Salt Lake City, Utah

With a comfortable lifestyle and a strong workforce, Salt Lake City is attracting both millennials and companies. (Getty Images)

In previous years, metro areas considered small in comparison to the likes of New York City, Los Angeles and San Francisco have fared well in the U.S. News Best Places to Live rankings. With affordability serving as a major factor for many people moving to a new place, smaller metro areas allow residents to keep more money in their pockets, rather than worry about high rent or mortgage payments.

In the data collected for the 2018 rankings, including cost of living, employment, crime rates, migration and morning commute time, it became apparent that corporations and individuals in the U.S. are looking inward from the coasts toward metro areas often referred to as part of “flyover country” as viable and even preferred places to live.

[See: The 25 Best Places to Live in the U.S. in 2018.]

As has been the case for years, metro areas in Florida dominate the fastest-growing spots on the Best Places to Live list, as low tax rates and good weather continue to attract people to the coastal state. But metro areas in the center of the country have seen some of the greatest population growth between 2012 and 2016. It's no surprise that Austin, Texas, and Denver continue to attract many new residents since they both have strong job markets, but maybe more unexpectedly, Nashville, Tennessee; Boise, Idaho; and Fayetteville, Arkansas, all grew by more than 6 percent during the five-year period due to net migration alone.

Compare them to the largest metro areas in the U.S., including New York City, which saw a minor decrease in the population (0.25 percent between 2012 and 2016 in net migration), and Los Angeles, which saw an increase of just 0.27 percent during the same period. The Midwest's biggest metro area, Chicago, saw a drop of nearly 2.2 percent between 2012 and 2016 due to net migration.

So what is drawing an increasing number of people and companies to Middle America?

In many cases, it’s how the area manages to provide all the desirable amenities that a big city can offer, while also being sized proportionately for a smaller population. In Des Moines, Iowa (the No. 4 Best Place to Live), where the fastest-growing demographic is people between the ages of 25 and 34, it’s the ability to make an impact on the community through civic involvement combined with the job opportunities, says Jay Byers, CEO of the Greater Des Moines Partnership, which focuses on regional economic and community development.

“You can inherit a great city, but can you be a part of its future? Can you have coffee with the CEO – can you have coffee with the mayor pretty much any time you want?” Byers says.

As the No. 1 and 3 spots in Best Places to Live for 2018, respectively, Austin and Denver are prime examples of places beyond the traditional coastal hubs that have become destinations – not just for a business trip, but for people planning their future careers and personal lives. Now considered established destinations for both business and personal reasons, the increased interest in Austin and Denver serves as a prime example of the potential for many smaller, inland metro areas in the U.S. to take on new significance as the national economy, workforce and personal preferences change. These metro areas mistakenly viewed as flyover country have harnessed both what the biggest cities have, as well as a few things they lack.

Industry Magnets

While they may not be international seaports, many flourishing metro areas in Middle America have established industries that keep them poised for future growth.

Des Moines, for example, is recognized as a capital of the insurance and financial services industry. The area has managed to further solidify its role in the industry by ensuring that the tech companies that service the insurance industry are based nearby, rather than in another part of the country, like Silicon Valley. Byers explains that the Greater Des Moines Partnership helped launch the Global Insurance Accelerator, which provides programs to foster innovation for the insurance industry.

“Our goal with that was not only celebrating our great insurance history, but what can we do here in Des Moines to help set the course forward for the future of insurance?” Byers says.

More recently, Salt Lake City (No. 15 in Best Places to Live) has established itself as a leader in data analytics, attracting startups and venture capitalists looking to help grow the industry. The capital of Utah has been able to easily adapt its residential neighborhoods, business districts and roads connecting the metro area to appeal to the corporations and professionals relocating there, keeping them in the area longer.

[Read: Why People Are Already Moving to the Best Places to Live in the U.S. in 2018.]

“When you package it all up, now we have the city attracting the millennials for the workforce and we have the luxury suburbs … making it more desirable for the CEOs to want to be here,” says Paul Benson, a real estate agent and CEO of Engel & Volkers Park City in Park City, Utah.

