business

Best Value Cities 2011:7. Little Rock, Ark.

The Clinton Library and big corporate projects bolster a strong economy.

Revving Little Rock’s job market is 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. 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%.

VIDEO: Take a virtual walking tour of Little Rock.

Why It's Affordable

You can find value right outside your door. The Arkansas River cuts through the region, and it’s lined with bike and running paths and highlighted by the 4,226-foot-long Big Dam Bridge, built for pedestrians.

Sarkis Nazarian, an ophthalmologist who has lived in Little Rock for 26 years, praises the “sheer beauty of the natural surroundings.” Hunting, fishing and hiking are short drives away. Survive the sizzling summer heat and you’ll be rewarded with mild winters.

Housing prices are low, and Little Rock managed to avoid the extremes of the real estate bubble. Downtown condos have sprouted up in the past decade, but with hardly any traffic, living outside the city center is easy. You can buy a 2,400-square-foot, four-bedroom home in the Pleasant Valley neighborhood for $245,000.

Why It's Fun

There’s a trendy arts scene, and downtown has many options for fine dining and local music. Small-town amenities abound, such as a minor league baseball team, the Arkansas Travelers (tickets cost $6). In Argenta, a cozy neighborhood in North Little Rock, it’s easy to find local artists at work and live musicians strumming away. Every third Friday night, dozens of artists line Main Street, turning the sidewalks into a lively gathering of art, wine and food. Plans for future growth include the completion of another pedestrian bridge that will create a 14-mile loop, bringing the river trail full-circle.

SLIDE SHOW: See the Top 10 Best Value Cities

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