No. 4: Boise, Idaho

How do folks get any work done around here? The skiing, snowboarding, fishing, biking and kayaking in and around Boise are an almost irresistible temptation to desert your desk.


Population: 568,086

Population Growth Since 2000: 18.2%

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Percentage of Workforce in Creative Class: 33.2%

Cost-of-Living Index: 95.5 (100 being national average)

Median Household Income: $49,833

Income Growth Since 2000: 16.6%

Take Our Walking Tour Through Boise

Those in search of classy entertainment may be surprised. Says Susan Thayer, who relocated four years ago from Albany, Ore., to run sales for Episciences, which makes Epionce skin products: "The city has evolved into a magnet for the arts." She and her spouse, Terry, frequent the theater, as well as Boise's own symphony, opera and dance companies.

When they're not casting a line or taking in a show, a growing number of Boisians work for local high-tech businesses, the fruits of which make up the state's biggest exports. Micron Technology and Hewlett-Packard are the Boise Valley's two largest employers. But the area also cradles smaller technology and e-commerce firms, which come to make the most of low business costs -- about a third less than in California or Washington.

Employers know they'll find a high proportion of college graduates here (37%, compared with the national average of 27%) and that new hires will find plenty of affordable housing. Explore Boise's eclectic mix of old and new neighborhoods and you'll find homes with a median price of $235,000. The average work commute is 18 minutes.

For those in search of a small-but-happening feel, the burgeoning suburb of Eagle is the place to go. Lloyd Mahaffey, previously an executive at Honeywell, Apple Computer and Verifone, moved to the former farming town in 2004, hoping to find a laid-back place where his kids could hunt and play tennis while he dabbled in winemaking and developed real estate.

Eagle's soil tests perfectly for the cultivation of red-wine grapes. Now Mahaffey is developing ten homes reminiscent of Italian villas, each with its own 4-acre vineyard. After visiting him in Eagle, several friends are planning to relocate to the area. Be advised: "When you first arrive, you have to downshift and adjust to a more relaxed pace," says Mahaffey.

NEXT: No. 5 -- Colorado Springs

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Associate Editor, Kiplinger's Personal Finance