America's Dreamtowns

Chambersburg, PA ranked #12

 
Reprinted from: BIZJOURNALS - July 21, 2008

By G. Scott Thomas

America may be a metropolitan nation, but most of us don't seem very happy about it.

A total of 252 million people -- 83.5 percent of all Americans -- live in metropolitan areas. That includes 164 million in the 51 biggest metros, the ones with populations above 1 million.

Yet a substantial number of these residents of big cities and inner-ring suburbs don’t have their hearts in it. They would prefer to live on the suburban fringe or in small-town America, as repeatedly shown by surveys during the past decade:

-- A 2005 poll by Where to Retire magazine found that only 8 percent of respondents were planning to spend their golden years in urban centers. The other 92 percent were opting for retirement in rural towns or suburbs.

-- Thirty-nine percent of Americans surveyed by Adweek in 2002 chose small towns as the best places to live, citing "sense of community" and "friendlier people" as the key reasons. Suburbs and big cities were picked by 27 percent and 21 percent, respectively.

-- A 1998 poll by Professional Builder magazine asked participants to select the ideal site to build a home. Two-thirds said they would break ground far from any major city.

Most people never follow through with these impulses, of course, which is why metropolitan areas continue to dominate America.

But some do manage to escape congested cities and sprawling suburbs. The U.S. Census Bureau recently reported that 235,000 families moved from metropolitan areas to nonmetropolitan regions in 2006 -- an average of 640 families per day.

But where's the best place for them to go? The answer is provided by a new bizjournals analysis of 140 micropolitan areas. It identifies America's 10 “dreamtowns,” the small towns that offer the best quality of life without metropolitan hassles.
 
 
 

Rank

Micropolitan area

Quality of life score

Average commuting time (minutes)

Median household income

Management and professional jobs

Homeownership rate

Adults (25 or older) with bachelor's degrees

Air mileage to closest major metro

Micropolitan area population (2006)

1

Torrington, Conn.

18.19

25.2

$66,664

39.0%

77.4%

31.9%

81 miles (New York City)

190,119

2

Bozeman, Mont.

17.01

20.6

$47,532

33.6%

66.2%

45.2%

517 miles (Denver)

81,763

3

Lexington Park, Md.

16.96

26.6

$71,158

40.2%

71.9%

24.4%

48 miles (Washington)

98,854

4

Lebanon, N.H.-Vt.

16.41

20.3

$49,526

39.0%

73.6%

34.5%

112 miles (Boston)

172,429

5

Helena, Mont.

15.44

16.3

$45,013

40.0%

73.4%

30.8%

480 miles (Seattle)

69,212

6

Kalispell, Mont.

14.33

18.9

$45,920

29.9%

76.1%

25.3%

373 miles (Seattle)

85,314

7

Mankato-North Mankato, Minn.

14.06

16.8

$46,104

33.2%

69.8%

33.8%

62 miles (Minneapolis-St. Paul)

89,567

8

Oak Harbor, Wash.

12.99

25.5

$49,022

33.7%

78.9%

27.3%

40 miles (Seattle)

81,489

9

Stevens Point, Wis.

12.66

17.5

$52,354

34.6%

74.1%

30.5%

187 miles (Minneapolis-St. Paul)

67,484

10

Concord, N.H.

12.56

23.7

$55,072

35.1%

69.6%

28.9%

72 miles (Boston)

148,085

11

Midland, Mich.

11.23

21.9

$48,360

39.4%

76.7%

33.3%

107 miles (Detroit)

83,792

12

Chambersburg, Pa.

10.97

22.6

$50,254

31.3%

75.4%

17.0%

69 miles (Baltimore)

139,991

13

Gettysburg, Pa.

10.64

26.6

$53,932

25.9%

79.4%

18.9%

48 miles (Baltimore)

101,105

Topping the list is Torrington, Conn., which is tucked in the hill country in the northwestern part of the state. Its residents enjoy high income levels and a strong educational system that would be the envy of most suburbs. Only 36,000 people live in the city of Torrington itself, 190,000 in its entire region.

Here are the top three small towns:

1. Torrington, Conn.

2. Bozeman, Mont.

3. Lexington Park, Md.

Bizjournals compared 140 micropolitan areas in 20 statistical categories, using data from the U.S. Census Bureau. A micro consists of a central community with 10,000 to 50,000 residents, along with the surrounding countryside. It is, in effect, a small-scale version of a metropolitan area. (Methodology)

The study was inspired by the heavy public interest in small-town life. Its aim was to identify communities that would be most attractive to people considering such a move. The highest scores went to well-rounded places with light traffic, healthy economies, moderate costs of living, impressive housing stocks, strong educational systems, and easy access to big-city attractions.

The 15 runners-up in bizjournals' rankings have qualified for the honorable mention list, a step below dreamtown status. This group ranges from No. 11 Midland, Mich., to No. 25 Watertown-Fort Atkinson, Wisc.

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