Updated June 10, 2014

Study: Best Small Cities for Starting Over


Do you need a change of pace but the big city life is too fast for you? For a smaller setting that still offers plentiful job opportunities and chances to meet other singles, we have the list for you.

Smaller cities have the advantage of smaller crowds with attractions, stores, and restaurants that are within close reach. They may not have major corporations as an anchor, but these small cities have a lot of innovation, growth, and charm to keep you interested and fulfilled in your new life.

Study Methodology

  1. Population Growth
  2. Income Growth
  3. Unemployment Rate
  4. Percentage of Single Adults

A city experiencing population growth signifies that it is a desirable area for people looking to move, whether for social or economic reasons. This statistic, combined with some of the others we used for this study, also indicates when a particular place has a strong job market, affordable housing, and entertainment attractions.

Next, we looked at each city’s income growth and unemployment rate, both of which shed light on the all-important economic conditions of an area. Not only are the cities in our top 10 witnessing lower unemployment rates, they’re also seeing salary increases, which is good news for residents.

Finally, for those who are looking for love (usually a good reason to start over!), we factored in the percentage of unmarried adults in each city, making it easier to find your match. And with your new job, you should have plenty of extra cash to wine and dine the new person in your life.

Best Small Cities for Starting Over

1. Charleston, SC

  • Population Growth: 2.3%
  • Income Growth: 3.8%
  • Unemployment Rate: 6.7%
  • Single Adults: 31.1%

Here’s why Charleston tops our list: with strong numbers across each of our indicators, this charming city on the South Carolina coast is a well-rounded choice for anyone contemplating a fresh start. Unemployment is below the nation’s average of 7.3%, and income growth is also significant. There is a large number of single adults, so you’re more likely to meet that someone special in this friendly town. Traditionally known for its strong tourism industry, Charleston is also burgeoning as a technology hotspot; its Digital Corridor continues to grow.

2. Madison, WI

  • Population Growth: 1.1%
  • Income Growth: 2.8%
  • Unemployment Rate: 4.9%
  • Single Adults: 34.4%

With both the state capital and the University of Wisconsin’s main campus in Madison, this city boasts one of the lowest unemployment rates on our list, as well as steady income growth. The number of single adults is also high, perhaps owing to the major university. Nevertheless, Madison is much more than a college town – it has plenty of water access through several lakes, the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, and the famed Dane County Farmer’s Market, one of the country’s largest.

3. Durham, NC

  • Population Growth: 1.7%
  • Income Growth: 3.3%
  • Unemployment Rate: 7.1%
  • Single Adults: 33.7%

Home to Duke University and a key component of North Carolina’s Research Triangle, Durham has a lot to offer for anyone wanting an entirely new life. Just look at the city’s list of top employers, which includes IBM, GlaxoSmithKline, and the EPA Environmental Research Center. Though unemployment is just under the national average, both income growth and population growth are notable. Durham has also recently witnessed a surge in downtown revitalization, with lots of historic tobacco buildings and warehouses being converted into condos, retail spaces, and more.

4. Provo, UT

  • Population Growth: 1.9%
  • Income Growth: 2.8%
  • Unemployment Rate: 4.6%
  • Single Adults: 29.8%

Provo has an extremely low unemployment rate, and its income growth isn’t bad either. Perhaps best known for being home to Brigham Young University, the city also houses several noteworthy companies, such as Ancestry.com, Nature’s Sunshine Products, and Novell Software. The air from the Wasatch Mountains will also help you feel refreshed, and you'll have plenty of hiking trails to explore.

5. Jackson, MS

  • Population Growth: 0.5%
  • Income Growth: 2.9%
  • Unemployment Rate: 6.9%
  • Single Adults: 33.7%

If you’re single and hoping to start over in a new city, Jackson is one of our top locations for you, especially if you want some authentic Southern charm. With a strong music scene, particularly gospel and blues, Jackson is aptly nicknamed the "City with Soul." Literature lovers will want to visit the Eudora Welty House to explore the home and gardens of the Pulitzer Prize winner who wrote The Optimist’s Daughter. You can also visit the Medgar Evers Home Museum to learn about the civil rights activist’s contributions to our nation’s history.

