Now more than ever, it’s important to get the best bang for your buck. And there’s no question about it: when it comes to value, not all U.S. cities are created equal. Why chase a great salary if your rent swallows most of it? Unemployment is skyrocketing, and you spend two hours a day just to get to and from work?
So, which cities offered the most overall value in 2009? Excelle has come up with the top ten—and some may surprise you! After examining various city lists, weighing the rankings, and taking note of our personal opinions, we’ve produced a list of cities that’s sure to offer something for everyone.
We looked at cities’ growth rates, average salaries, and costs of living. We factored in average commute time—which, according to experts, has a colossal impact on your overall happiness. We looked not only at unemployment figures, but also at the rate that unemployment has actually increased since February 2008.
So if you’re thinking of relocating for better job prospects, need to compare two of your top contenders, or are just curious to see where your city ranks, read on! We’ve got you covered.
#10. Honolulu, Hawaii
Average Salary: $41,250
Cost of Living Rank (in a 1-100 list): 93
Average Commute Time: 22.3 minutes
Job Growth Rank (in a list of 372 Highest Growth Cities): 132
Unemployment Rate: 5.4
More than just sun, sand, surf and volcanoes, Hawaii’s capital city boasts the second lowest unemployment rate on our list. The city is heavily focused in government; trade, transportation and utilities; leisure and hospitality; and professional and business services. One-fifth of the land is actually zoned for agriculture and, despite ongoing residential and commercial development, diversified agriculture and aquaculture have seen steady upward trends in recent years.
Bonus fun fact: President Obama was born here.
#9. Denver, Colorado
Average Salary: $45,610
Cost of Living Rank (in a 1-100 list): 47
Average Commute Time: 22.6 minutes
Job Growth Rank (in a list of 372 Highest Growth Cities): 113
Unemployment Rate: 7.9
Emphasizing employment in air transportation, telecommunications, aerospace and manufacturing, Denver is a major energy research center and the regional headquarters for government agencies. Its bustling downtown financial district is also considered the “Wall Street of the Rockies,” housing both major national and international banks. And that’s not all—Denver is 346 miles west of the exact geographic center of the country, placing it in a great spot for future economic development and growth.
Bonus fun fact: Denver is the only city ever to turn down the Olympics.
#8. Portland, Oregon
Average Salary: $43,370
Cost of Living Rank (in a 1-100 list): 58
Average Commute Time: 22.4 minutes
Job Growth Rank (in a list of 372 Highest Growth Cities): 55
Unemployment Rate: 10.7
Historically, Portland has had a long-standing association with high-tech industries. According to City-Data.com, more than 1,200 tech companies currently operate in Portland, and, in 2004, microcomputer components manufacturer Intel was the city’s largest employer. The city has also seen consistent growth in the education and health-services sectors, helping the area maintain its high growth ratings despite significant decreases in employment in the natural resources, mining and construction sectors.
Bonus fun fact: Portland has the largest independent bookstore in the world.
#7. Rochester, New York
Average Salary: $40,660
Cost of Living Rank (in a 1-100 list): 3
Average Commute Time: 19.4 minutes
Job Growth Rank (in a list of 372 Highest Growth Cities): 137
Unemployment Rate: 8.5
Rochester is home to several Fortune 1000 companies—including the largest wine company in the world, Constellation Brands, and photo experts Eastman Kodak—as well as several national and regional companies. With the second best income to cost of living ratio on our list as well as boasting the lowest commute time, this city is a solid choice.
Bonus fun fact: Rochester is known as the world capital of imaging.
#6. Seattle, Washington
Average Salary: $49,890
Cost of Living Rank (in a 1-100 list): 79
Average Commute Time: 25.7 minutes
Job Growth Rank (in a list of 372 Highest Growth Cities): 34
Unemployment Rate: 8.7
The home to many prominent corporate headquarters—including those of Starbucks, Nordstrom, Microsoft and Amazon.com—Seattle is Washington state’s largest city and the region’s major economic, cultural, and educational center. While the cost of living is a little on the high side, our number six city has a particularly promising job outlook in alternative energy development and software engineering.
Bonus fun fact: Seattle buys more sunglasses per capita than any city in the US.
#5. Raleigh-Cary Metropolitan Area, North Carolina
Average Salary: $40,840
Cost of Living Rank (in a 1-100 list): 46
Average Commute Time: 20.9 minutes
Job Growth Rank (in a list of 372 Highest Growth Cities): 38
Unemployment Rate: 8.8
One of the nation’s top areas for overall growth, Raleigh-Cary shines with expected job growth in technology, tourism, and academia. Home to one of the largest high-technology R&D centers in the world, our number five pick is becoming a preferred location for cutting-edge technology and manufacturing firms. Its relatively low income to cost of living ratio and potential for growth definitely place it in the top tier.
#4. Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Average Salary: $35,970
Cost of Living Rank (in a 1-100 list): 15
Average Commute Time: 18.7 minutes
Job Growth Rank (in a list of 372 Highest Growth Cities): 44
Unemployment Rate: 5.6
Ranked by Forbes magazine as 2008’s most recession-proof American city, Oklahoma City is still bustling with the prospect of significant job growth. With last year’s uptrend in the leisure and hospitality sector as well as employment increases in natural resources, wholesale, mining, and construction, Oklahoma’s capital city has managed to hold steady with an impressively low change in unemployment rate since the recession’s outbreak. Our number four pick remains a center for government and energy exploration while also continuing to foster positive working environments, boasting an exceptionally low average commute time for workers and a sensible income to cost of living ratio.
#3. Salt Lake City, Utah
Average Salary: $39,590
Cost of Living Rank (in a 1-100 list): 41
Average Commute Time: 23.4 minutes
Job Growth Rank (in a list of 372 Highest Growth Cities): 36
Unemployment Rate: 5.2
Service-oriented Salt Lake City is not only home to the headquarters of the Mormon Church but is also the nation’s largest industrial banking center. With stimulus from seasonal outdoor recreation tourism and a recent rebound in information-sector jobs, Salt Lake City has high expectations for job growth both now and after the economy recovers.
Offering better employment conditions than most other large cities, Utah’s biggest city boasts the lowest unemployment rate and the second lowest average commute time on our list—boosting it right near the top.
#2. San Antonio, Texas
Average Salary: $34,610
Cost of Living Rank (in a 1-100 list): 29
Average Commute Time: 22.5 minutes
Job Growth Rank (in a list of 372 Highest Growth Cities): 20
Unemployment Rate: 6.0
The second largest city in Texas (and on our list!), San Antonio has one of the most solid salary to cost of living ratios in the country and has seen the lowest change in unemployment rate since the onset of the recession. Its projected job growth is extremely promising and consistently high performing, with plenty of opportunity in the education, health care, manufacturing, government, and service sectors. Famous for its River Walk, the Alamo, and Tejano culture, San Antonio’s tourism also continues to thrive despite a down economy.
#1. Austin, Texas
Average Salary: $41,330
Cost of Living Rank (in a 1-100 list): 51
Average Commute Time: 21.9 minutes
Job Growth Rank (in a list of 372 Highest Growth Cities): 6
Unemployment Rate: 6.3
Austin tops our list with robust projected job growth and one of the lowest changes in unemployment rate since the onset of the recession. The city has enjoyed a recent explosion of high-tech entrepreneurism, and its two largest employers—the state government and the University of Texas—are expected to add a couple thousand jobs this year. A “best cities” list veteran, Austin’s our top pick!
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By Anna Hennings, Tania Khadder, Adam Starr, and Alice Handley for Excelle