Best Value Cities 2011:3. Nashville, Tenn.

Booming entertainment, health care and education sectors are music to the ears of its residents.

Nashville is home to the Grand Ole Opry and countless country stars (plus a few rock idols), and it has the highest concentration of record labels, recording studios, and music publishers and distributors in the nation. But Music City also means business. The area 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.

VIDEO: Take a virtual walking tour of Nashville.

The majority of the new openings will be in the education and health-services fields, although the city has a slug of workers in manufacturing as well. Top employers include Vanderbilt University (Nashville has 21 four-year and postgraduate institutions), Hospital Corporation of America and Nissan North America.

Even during the recession, new businesses opened and existing ones expanded. And Mayor Karl Dean has increased the budget for public schools -- while other cities have cut education funding -- and expanded the city’s public-safety departments. Dean says Nashville also has one of the nation’s most aggressive open-space plans, calling for the preservation of 22,000 acres of public and private land. And it will be adding 3,000 acres of parkland (a 30% increase) over the next ten years.

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Nashville is diverse and progressive -- a “Southern melting pot of many different people and ethnic groups,” says resident David Pittman. The music industry gives the city a buzz and energy that lures people from across the country. A budding technology industry helps draw bright young minds. And the city’s low cost of living has attracted large numbers of immigrants, especially from Iraq. “People come to Nashville and just fall in love with it,” Dean says.

Why It's Affordable

Nashville’s cost of living is about 10% below the national average; housing costs are 28% less. For example, you can get a four-bedroom house in Brentwood, a Nashville suburb with great schools, for $300,000. The city has held the property tax rate steady for the past four years, and Tennessee has no state income tax. “It’s a good deal,” especially compared with other large Southern cities, says Nashville realtor Josh Anderson. Little amenities, such as a free bike-share program for residents, add up to great value.

Why It's Fun

Nashville, of course, oozes music. You can listen to up-and-coming bands (and occasionally big-name musicians) play seven days a week at the honky-tonks downtown without paying a cover charge. Galleries stay open late on the first Thursday and Saturday of every month for art crawls, and several art museums feature world-class exhibits. The Tennessee Performing Arts Center attracts Broadway acts. There are free movies in Centennial Park every Wednesday in June, and jazz concerts on the lawn of Belle Meade Plantation from June through August. The city has 11,000 acres of public parks, a zoo, two lakes, and 192 miles of trails (both paved and primitive). Plus, Nashville has five professional sports teams and one of the South’s biggest film festivals.

SLIDE SHOW: See the Top 10 Best Value Cities

Cameron Huddleston
Former Online Editor,

Award-winning journalist, speaker, family finance expert, and author of Mom and Dad, We Need to Talk.

Cameron Huddleston wrote the daily "Kip Tips" column for She joined Kiplinger in 2001 after graduating from American University with an MA in economic journalism.