Research

10 best mid-size cities for your next move

Looking for a change? Consider these smaller cities for your relocation plan.

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Some of the lifestyle changes from COVID-19 are likely to be temporary, but some shifts —  including the way some people work — seem here to stay. Many companies across the country switched to remote work at the start of the pandemic; in fact, the amount of Americans working from home jumped from 20% before the pandemic to 71% by the end of 2020. One study suggests that 22% of the U.S. workforce will work remotely by 2025 — that amounts to 36.2 million people.

This newfound freedom for many workers has given them more flexibility when it comes to where to live. Major cities like New York and San Francisco have witnessed a drop in population as the demand for private outdoor space rises, along with the flexibility to snatch up more affordable housing outside big cities. While housing markets across the country are seeing record growth in sales prices since the onset of the pandemic, individuals moving from a more expensive city to a cheaper one may have a competitive edge. 

Moving to a smaller city comes with even more benefits than just lower housing prices. Cost of living, taxes and crime rates are often also lower. Whether you’re permanently working from home or looking for a job in a different city, there are plenty of amazing options out there. We pulled together our top 10 list of mid-size cities to inspire you to think outside the box for your next move. 

Instead of focusing on the country’s most populous cities, we looked at cities ranked between 51 and 100 in terms of population. Then we analyzed them based on the following factors:

  • Increase in housing prices (Q4 2019 to Q4 2020):The lower, the better. Real estate markets are heated nationwide, with the average increase at 14.9% overall.
  • Unemployment rateFind out which cities have the type of jobs that have survived the pandemic. In May 2021, the national unemployment rate was 5.8%.
  • Number of Fortune 500 company HQs in state:This could point to more stable job opportunities. 
  • Safety ratingEnjoy some peace of mind in a city with low crime rates.

Explore our list of best mid-size cities for your new work situation. 

 

#1: Madison, Wisconsin

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Madison takes the top spot thanks to a less aggressive housing market, low unemployment and a high safety rating. Housing prices are on the rise, but the increase is still 4.5% less than the national average. Unemployment sits just above 3%. Plus Wisconsin is home to eight Fortune 500 companies, making it a great town for finding a job.

  • Increase in housing prices: 10.40%
  • Unemployment rate: 3.1%
  • Number of Fortune 500 company HQs in state: 8
  • Safety rating: 75.62

Insider tip: Check out Madison’s thriving music scene, which includes both big-name stars and plenty of venues to catch local acts.

 


#2: Rochester, New York

Rochester gets aboost to the number 2 spot partly because of New York’s concentration of Fortune 500 companies. And while most of those are headquartered in New York City, new telework opportunities could make Rochester a great option. It’s also extremely safe, with the fifth-highest safety rating in our pool of mid-size cities.

Insider tip: Rochester has built a reputation for interesting public art and roadside attractions. Make a day trip out of finding gems such as a real Yellow Brick Road, a giant pencil statue and life-size statues of Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass having tea in Anthony Square.

 

Rochester by the numbers

  • Increase in housing prices: 14.70%
  • Unemployment rate: 4.8%
  • Number of Fortune 500 company HQs in state: 54
  • Safety rating: 75.66

#3: Grand Rapids, Michigan

Grand Rapids cracks the top 10 for safety, and also has a housing market that’s slightly cooler than the national average. Michigan is home to several Fortune 500 companies that — not surprisingly — are primarily in the auto industry. But there’s also Dow, a materials science company in Midland — just two hours from Grand Rapids.

Insider tip: Grand Rapids is asecret haven for environmentalists, having the most LEED-certified buildings per capita. Plus, the Grand Rapids Art Museum is the world’s first LEED Gold-certified art museum.

Grand Rapids by the numbers

  • Increase in housing prices: 12.70%
  • Unemployment rate: 4.7%
  • Number of Fortune 500 company HQs in state: 17
  • Safety rating: 72.65

#4: Omaha, Nebraska

If you’re looking for a city with a stable job market, Omaha is asafe bet as it has the third-lowest unemployment rate out of all the cities we analyzed. Housing prices are rising at a slower clip than the majority of the country. Plus it has a high safety rating.

Insider tip: Feel like you’re traveling the world at Henry Doorly Zoo, which is home to the world’s largest indoor desert.

