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No. 7: Fayetteville, Ark.

This four-season, guitar-pickin’ university town, set in the foothills of the Ozarks, is serendipitously within reach of Wal-Mart’s corporate backyard.

by Cindy Schwalb, Kiplinger.com

FUNKY GREEN VALLEY

Population: 419,455Population Growth Since 2000: 17.3%Percentage of Workforce in Creative Class: 31.4%Cost-of-Living Index: 90.4 (100 being national average)Median Household Income: $42,267Income Growth Since 2000: 17.6%

Take Our Walking Tour Through Fayetteville

The mega-retailer’s move toward sustainability has also sparked a green industry movement in the area. The University of Arkansas, and the city of Fayetteville have been attracting businesses and start-ups with a sustainability spin in industries such as electronics, water purification, packaging, construction and lighting. Steve Rust, president of the Fayetteville Economic Development Council, says: “We want to become the Green Valley for sustainability.” The growth will bring economic stability and more knowledge-based jobs to the entire region.

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Attractive, affordable housing adds to financial benefits of life in the area. You can still buy a starter home for under $200,000 in a new development with landscaped yards and a southern architectural flair. A 9.25% sales tax may shock some, but the cost of living in Fayetteville falls 10% below the national average. The region reports a robust 17.3% job growth since 2000.

Unique perks of Fayetteville living include free bus service for university students and residents. The weekly Farmer’s Market doubles as a no-fuss community social. Seniors over 65 may take university classes for free.

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And the daily commute is a breeze, averaging about 16 minutes. Mike Malone, a D.C.-area transplant traded a traffic-packed trek to Capital Hill for an easier family lifestyle. He sounds still in disbelief when talking about his new four-minute commute from home atop Mt. Sequoia to his downtown office. The bottom line: “I can spend more time with my family,” he says.

Thanks in part to the university’s influence, Fayetteville has always had a unique vibe. Around here the official town slogan is “Keep Fayetteville Funky.

NOTE: Population statistics for Fayetteville, as with all of Kiplinger's Best Cites for 2008, reflect an estimated current projection based on the 2002 U.S. Census for the metropolitan statistical area (MSA) defined by the United States Census Bureau. This MSA encompasses Fayetteville, Springdale, Rogers and Bentonville - a.k.a. Northwest Arkanssas.

NEXT: No. 8 -- Sacramento

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