square feet of retail development has gone into the University Corridor over the last decade. There are plans for upgrades to the Burlington-Alamance Regional Airport, which has already extended runways to accommodate larger aircraft. Home to LabCorp, a Fortune 500 company worth $11.33-billion, and with a median Household Income (#173) of $40,061, the city ranked #13 in our Prosperity category. The Downtown Economic Development Implementation Plan 2019-2026 identifies seven goals to position the city’s core as the primary mixed-use center of the greater Alamance County region, including multimodal transportation options, an innovation village, and increased home-ownership rates and property values in surrounding neighborhoods.
Mount Rushmore National Memorial (23 miles away) is just one of the sights that earned the Black Hills city a #17 ranking for Attractions. Other highlights are Dinosaur Park (open since 1936) and America’s Founding Fathers Exhibit. Rapid City featured prominently in our Product category, at #39: it ranked #25 for Convention Center Size, with Rushmore Plaza Civic Center about to undergo an expansion and a title change. As of 2021, it will be known as the Monument, with naming rights falling to Monument Health under a 10-year, $3.6-million agreement that involves a new yet-to-be-named arena and other venues at the complex. The city ranked #41 for Connectivity, with direct flights to up to 13 destinations. The civic center isn’t the only exciting project in the works. City hall is about to be renovated to the tune of $1.71-million.
Indiana University Bloomington is considered the institution’s premiere campus (it has seven, plus two regional centers.) This esteemed place of learning, along with others, like Ivy Tech Community College, yielded an impressive #13 ranking for Universities contributing to an overall #65 standing for Product. IU is a major employer here, with medical services, pharmaceuticals, and government being other dominant industries. Those sectors pay well, with Bloomington-based Hoosiers being among the most educated in the nation. The city ranked #12 for Educational Attainment, with more than 92% having high school or higher and nearly 56% with a Bachelor’s degree or higher. Those figures helped the city rank #32 for People, and so did its diversity. With nearly 12% of residents being Foreign Born, the city made our top 100 in this subcategory, at #84. They have a new IU Health Bloomington Hospital to look forward to: opening in late 2021, the $400-million facility will have an educational wing, an emergency department, and 196 private rooms.
They call it the City of Five Seasons because back in the late 1960s, commuting time was far much shorter here than in bigger urban centers, leading to a more relaxed lifestyle (and more time to enjoy the four seasons). Life has gotten busier since, with food manufacturing and processing (Frito-Lay and General Mills operate here), tech, and transportation being major economic drivers. Connectivity is a strong area, the city ranking #11 with Eastern Iowa Airport having nonstop flights to seven destinations. The recently renovated, 471,227 square foot convention complex, U.S. Cellular Center, is the state’s second largest, landing Cedar Rapids a #13 ranking for Convention Center Size and an overall Product ranking of #33. The city was strong in terms of Programming (#60), making our top 50 for Nightlife (#36) and Restaurants (#50). One of the city’s largest investments is a 2,150-foot long wall up to 18 feet high in some places around Quaker Oats to protect the food manufacturing giant and the city itself from flooding, to be complete by 2021 at a cost of $17-million.
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (aka Virginia Tech) calls Blacksburg home, its roots reaching back to 1872 when it opened as Virginia’s white land-grant institution. Some 34,000 students attend annually, with the institution planning for an aggressive expansion: an additional 7 million gross square feet in facilities over the next three decades. Located in the Blue Ridge Highlands of Montgomery County, the city ranked #12 for Universities, helping it land a #50 spot for Product overall. In addition to having the youthful, lively feel of a college town, Blacksburg’s appeal stems from its sense of safety. Blacksburg Police Department has aid agreements in place with Virginia Tech Police Department and the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office, yielding one the lowest crime rates in the country (#2). The local police will have shiny new headquarters come 2021; The city is putting $25.5-million toward the new 35,000 square foot department as part of a $100-million development downtown that will see close to 100 new townhomes go up.
