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Best Value Cities 2011:9. Cedar Rapids, Iowa

From grains to planes, a diverse economy attracts a high-tech workforce.

Cedar Rapids has soared from a sleepy (and sometimes stinky) grain-processing town to a midwestern hub for the high-tech, health care and financial sectors. The city caps one end of the Cedar Rapids/Iowa City Tech Corridor, home to nearly 30 Fortune 500 companies and more than a dozen foreign corporations. Local business is solid, with enzyme manufacturer Genencor wrapping up a $39 million expansion this year and proposing another. Cedar Rapids’ largest employer, aircraft systems designer Rockwell Collins, is adding 400 local jobs to its payroll. “We’re constantly hiring the best and the brightest engineers,” says Stephen Schulz, director of talent acquisition for Rockwell Collins. “We need those types of people as much as Silicon Valley or Seattle does.”

VIDEO: Take a virtual walking tour of Cedar Rapids.

In 2008, the Cedar River spilled over its banks, sweeping through downtown and submerging offices and restaurants. It left a ghost town in its wake. Today, money is pouring into the city center. Cedar Rapids recently broke ground on a $100 million convention complex and is planning a $50 million library, both slated for completion in 2013. Rockwell Collins relocated 400 employees to a downtown office, an investment in the area’s future. “There’s growth coming back to downtown,” says Chris Burhans, who runs a classic downtown eatery, Gringo’s Mexican Restaurant. “People want to support local businesses.”

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Why It's Affordable

While Cedar Rapids recovers from the flood, it has weathered another disaster, the housing bubble, quite well. The average home costs $155,000, just $2,000 less than in 2007. That price can land you a four-bedroom, one-and-a-half bath residence with a large backyard in a nice neighborhood. For $500,000, you can come home to a countryside mansion, with seven bedrooms, three fireplaces, hardwood floors and an exercise studio. And property taxes are notably cheap. Homeowners pay taxes on about half of their home’s value due to state-mandated rollbacks.

Why It's Fun

With the University of Iowa nearby, Cedar Rapids residents have access to Big Ten sports and college nightlife. Locally, they enjoy an opera company, a symphony orchestra and a minor-league baseball team named the Kernels, in reference to the city’s agricultural roots. The city is crisscrossed with bike trails and rich with parks -- about 4,000 acres altogether. With four public golf courses, residents can play an 18-hole weekend evening round for less than $20.

SLIDE SHOW: See the Top 10 Best Value Cities

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