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10 micropolitans you'll want to move to in 2020

best micropolitans to live in

If you live in a big city, you may have caught yourself wondering what it’s like living in a small town free from the hustle and bustle, incessant sounds and high cost of living. If so, you’re not alone. In fact, the idea of migrating to a micropolitan (urban areas with 10,000-50,000 residents) is becoming increasingly popular. 

As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, health and economic concerns have many city dwellers considering more rural areas, like micropolitans, as an option. A recent survey by The Harris Poll revealed that 39% of urbanites have considered leaving their city to live in a less crowded area, and 21% of people had recently checked a real estate site to rent or buy a house in a rural spot. 

A lower risk of exposure to COVID-19 in less populated areas is not the only appeal of small-town living. Micropolitans often promise safety, quality education, affordable housing and a better work-life balance. If you’re considering a move, not only do we have you covered for your home insurance needs, we’ve done all of the homework on small-town living. Read on, or skip to our infographic, to find out the best micropolitans to move to in 2020.  

Overall winners: 10 best micropolitans in the U.S.

While there are 542 micropolitans in the U.S., we determined the top micropolitan areas to live in based on a few important categories: housing, income, employment, education and health. If you’re considering giving small-town living a try, based on all of the factors listed above, we found that the best micropolitan in the U.S. is Juneau, Alaska. Juneau scored the highest for the number of owner-occupied homes, median income, employment rate, education expenditure per student and air quality.

Juneau, which is the capital of Alaska, is actually the second-largest city by area in the United States – but still meets the requirements of a micropolitan. Since Juneau is inaccessible by road, it’s the perfect place to hunker down if you’re looking for both a beautiful and wholesome town off the beaten path. 

Here’s our list of the top 10 micropolitans in the U.S.:

No. 1: Juneau, Alaska 

  • Owner-occupied housing units: 7,687
  • Median income: $88,213
  • Unemployment rate: 4.60%
  • Education expenditure per student: 17,183
  • Air quality: 81/100

No. 2: Kappa, Hawaii 

  • Owner-occupied housing units: 3,259
  • Median income: $84,472
  • Unemployment rate: 2.30%
  • Education expenditure per student: $11,692
  • Air quality: 82.3/100 

No. 3: Williston, North Dakota

  • Owner-occupied housing units: 3,774
  • Median income: $$85,426
  • Unemployment rate: 2.10%
  • Education expenditure per student: $8,587
  • Air quality: 78.8/100

No. 4: Torrington, Connecticut 

  • Owner-occupied housing units: 15,607
  • Median income: $63,576
  • Unemployment rate: 4.90%
  • Education expenditure per student: $15,999
  • Air quality: 77.1/100

No. 5: Garden City, Kansas 

  • Owner-occupied housing units: 8,707
  • Median income: $54,305
  • Unemployment rate: 2.50%
  • Education expenditure per student: $10,265
  • Air quality: 59.7

No. 6: Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts

  • Owner-occupied housing units: 483
  • Median income: $48,958
  • Unemployment rate: 5.00%
  • Education expenditure per student: $21,679
  • Air quality: 88.4/100

No. 7: Easton, Maryland 

  • Owner-occupied housing units: 4,204
  • Median income: $55,619
  • Unemployment rate: 4.00%
  • Education expenditure per student: $11,863
  • Air quality: 62.9/100

No. 8: Harrison, Arkansas

  • Owner-occupied housing units: 3,143
  • Median income: $59,153
  • Unemployment rate: 3.50%
  • Education expenditure: $8,575
  • Air quality:  58.3/100

No. 9: Mason City, Iowa

  • Owner-occupied housing units: 12,772
  • Median income: $49,656
  • Unemployment rate: 2.80%
  • Education expenditure: $11,520
  • Air quality: 88.9/100

No. 10: Gardnerville Ranchos, Nevada 

  • Owner-occupied housing units: 3,282
  • Median income: $54,947
  • Unemployment rate: 4.30%
  • Education expenditure: $9,194
  • Air quality: 78.5/100

Digging deeper: which micropolitan is best for your lifestyle?

After analyzing multiple factors to determine what cities were best overall, we took a closer look to identify which micropolitans could be the best for an individual’s specific lifestyle. After all, when it comes to planting your roots, one pot doesn’t fit all! 

Best micropolitan for families: Clovis, NM

Clovis, New Mexico is rated the number-one place for families on our list, with the highest number of family households at 9,933. 

With 78.4% of the population made up of families, Clovis proves to be a great place to settle down. Clovis also boasts a diverse culture with several museums and historic sites that make for great family activities.