History is rich in this place, where Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat for a white person in 1955, triggering the 381-day Montgomery Bus Boycott and fuelling the modern Civil Rights movement. With everything from the National Center for the Study of Civil Rights & African-American Culture to the Scott & Zelda Fitzgerald Museum to the Alabama Shakespeare Festival to the Hank Williams Memorial, the city ranked #22 in our Culture subcategory, and #36 for Programming overall. Maxwell Gunter Air Force Base is the city’s leading employer, and it will soon direct more jobs and money into the city. Beginning in 2023, Donnelly Field will be one of two sites for Air National Guard F-35A Lightning II fighter jets, expected to result in $50-million in construction and other military investment.
The state’s first capital is perched amid the country’s largest stand of ponderosa pines within 125 miles of the Grand Canyon, Flagstaff, and Sedona. The great outdoors is fully embraced, with everything from kayaking to mountain climbing at your fingertips and more than 450 miles of trails to explore throughout four distinct seasons. Thanks to its #13 ranking for Weather and #25 for Parks and Outdoors, the city stood at #15 for Place. It’s rich in history, with Whiskey Row being a popular draw; fire destroyed the entire block in 1900, and the 40 saloons that later went up attracted cowboys and outlaws. But it’s also fiercely modern, with leading industries including medical services, manufacturing, and aerospace (Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University; Prescott Aerospace; and Leidos Civil, formerly Lockheed Martin, are all here). Ready for takeoff: the 1940s terminal at Prescott Regional Airport – Ernest A. Love Field is being replaced with a new $13.9-million structure slated for a 2021 completion.
First things first: Lafayette is across the Wabash River from, and sister city to, West Lafayette, the site of Purdue University. But Lafayette still benefits enormously from the esteemed academic institution just two miles from its core, economically and academically. The city was in our top 10 for Universities, at #9, with Ivy Tech Community College and Indiana Tech to call its own. Education, tech, and advanced manufacturing keep the economy humming along, with the city’s population among the most educated and diverse in country: Lafayette ranked #35 for Educational Attainment (88% high school graduates and almost 25% bachelor’s degree) and #44 for Foreign Born. Lafayette is keen on expanding the downtown core with new investments in underused areas. Take the $17-million mixed-use Nova project now underway. With 76 dwellings and 6,000 square feet of retail space, the design features two buildings on either side of an alley. In a Lafayette first, developers purchased easement rights to the air space above the lane.
Stretching out along the Clark Fork River and tucked amongst five mountain ranges and 60,000 acres of wilderness, Missoula is far away from it all but seemingly not lacking for anything. This is a place where Paul McCartney and Pearl Jam play sold-out shows regularly, where the healthcare system employs 6,000 and two hospitals rival those of any big city. Few university towns are as symbiotic with their schools as Missoula is with the University of Montana. UM helps maintain the #29-ranked museums and retains and attracts the smart talent (Missoula ranks #23 in our Educational Attainment subcategory). They come for the affordable (but rising real estate), the plentiful adventure a short drive away, but also the sense of place the city offers, from the #20-ranked Parks and Outdoors—including a whitewater park for kayakers and surfers—to a downtown peppered with buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. That they happen to house award-winning craft breweries and daring Mexican joints just adds to Missoula’s infinite magnetism.
With French roots (fur traders from France canoed into the river valley in the 1600s), the oldest European settlement in Illinois and hometown of Betty Frieden is the largest city on the Illinois River, offering spectacular views from its RiverFront district. Agriculture and manufacturing are major economic drivers: Peoria is a major exporter of grain and livestock, while more than 200 companies make nearly 1,000 products, from road machinery to caskets. The city ranked #7 for Convention Center Size: with more than 100,000 square feet of exhibit space, Peoria Civic Center has an arena, theater, ballrooms, and meeting space. With the General Wayne A. Downing Peoria International Airport offering direct flights to 11 destinations, Peoria ranked #18 for Connectivity, those two subcategories earning it #26 spot for Product overall. Things are only going to get better: a $130-million development of OSF HealthCare’s new headquarters in an iconic 114-year-old building downtown is in the works; the same organization is planning to build a $237-million cancer center; a nine-block Innovation District was recently approved; and multimillionaire Kim Blickenstaff is sharing his wealth with his hometown, funding multiple projects from a boutique hotel to a performing arts center.
