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Slide Show | July 2011

10 Best Value Cities for 2011

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What's top value in a place to live? Our Best Cities list this year focuses on metro areas with vibrant economies, reasonable living costs, and great amenities.

A mix of midwest and southern cities, our 2011 lineup has several common themes: 1) partnerships that have been vital to nurturing business environments that attract employers and high-paying jobs, 2) low housing costs, and 3) quality of life.

To identify the winners, Kiplinger's teamed up with Kevin Stolarick, research director at the Martin Prosperity Institute, a think tank that studies economic prosperity. The cost-of-living index is based on the national average of 100. Cities with a score below 100 have a lower cost-of-living. Then our staff reporters visited each of the top ten cities to help determine the final rankings.

Check out our picks, and share your thoughts in our reader comment box below.


10 Best Value Cities for 2011

1. Omaha, Neb.

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Omaha Convention and Visitors Bureau

Population (metro): 829,702

Unemployment rate: 4.6%

Cost-of-living index: 90.3

Median household income: $53,457

A revamped downtown and waterfront area has helped boost the economy and attract a fresh generation of entrepreneurs to Omaha. New businesses such as Paypal have moved to the area to take advantage of ubiquitous, cheap broadband access and Omaha's vaunted midwestern work ethic.

Omahans insist on value, and when it comes to housing, they get it. A brand-new, 3,800-square-foot home with four bedrooms and three baths in a western suburb (still just 20 minutes from downtown) runs $275,000, for example. But a lot of amenities -- especially in the arts -- are cheap or just plain free. We think it's the best value city in the U.S. today.

Learn more about Omaha:

Best Value Cities 2011: Read about Omaha's affordability & culture

VIDEO: Take a walking tour of Omaha

1. Omaha, Neb.

2. Charlotte, N.C.

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Courtesy Visit Charlotte

Population (metro): 1,641,257

Unemployment rate: 10.4%

Cost-of-living index: 93.0

Median household income: $53,168

Headquarters to Bank of America, the nation's largest bank measured in total deposits, and Duke Energy, which may soon become the largest utility in the country, Charlotte also has a blossoming small-business sector. Its location -- midway between Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech, between N.C. State and Clemson -- puts it in a sweet spot for tapping engineering talent.

Residents benefit from wallet-friendly utility rates and low taxes. Plus, reasonable construction costs and a stock of cheap local materials hold housing costs to just 80% of the national average.

Learn more about Charlotte:

Best Value Cities 2011: Read about Charlotte's affordability & culture

VIDEO: Take a walking tour of Charlotte

2. Charlotte, N.C.

3. Nashville, Tenn.

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Nashville Convention and Visitors Bureau

Population (metro): 1,520,649

Unemployment rate: 8.5%

Cost-of-living index: 90.7

Median household income: $51,352

The Music City is making a strong comeback from the recession and is expected to add more than 151,000 jobs by 2019 -- an annual rate that's higher than the national average. The majority of the new openings will be in the education and health-services fields. Top employers include Vanderbilt University, Hospital Corporation of America and Nissan North America.

Learn more about Nashville:

Best Value Cities 2011: Read about Nashville's affordability & culture

VIDEO: Take a walking tour of Nashville

3. Nashville, Tenn.

4. Colorado Springs, Colo.

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Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau

Population (metro): 608,000

Unemployment rate: 9.3%

Cost-of-living index: 92.0

Median household income: $56,576

To keep employment rising, Colorado Springs woos companies with tax incentives and a highly educated workforce (nearly 36% of residents are college grads, compared with 28% nationwide). It's a regional hub for Hewlett-Packard, T-Mobile and Progressive Insurance, among other big national employers.

The average home sale price is under $230,000; monthly rent on a two-bedroom apartment is less than $800. Utility costs are exceptionally low, about $222 per month for electricity, water and gas and trash collection. And the setting at the foot of the Rocky Mountains is spectacular.

Learn more about Colorado Springs:

Best Value Cities 2011: Read about Colorado Springs' affordability & culture

VIDEO: Take a walking tour of Colorado Springs

4. Colorado Springs, Colo.

5. Knoxville, Tenn.

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Knoxville Convention and Visitors Bureau

Population (metro): 680,629

Unemployment rate: 7.7%

Cost-of-living index: 89.7

Median household income: $45,727

Knoxville has managed to avoid the sharpest impact of the Great Recession, thanks to the Tennessee Valley Authority (still the nation's largest public utility), the University of Tennessee and Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Economic steadiness is attracting new businesses, such as Vermont-based Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, which came to the area in 2008.

