No. 5: Colorado Springs, Colo.
Be ye crunchy or conservative, the common thread in Colorado Springs is a love of the outdoors.
Population: 600,444Population Growth Since 2000: 10.5%Percentage of Workforce in Creative Class: 34.1%Cost-of-Living Index: 95.3 (100 being national average)Median Household Income Since 2000: 53,486Income Growth Since 2000: 16.1%
This undercurrent of energy has helped bring Colorado Springs from sleepy spa town to thriving city. A strong military presence -- with U.S. Army and Air Force operations, as well as the U.S. Air Force Academy -- adds fuel to the economy, as does the aerospace and defense sector attracted by the military. Customer service and information technology are taking off, with companies such as Fed-Ex, T. Rowe Price and Progressive Insurance all adding jobs.
Downtown, the streets are wide, and because most buildings aren't more than ten stories, you can take in nice views of Pikes Peak. Tejon Street is the main drag, where people congregate for weekend brunches and weekday lunches. It's peppered with boutiques, bars and great cuisine.
The laid-back ease of the city infuses its downtown. People don't walk, they amble; they don't talk, they ramble. The slow pace in the Springs contrasts with the energy of the people -- they're not in a hurry to get anyplace, but they're always going somewhere.Colorado Springs has grown quickly and suffers from one telltale sign of expansion: traffic. But city officials are working on the issue -- in 2004, a 1% sales tax was added specifically for transportation projects. More green lights take the sting out of a 7.4% sales tax, but so do the other financial advantages of the city. You can buy a four-bedroom, turn-of-the-century home a couple of miles north of downtown for $235,000, or a five-bedroom, contemporary house near the Broadmoor hotel and the country club for $450,000.
The city is adept at attracting newcomers -- after all, the biggest business for years was tourism (which now trails aerospace and information technology). The easygoing lifestyle and wide-open spaces beckon cramped city dwellers. Andy and Pat Fejedelem moved to the Springs in 1993 from northern Illinois. "We were on vacation here, and I could hardly bear to leave. I felt as if my heart had stayed," says Pat. They bought a home, converted it into a bed-and-breakfast and gave it a name that matched their sentiments: Our Hearts Inn.
Though smaller than the major metro areas, Colorado Springs has fine amenities. The newly remodeled Fine Arts Center offers traveling shows, theater and art classes, and it has a permanent exhibit that rotates through more than 23,000 works.