Known as a site on the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail, the North Dakota capital sits across the Missouri River from Mandan. It landed in the top 50 in two categories: Prosperity (#41) and Product (#45). Bismarck landed #23 for Household Income (median $63,608) with the state government being its largest employer, followed by the healthcare industry, public schools, and the federal government. A major agricultural distribution center the city also made our top 10 for Convention Center Size, at #9. The Bismarck Event Center features a 10,000-seat arena, recently expanded 100,000 square foot exhibit hall, and the Belle Mehus Auditorium, a historic structure dating back to 1914. As the Bismarck Mandan Chamber EDC sets three key industries as targets for future business attraction—value-added energy, value-added agriculture, and equipment manufacturing—the city has more than $15-million in road upgrades planned for 2020 alone, while two new modern apartment complexes are to be complete by 2021 at a cost of $10-million and $7.7-million each.
Surrounded by St. Andrew’s Bay, the notoriously popular spring break destination with white sand beaches is home to Port Panama City, a growing port with six deep-water berths and $35-million in improvements committed in the coming years. Its Foreign Trade Zone #65 designation is a boon to businesses seeking to expand or establish in Bay County. The city ranked #25 in our Google Searches subcategory, leading to a top 50 ranking for Promotion (#49). What’s not to promote? Panama City ranked #57 overall for Product, which consists of Universities, Convention Center Size, and Connectivity. It reached #41 in that last subcategory, Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport offering direct flights to 12 U.S. cities. In the news: state-approved student housing at Florida State University-Panama City totalling $23-million and a sprawling family-oriented resort at Pier Park worth $50-million, both scheduled for 2021 completion.
Logan is surrounded by scenic splendour, sitting at the base of Bear River Range near Logan Canyon with its deep blue 18-mile Bear Lake. But there’s natural beauty within city boundaries as well, with extensive trails, a golf course intersected by the Logan River, a Living Tree program, and more—all of which contributed to its #81 spot for Parks and Outdoors. Add in safety (#19 for Crime Rate), and Logan ranked #45 overall for Place. Home to Utah State University, Logan is situated within Cache County, the state’s top agricultural producer, and also excels in food processing, light manufacturing, publishing, and other diverse sectors. Residents have the Logan Riverwalk Development to look forward to, a river restoration project in collaboration with the Logan River Task Force. Features of the $14.7-million project include a pedestrian bridge over the river, an extended-stay hotel, 15,000 square feet of retail, and more.
So called the Rose of New England because its undulating hills resemble the fragrant flower’s petals, Norwich traces its origins to the Mohegan, members of an Algonquian people who once inhabited part of Connecticut. Mohegan Park & Memorial Rose Garden is the leading attraction in the city where the Yantic and Shetucket Rivers merge. Healthcare, arts and entertainment, education, construction, and retail trade prevail. The highest-paying sectors include agriculture and forestry, with Norwich ranking #27 for Household Income (median $55,391) and making our top 50 for Prosperity overall (#45). It ranked #54 for People, with a #51 standing for Foreign Born (nearly 15% of the population) and #52 for Educational Attainment (almost 21% have a Bachelor’s degree or higher). More jobs are coming with the recently announced major expansion of Nordson EFD LLC, which makes precision measuring and dispensing devices for medical and manufacturing industries, in the Norwich Business Park; and the growth of IT-solutions company American Systems in the Stanley Israelite Business Park.