Learn more about Knoxville:

Best Value Cities 2011: Read about Knoxville's affordability & culture

VIDEO: Take a walking tour of Knoxville

5. Knoxville, Tenn.

6. Lexington, Ky.

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Lexington Convention and Visitors Bureau

Population (metro): 455,593

Unemployment rate: 7.8%

Cost-of-living index: 89.1

Median household income: $48,158

Lexington's diversified economy has largely shielded it from the ravages of recession. The University of Kentucky, the area's largest employer, recently opened a major new wing to its hospital, fueling the already-thriving local health care sector; other big employers include Lexmark and Toyota. A commercial development department at the university and an active local network of angel investors provides fertile ground for start-ups.

Learn more about Lexington:

Best Value Cities 2011: Read about Lexington's affordability & culture

VIDEO: Take a walking tour of Lexington

6. Lexington, Ky.

7. Little Rock, Ark.

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Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau

Population (metro): 666,248

Unemployment rate: 7.0%

Cost-of-living index: 94.1

Median household income: $46,120

Little Rock's job market boasts a diverse economy, including a 500-employee Caterpillar factory in North Little Rock, the headquarters of IT company Acxiom, and world-class medical centers. The completion of the Clinton Presidential Library in 2004 sparked a downtown renaissance, including construction of hundreds of high-rise condos. The city was cushioned from the recession somewhat by more than $1 billion in new corporate investments in 2007 and 2008, during which unemployment remained just below 8%.

Learn more about Little Rock:

Best Value Cities 2011: Read about Little Rock's affordability & culture

VIDEO: Take a walking tour of Little Rock

7. Little Rock, Ark.

8. Wichita, Kan.

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Wichita Convention and Visitors Bureau

Population (metro): 596,643

Unemployment rate: 7.6%

Cost-of-living index: 92.5

Median household income: $48,508

Several aviation manufacturing and research companies, including Spirit AeroSystems and Cessna Aircraft, set the tone for commerce in Wichita. Some of the companies have suffered significant layoffs in recent years -- and the city's job growth overall may be sluggish through 2011 -- but Kansas is invested in helping a key industry fly high, and engineers continue to be in demand here.

Wichita has a high livability factor often only found in towns a fraction of its size: People are friendly, commutes are short, and the cost of living is unusually low. A suburban house with 3,466 square feet of space, an updated kitchen, five bedrooms and a finished basement was recently listed for $264,900.

Learn more about Wichita:

Best Value Cities 2011: Read about Wichita's affordability & culture

VIDEO: Take a walking tour of Wichita

8. Wichita, Kan.

9. Cedar Rapids, Iowa

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City of Cedar Rapids

Population (metro): 251,948

Unemployment rate: 5.6%

Cost-of-living index: 92.9

Median household income: $52,298

Question: Which city is home to, or close by, 30 Fortune 500 Companies, more than a dozen foreign corporations, and serves as a Midwestern hub for the high-tech, health care and financial sectors? And you thought Cedar Rapids was just home to Quaker Oats. Its economy is bouncing back from a 2008 flood that submerged the downtown district, causing businesses to flee. The city recently broke ground on a $100 million convention complex and is planning a $50 million library, both slated for completion in 2013, which will bring jobs to the area.

The average home price here is just $155,000, which will buy you a four-bedroom, one-and-a-half bath residence with a large backyard in a nice neighborhood. For $500,000, you can come home to a countryside mansion, with seven bedrooms, three fireplaces, hardwood floors and an exercise studio.

Learn more about Cedar Rapids:

Best Value Cities 2011: Read about Cedar Rapid's affordability & culture

VIDEO: Take a walking tour of Cedar Rapids

9. Cedar Rapids, Iowa

10. Cincinnati, Ohio

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Cincinnati Convention and Visitors Bureau

Population (metro): 2,140,796

Unemployment rate: 8.5%

Cost-of-living index: 93.3

Median household income: $53,329

Cincinnati's diverse economy, with ten Fortune 500 companies, including Kroger, Macy's and Procter & Gamble, is making a strong comeback from the recession. The unemployment rate has fallen to 8.5% from 9.4% a year ago. Plus, the city is benefiting from a $2.6 billion redevelopment of the downtown that began several years ago with the construction of the Great American Ball Park (home to the Reds) and Paul Brown Stadium (home to the Bengals).

The cost-of-living is about 7% below the national average. Cincinnati has several distinct neighborhoods; even in the most desirable ones, you can find a four-bedroom home for about $300,000.

Learn more about Cincinnati:

Best Value Cities 2011: Read about Cincinnati's affordability & culture

VIDEO: Take a walking tour of Cincinnati

10. Cincinnati, Ohio

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