In places like Colorado Springs, Colorado (No. 2 in Best Places to Live), and Huntsville, Alabama (No. 7 in Best Places to Live), the presence of military bases not only keep a steady population coming in for on-base jobs, but they also draw government contractors who often set up their own operations nearby.

Located on the U.S. Army’s Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville is NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, which made aerospace a leading industry in the area beginning in the 1950s and 1960s. While Huntsville is home to a variety of industries – including a recently announced Toyota-Mazda plant that's in the works – the area’s historic role in space exploration maintains a big part of the reputation for the local workforce and population, explains Claire Aiello, marketing and communications director for the Chamber of Commerce of Huntsville/Madison County.

“Aerospace is still our baby, so we attract a smart audience, we attract a smart workforce,” she says.


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Getting Around Is Easy

A diehard city dweller may never fully adjust to a smaller metro area, but many of the places in Middle America that are seeing the most growth offer sleeper amenities that appeal to professionals looking to relocate: arts scenes, growing numbers of music venues and plenty of outdoor recreational activities – without the traffic you expect in the most populous parts of the U.S.

Salt Lake City has an average morning commute of just 22.3 minutes, but it’s not stopping at an easy drive. “Salt Lake has been very forward-thinking on their mass transportation locations and their layout,” Benson says, adding that owning a car isn’t a must anymore if you live downtown.

In Huntsville, affordability and a short commute may be a given, but Aiello says the many transplants to the area are often surprised by the community vibe. “We have this quality of life that they do not expect,” she says.

Aiello adds that residents are able to create the atmosphere they’d like to live in as well. Living in downtown Huntsville is an affordable option, but so is buying a ranch with some acreage just 20 minutes or so away.

While the need to be in contact with the big, coastal cities likely won’t go away, it’s easier than ever for companies and employees to be in constant communication with offices on either coast, making both offices and individual telecommuters in Middle America an appealing option for many companies.

[See: The 25 Best Affordable Places to Live in the U.S. in 2018.]

And for those times that an in-person presence is necessary, air travel is more common than ever – as many as 5,000 aircrafts are in the sky over the U.S. at any given time, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

All combined, it’s becoming less and less necessary to live in the expensive major hubs for the right job or cultural community. So as you search coast-to-coast for your next ideal place to live, don’t discount those key locations located in the middle of the map.


Your Moving Checklist: Don't Let These Details Slip Through the Cracks

Organize your move early.

Moving boxes surrounding family relaxing on sofa

(Getty Images)

Few people can escape heightened stress when it comes time to move. Despite it being a common occurrence – about 11 percent of the U.S. population moved to a new home in 2016, according to the U.S. Census Bureau – moving is undoubtedly an exhausting process. You not only have to pack up everything you own and relocate it, but you also have to clear out your former home and set up house in a new one. It’s easy to find yourself getting into arguments, losing items or running behind a deadline to be out of one place and into another. Here are 10 things you can do to prepare for your move.

Research professionals and prices.

Research professionals and prices.

Relaxed young couple using a laptop at home

(iStockPhoto)

The key to a stress-free move is organization, so you should start thinking about the process as soon as you know you’ll be relocating. Begin by researching moving companies, and take inventory of everything you’ll be moving with you. Then, reach out to a few companies to inquire about cost, availability and materials to move your home. “It’s not unheard of for people to be making inquiries for six months ahead of time,” says Scott Michael, president and CEO of the American Moving & Storage Association. “You don’t need to lock down a contract that early, but it doesn’t hurt to start doing some research.”

Book a moving company.

Book a moving company.

Businessman talking on cell phone and using laptop

(Getty Images)

Once you know your moving day, whether you’ll need movers to pack up your belongings, how much you’ll be taking with you and what your budget is, book a moving company or reserve a truck if you're moving yourself. You still want to book with as much advance notice as possible, with a minimum of a month’s notice in summer and two- to three-weeks' notice during the rest of the year, says Angela Gonzalez, operations and quality manager for Unpakt, an online marketplace that connects consumers with vetted moving companies.

Buy packing materials.

Buy packing materials.

(Getty Images)

Boxes, tape and trash bags are a given when it comes to moving, so much so that they can easily be overlooked. Purchase or find moving materials early so you can begin packing the things you don’t need right away. You can order materials online, inquire with a local retailer or search Craigslist for used boxes. You can even ask your mover if it will include the cost of providing packing materials in the moving cost.