With plenty of sun (ranked #34 for Weather in the nation) and productive land, Wenatchee is in the fruit belt of the Pacific Northwest. It all started in1908, when farmer Mike Horan showed off the local produce at the National Apple Show in Spokane. More than a century later, the apple industry has consolidated under larger growers, but innovative vineyards, wineries and a host of organic growers are driving agricultural tourism locally like never before. Helping their cause was the 2013 opening of the not-for-profit Pybus Public Market in town, today a cornucopia of specialty-food vendors and restaurants, in addition to the weekly farmers’ Wenatchee Valley Farmers Market that runs from May through October with more than 20 vendors and live music on Fridays. Adding to the rural appeal is the presence of a local ski hill, Mission Ridge, accessible from town in under 30 min. The agricultural industry also draws many workers from Latin America and elsewhere and gives this small city a diversity not seen in others its size. Wenatchee ranks #22 in our Foreign Born subcategory.
Other cities may claim to be beer capitals, but they wouldn’t have a bar stool leg to stand on if it wasn’t for Yakima. This south central Washington farming city produces more than 75% of America’s annual hop harvest that thrives in the volcanic soil and long, hot summer days. There’s even a museum dedicated to hops. The city’s #39 ranking for Weather speaks to its welcoming climate. But it’s not just beer in this fertile valley at the eastern base of the Cascade Range. Irrigation by the Yakima River supports the area’s numerous orchards that produce apples, pears, peaches, and more. The city’s small town vibes and large Hispanic population attracted by farm labor adds a multicultural flavor to rural Washington. Yakima ranks #14 in our Foreign-bBorn Residents subcategory.
Once known for outlet malls and border shopping by Canadians, this Pacific Northwest town is channelling Portlandia of late, thanks to a dozen craft breweries, college-town energy and an earnest embrace of Washington state’s legalized marijuana status. Although long (and lovingly) referred to as the city of subdued excitement, Bellingham has always been a secret power. It’s just that these days, it’s strutting instead of shuffling, energized by Seattle money and validation from new residents that its city-limits outdoor bounty (ranked #21 in the nation) and ranging from easy hikes at Western Washington University’s a sprawling historic campus tucked into the thick rainforests above the city, to leg-burners south of town, is rare and wonderful. Back in town, both downtown Bellingham and neighboring historic Fairhaven are pedestrian gems boasting retail that ranks #24 in our Shopping category. The town’s dozen-plus breweries are increasingly drawing visitors—and residents—with every impeccably brewed pint. The city is investing in further combining the urban with the natural. In 2019 the city opened Waypoint Park, the first public access to the urban seashore in a century, picking up environmental awards along the way.
The Villages calls itself Florida’s Friendliest Active Adult 55+ Retirement Community. Founded by the Morse family more than four decades ago, it’s a place where people can dance, row, listen to free live music, and more 365 days a year, with health-care, fitness, and religious services all just a golf cart ride away. Retail, medical, professional, scientific, and technical services drive the economy in the city that’s as sunny as it is secure, ranking #5 for Safety. Along with a #96 ranking for Parks and Outdoors (there’s Lake Sumter and an extensive trail system), the Villages came in at #29 for Place. The future here is big: The Villages is expected to double in size in the next two decades, with plans for nearly 60,500 new homes, 17.8 million square feet of commercial space, and 222,000 square feet of office and governmental space.
Given Seattle’s ascent as one of North America’s fastest-growing cities, it’s no wonder that Bremerton’s fortunes have risen as well. The naval and maritime center is a scenic hour-long sailing from the offices of Amazon, Starbucks and Boeing and more and more engineers, coders and CEOs are choosing it over busier and pricer Seattle. No wonder the city ranks #12 in our Household Income subcategory. But Bremerton isn’t just a bedroom community, as its #21 ranking for Museums indicates. There’s a there here, and plenty of local pride and heritage at places like the Puget Sound Navy Museum, Kitsap Historical Society and Museum and the USS Turner Joy Naval Destroyer Museum Ship. And visiting just got easier, with the new Bremerton Visitor Center open and ready to make sure you explore locally before getting on the ferry back to Seattle.