Additional family-oriented metrics

  • Higher child population (26.8%) than the national average (23%) 
  • 44.9% of the population is married
  • 32.9% of the population is married with children; 25.9% of the population represents a single household with children 

Best micropolitan for young adults: Ellensburg, WA

Ellensburg, Washington ranks number one for the best place for young adults, with the average age of residents being 24 years old! This rural western town is best known for the Ellensburg Rodeo, which is one of the top 10 in the U.S, and its historic downtown area is like a scene out of a western film. 

It’s no wonder post-grads and young adults populate Ellensburg, as it’s filled with rich art, history and delicious food. What more could a 24-year old want?

Additional youth-related metrics

  • 54% of the population falls within the ages of 18-34, compared to the U.S. which is 23.4%
  • 72.8% of the population is single 
  • The projected job growth is 40.5% is 40.5%

Best micropolitan for your career: Williston, ND

If you’re looking for a new job or place to have a secure career, consider Williston, North Dakota. With an unemployment rate of only 2.1% (the national average is 3.9%), Williston may be a place to secure and keep a job – which is more important than ever given the current economic recession. 

In fact, the energy industry is especially lucrative in Williston; North Dakota is the second-largest producer of oil in the country, averaging more than 500,000 barrels every day. The state’s largest wind farm is also located in Williston, creating jobs for its residents. 

Additional career-related metrics:

  • Average household income is $91,359, compared to the national average of $57,652
  • More residents make a household income within the $100K-150K range than any other income bucket
  • The most popular career industries are mining, quarrying and oil & gas extraction 

Best micropolitan for outdoor enthusiasts: Berlin, NH

Air pollution continues to be a major problem across the globe, resulting in 4.2 deaths per year. Air pollution can be especially problematic for people who love spending time outside. 

Outdoor enthusiasts, meet Berlin, New Hampshire. This micropolitan has an impressive air quality score of 92.3 (a score of 100 is the best) – making it number one on our list for those who like being outdoors. 

Outdoor and nature attractions:

  • Berlin is only 17 miles away from White Mountain National Forest
  • Home to Jericho Mountain State Park and Jericho Mountain Lake Park 
  • 90 campgrounds and several hiking trail options

Best micropolitan for homeowners: Torrington, CT

As we spend more time at home, investing in property and becoming a homeowner might be top of mind for you. We found that Torrington, Connecticut is the best small town to buy a home, with the highest number of owner-occupied housing units totaling 15,607, compared to other cities that have a high housing vacancy or rental number. 

We can infer from this data that homeowners are purchasing properties to satisfy their own housing needs, and not renting them out to others in order to cover the mortgage or to make a profit. Torrington homeowners seem to love their properties enough to stay in them – which may have something to do with the reasonable average sale price of $146K for a home there.

That said, the Torrington housing market is somewhat competitive, so if you’re considering becoming a homeowner there, you may want to move fast.  

Additional housing metrics:

  • Average house price is $146,400 compared to the national average of $231,200
  • 58.4% of homes are owned, compared to the national average with 56% of homes owned
  • The housing cost of living score is 63.3, which is significantly lower than the U.S. average of 100. 

Best micropolitan for education: Vineyard Haven, MA

When it comes to education expenditure per student, Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts invests the most funds into each of their student’s educational programs and resources. While the national average for education expenditure per student is $13,600, Vineyard Haven invests $21,679 per full-time student. 

Education expenditures go towards operation costs, salaries and benefits for employees engaged in instruction, guidance counseling, textbooks and transportation, to name a few. Simply put, the more an area spends on education expenditure per student, the more resources each student will have to help them succeed and get the most out of school. 

Additional education-related metrics:

  • Total spend per student is $24,809, compared to the national average of $12,383
  • Pupil to teacher ratio is 9:1, compared to the national average of 16.8 pupils per student
  • 93.2% high school graduation rate 

If you’re thinking about trading in your urban upbringing for a rural roots, relocating to a micropolitan might literally be the best move for you. From outdoorsy to career-driven individuals, there’s a small town for everyone. If moving to a new home is in your future, make sure to check out the best home insurance rates for your future ZIP code. 

Infographic

Methodology

In order to determine the best micropolitan cities across the U.S., The Zebra compared data from a sample of the top 40 most populated micropolitans. We rated each city on a weighted scale of factors within these five categories: Employment, income, education, health and housing. 

The micropolitan who earned the highest score from the sum of these factors was chosen as the best small-town to move to in the United States.  See how we weighted each category below: 

Employment — 25 points

Employment rate of residents 

Income — 20 points

Median income earned for residents  

Education — 20 points

The amount of education expenditure per student

Health — 20 points

Air quality rating 

Housing —  15 points

Number of owner-occupied housing units

Similarly, to find the best micropolitans for every lifestyle we compiled and reviewed data on the following: Average age, owner-occupied units, family households, education expenditure, employment rate, air quality, and diversity.The micropolitan that held the highest number, average, or percentage within each category was determined the winner. 

 

Sources: United States Census Bureau | City-Data | Best Places  

The ZebraResource Center