Downsize and start packing early.

Downsize and start packing early.

(Getty Images)

The last thing you want is to find yourself paying more to move things you don’t want or need. Before you break out the moving boxes, sort through your belongings and determine what goes with you, and what goes away. Those rarely used items you decide to keep should be packed early so you can get a good estimate of how much will be loaded into a moving truck. “The stuff that’s been sitting in your closet for the last five or six months – donate it if you can, or pack it if you really need to keep it,” Gonzalez says.

Donate what you don't need.

Donate what you don't need.

Father and son folding clothes for charity

(Getty Images)

Whether it’s a couple bags of clothes the kids don’t wear anymore or a fully stocked pantry of canned goods, minimize the amount of things you take with you – and what you take to the landfill. “A lot of people that are moving have food items in their pantry that maybe they don’t really need anymore,” Michael says, noting moving companies often have contact information for local food banks and may even deliver the donation for you.

Transfer your utilities.

Transfer your utilities.

Man turning off light switch.

(Getty Images)

The last thing you want is to arrive at your new home and realize you forgot to turn on the water, heat or electricity – or you didn't turn them off at your old place. Be sure to call in advance and set the start date for your utilities at least a day prior to your move day to ensure everything is on when you arrive. Gonzalez stresses that any utility installation such as cable or internet shouldn't happen on moving day.

Change your mailing address.

Change your mailing address.

Postbox with old yellowed newspaper.

(Getty Images)

The U.S. Postal Service makes it easy to change your mailing address online – just go to moversguide.usps.com. You can set up the change of address as far in advance as you'd like so mail will begin forwarding to your new home the day of your move. You should also notify your bank, doctor's office, employer and friends and family of your new address, but you have extra time to do so once you’ve established the change with the post office.

Get a permit or reserve space for a moving truck.

Get a permit or reserve space for a moving truck.

group of friends standing at the back of small moving truck, lifting up rear door, truck filled with moving boxes and furniture, urban environment

(Getty Images)

If your moving truck will occupy space on a city street with street parking, you’ll likely need to apply for a permit or request “no parking” signs to reserve space on your move day. In Chicago, for example, each ward offers free “no parking” signs for people moving, which must be posted 48 hours in advance. If your moving truck is 16 feet or longer, the Chicago Department of Transportation requires you to apply for a permit. Similar policies exist in other cities for permitting and obtaining signs to clear space. A moving company will often handle the permitting process for its own vehicles, but you should clarify that responsibility when scheduling the move.

Take out the trash.

Take out the trash.

Trash bags on a street curb.

(iStockPhoto)

Never leave garbage in the home you’re vacating, and if you rented the place, the cost to clean or remove trash will be deducted from your security deposit. To save yourself some cash, pick up garbage in every room as you move items out. Once the home is empty, go back through with cleaning spray and a vacuum or broom. Checking each room will help you catch any small items you may have missed.

Schedule with room for delays.

Schedule with room for delays.

A young man checking his smart watch.

(Getty Images)

There may be a snow storm, a foreign dignitary in town or a car accident that puts the highway at a standstill. Expect the unexpected, and give your itinerary some cushion for such events. Gonzalez says one of the most common mistakes people make is scheduling too much on a moving day. “Give some ample time,” she says. “When you’ve scheduled a move at 8 a.m., don’t schedule a flight for 1 p.m.”

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Tags: real estate, housing, housing market, home prices, renting, employment, moving


Devon Thorsby is the Real Estate editor at U.S. News & World Report, where she writes consumer-focused articles about the homebuying and selling process, home improvement, tenant rights and the state of the housing market.

She has appeared in media interviews across the U.S. including National Public Radio, WTOP (Washington, D.C.) and KOH (Reno, Nevada) and various print publications, as well as having served on panels discussing real estate development, city planning policy and homebuilding.

Previously, she served as a researcher of commercial real estate transactions and information, and is currently a member of the National Association of Real Estate Editors. Thorsby studied Political Science at the University of Michigan, where she also served as a news reporter and editor for the student newspaper The Michigan Daily. Follow her on Twitter or write to her at dthorsby@usnews.com.

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