Omaha by the numbers

 

  • Increase in housing prices: 13.00%
  • Unemployment rate: 2.7%
  • Number of Fortune 500 company HQs in state: 5
  • Safety rating: 71.41

 

#5: Durham-Chapel Hill, North Carolina

Now let’s head down south to the Durham-Chapel Hill area of North Carolina. Together with Raleigh, these three cities make up the Research Triangle that houses many major universities. Safety earns a top spot in the area and unemployment is low. On the downside, housing prices arerising at a higher pace than the national average.

Insider tip: Take atour of the area’s multiple world-renowned universities, including Duke and UNC Chapel Hill.

Durham-Chapel Hill by the numbers

 

  • Increase in housing prices: 17.00%
  • Unemployment rate: 3.7%
  • Number of Fortune 500 company HQs in state: 13
  • Safety rating: 75.98

#6: Akron, Ohio

Akron’s real estate market is a little bit lower than the rest of the nation, as is its unemployment rate. And not only is Ohio home to 27 Fortune 500 companies, the state is also gaining a reputation as a hub for tech startups. Akron, for instance, is home to the Bounce Innovation Hub.

Insider tip: Akron is the birthplace of some major music acts, including The Black Keys, Devo and Chrissie Hynde from The Pretenders. 

 

Akron by the numbers

  • Increase in housing prices: 12.10%
  • Unemployment rate: 5.2%
  • Number of Fortune 500 company HQs in state: 27
  • Safety rating: 68.68

#7: El Paso, Texas

If low-cost housing is a priority, then El Paso is a great choice for remote workers. Housing prices have only jumped 10% in the last year, a much lower increase than other major cities in the country. Unemployment in El Paso is above the national average, which includes job losses in the government, utilities and transportation sectors.

Insider tip: Love the sun? El Paso experiences over 300 days of sunshine each year. 

El Paso by the numbers

 

  • Increase in housing prices: 10.10%
  • Unemployment rate: 6.4%
  • Number of Fortune 500 company HQs in state: 50
  • Safety rating: 64.51

#8: Cape Coral, Florida

Cape Coral makes the cut thanks to low unemployment and high safety ratings. Plus, Florida famously has no personal income tax. However, property taxes are typically high, and in Cape Coral, the average house price jumped 20% from the previous year. In fact, it’s been dubbed one of the hottest real estate markets in the state of Florida.

Insider tip: If you’ve dreamed of living on the water, Cape Coral could be a great choice. The city includes 400 miles of canals.

 

Cape Coral by the numbers

  • Increase in housing prices: 20.00%
  • Unemployment rate: 4.6%
  • Number of Fortune 500 company HQs in state: 18
  • Safety rating: 74.18

#9: Boise City, Idaho

Boise tops our list for safety and it has a remarkably low unemployment rate of 2.9%. The bad news? Housing prices have increased a staggering 27% between the end of 2019 and 2020. However, in May 2021, Idaho’s governor did provide a bit of financial relief in the form of an expanded property tax exemption for homeowners. 

Insider tip: Loveoutdoor activities? Boise is home to great hiking, skiing and bike trails to explore. 

Boise City by the numbers

 

  • Increase in housing prices: 27.10%
  • Unemployment rate: 2.9%
  • Number of Fortune 500 company HQs in state: 2
  • Safety rating: 77.01

#10: Winston-Salem, North Carolina

We’re back in North Carolina, this time in Winston-Salem. It’s another city with a high safety rating and relatively low unemployment. Housing demand, however, is high with prices jumping more than 22% in a 12-month period. And prices are still on the rise. In May 2021, the area’s median home price was $266,311 and jumped to $282,574 in June. But for people moving from more expensive areas, Winston-Salem could still be a good pick. 

Insider tip: Tap into your inner adventurer byclimbing nearby Pilot Mountain. Both short and long trails are available depending on your time and hiking ability. 

Winston-Salem by the numbers

  • Increase in housing prices: 22.10%
  • Unemployment rate: 4.4%
  • Number of Fortune 500 company HQs in state: 13
  • Safety rating: 76.17

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Methodology

The Zebrapulled four data points to analyze the 51 to 100 MSAs (by population) in the U.S. for a fresh start in a new city. 

MSA data was used where applicable, and we sometimes substituted city data as necessary.

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