No. 5 Athens, Georgia

The University of Georgia, medical services, manufacturing and hospitality energize our number-five pick.

Population: 183,351

Income Growth: 9.3%

Cost of Living Index: 100

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Median Household Income: $40,115

Percentage of Workforce in Creative Class: 32%

It's nicknamed the Classic City for both its name and its neoclassical architecture, but Athens, Ga., is anything but old-fashioned. Although Southern charm clings to streets lined with Greek Revival mansions and Victorian-era storefronts, the air is charged with change.

The University of Georgia, for which Athens was created as a home, is in large part responsible for that energy. Athens has 110,000 residents, almost a third of whom are students. The university is the city's largest employer.

Though the economy in much of the state is in crisis -- half of Georgia's counties are reporting unemployment of 10% or higher, and the rate has jumped to 9.1% in Atlanta -- the unemployment rate in Athens is 6.8%.

In addition to the university, Athens boasts a hub of regional medical services and has an unexpected manufacturing base. Athens Regional Medical Center, St. Mary's Health Care System and Landmark Hospital, a long-term acute-care facility, provide health care and jobs not only for the community but also for nearby counties. International manufacturing companies, such as Carrier and DuPont, have operations in Athens.

Hospitality is another driver of the economy, and the only sector to have shown employment growth in 2009. Tourism and conventions add to the pot, but the big show is football season, when the Bulldogs come out to play.

The city offers an impressively eclectic variety of entertainment. As the birthplace of the B-52s, R.E.M. and Widespread Panic, Athens serves up music from rock and blues to alt-country. Boutiques and restaurants keep the downtown streets buzzing. Loft space and apartments sit above the hum, adding life after the last note of the night fades away.

NEXT: No. 6 Olympia

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Jessica L. Anderson
Associate Editor, Kiplinger's Personal Finance
Anderson has been with Kiplinger since January 2004, when she joined the staff as a reporter. Since then, she's covered the gamut of personal finance issues—from mortgages and credit to spending wisely—and she heads up Kiplinger's annual automotive rankings. She holds a BA in journalism and mass communication from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She was the 2012 president of the Washington Automotive Press Association and serves on its board of directors. In 2014, she was selected for the North American Car and Truck Of the Year jury. The awards, presented at the Detroit Auto Show, have come to be regarded as the most prestigious of their kind in the U.S. because they involve no commercial tie-ins. The jury is composed of nationally recognized journalists from across the U.S. and Canada, who are selected on the basis of audience reach, experience, expertise, product knowledge, and reputation in the automotive community.