6. Greenville, SC

  • Population Growth: 1.2%
  • Income Growth: 3.6%
  • Unemployment Rate: 7%
  • Single Adults: 27.5%

Greenville is repeatedly heralded for its growing economy, so get there now before its population growth really skyrockets and squeezes you out of this promising location. Enjoy both natural attractions and fine culture in Greenville by exploring the waterfalls at Falls Park on the Reedy, featuring a pedestrian suspension bridge, and heading to the Greenville County Museum of Art, home to works by Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, and Georgia O’Keefe.

7. Des Moines, IA

  • Population Growth: 1.4%
  • Income Growth: 2.6%
  • Unemployment Rate: 4.6%
  • Single Adults: 26.9%

Des Moines is yet another Midwestern city coming in with low unemployment. This capital city is home to many corporate headquarters and regional offices of major insurance and financial corporations, making it a hotspot for jobs. As the host of the Iowa caucus, it’s also a bellwether city for presidential politics. You’ll have plenty to do outside of work and politics, as well. From the State Fair to the roller coasters at Adventureland Park, Des Moines has many opportunities for a quick thrill.

8. Omaha, NE

  • Population Growth: 1.0%
  • Income Growth: 1.3%
  • Unemployment Rate: 4.6%
  • Single Adults: 29.4%

Join the likes of Warren Buffett and consider a move to Omaha, where unemployment is at a low 4.6%. In addition, the city has five industry-diverse Fortune 500 companies: Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, ConAgra Foods, Union Pacific, Mutual of Omaha Insurance, and Kiewit Corp. If you’re a fan of indie or folk genres, you’ll be sure to enjoy Omaha’s music scene. Also check out the Henry Doorly Zoo, considered to be one of the best in the world – it claims to hold the world’s largest indoor rainforest, desert, and indoor swamp.

9. Albany, NY

  • Population Growth: 0.2%
  • Income Growth: 2.6%
  • Unemployment Rate: 6.4%
  • Single Adults: 32.7%

With relatively low unemployment, good income growth, and a high percentage of single adults, Albany is a great choice for anyone looking for a change of scenery in the Northeast. The capital of New York, the city has a strong government presence, as well as several burgeoning economic sectors. The healthcare sector is a major employer in the area, and the high-tech industry is also growing, particularly in the field of nanotechnology.

10. Ogden, UT

  • Population Growth: 1.1%
  • Income Growth: 2.7%
  • Unemployment Rate: 4.8%
  • Single Adults: 25.1%

Ogden doesn’t have a significantly high percentage of single adults, but does rate well under our other factors. Unemployment – like the other Midwestern cities on our list – is well below the national average, and income growth is steady. Education and healthcare are major employers, and so is the taxman; a regional facility of the IRS is the largest employer here. Ogden is also an ideal spot for outdoor sports, particularly if you enjoy winter mountain weather. There’s even an indoor skydiving facility, so you can get your thrills when the weather gets too fierce.


To determine the top 10 best small cities for starting over, we used data for metropolitan statistical areas with populations between 500,000 and 1 million. Additionally, we eliminated cities with unemployment rates above the national average of 7.3%. It should also be noted that to determine the percentage of unmarried adults, we averaged the percentages of unmarried women and unmarried men.

Sources:

  • U.S. Census Bureau
  • U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Follow @CreditDonkey or write to Lauren Ward at lauren@creditdonkey.com
Lauren Ward is a research analyst at CreditDonkey, a credit card comparison and financial education website. Our data-driven analysis has been recognized by major news outlets across the country and has helped young adults make savvy financial and lifestyle decisions. (read more)

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