The lighter side of real estate

The Best Mid-Sized Cities To Move To

Not everyone wants to live in the Big City; some of us want a town-home feel with urban atmosphere. Check out our list of the country's best mid-sized cities to move to.

Natalie Grigson

Staff Writer

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If you’re anything like me, every so often you get that wanderlust—that craving for adventure, that feeling of something more, that want, that need for bigger and better things. When you do, there is one thing and one thing only to do about it: It is time to move.

I recently made the move from Austin to San Francisco myself, and I couldn’t be happier. There is always something to do here, there are always places to go, people to see, there is just so much city… and, okay, sometimes it can be a bit overwhelming. On days like these, I find myself pining for a place that is a little less city and a little more town: A mid-sized city.

I’m not alone in this. Mid-sized cities are some of the very best untapped resources for people looking to move, either to expand their careers, further their children’s education, or, like me, simply change their scenery.

But as you’ll see in the list that follows, not all mid-sized cities are created equally. The 10 below are the very best places to move—but trust me, my research on the subject certainly uncovered some… less desirable/less employed/less educated/flat out dangerous places.

But these cities are just awesome:

1. Frisco, TX
2. McKinney, TX
3. Cary, NC
4. Pembroke Pines, FL
5. Cape Coral, FL
6. Cedar Rapids, IA
7. Overland Park, KS
8. Sioux Falls, SD
9. Naperville, IL
10. Olathe, KS

So what’s so great about Frisco, Texas, you might ask? How did two cities from Florida make the top five? Well if stellar education systems, idyllically safe streets, and high income rates aren’t reason enough for you, don’t you worry—we have lots more. So get ready to call your realtor, folks, because you are about to be sold on these mid-sized cities. Read on to find out how we got this list.

What Makes the Perfect Mid-Sized City

Source: Wikepedia user Rainchill

Source: Wikepedia user Rainchill

If you’re a frequenter of our blog, you know that in order to come up with any Big Deal List, I needed some solid criteria for these best mid-sized cities (the 101st to 200th most populous cities in the country) to move to. In this case, I took the six criteria.

  • Number of homes for sale per capita
  • Cost of living index
  • Unemployment rate
  • Median household income
  • Crime rate rating
  • School quality rating

Each city was ranked from one to 100 based on these criteria, with one being the best and 100 being the worst, and then averaged for its Big Deal Score.

To get these facts, let’s just say I became very familiar with the U.S. Census, Movoto Real Estate’s listings for each city, and the website But more on that business in a minute—for now, let’s start with the first criterion, the number of homes for sale.

Where Houses Are Plentiful

The first and most important criterion for the best mid-sized city to move to, is, well, making sure there are actually places for you to move. So I started my search by finding the number of houses for sale per capita in each city. Interestingly, the top four cities with the most homes for sale were all in Florida—Cape Coral, Fort Lauderdale, Hollywood, and Miramar. The city with the least homes for sale per capita was Grand Rapids, MI. But don’t worry, Grand Rapids—you guys more than made it up with your lower than average cost of living.

Where the (Cost of) Living Is Easy

Even if your beloved mid-sized city has a ton of homes for sale, if you can’t afford to live in there, it’s just not going to work—no matter how hard you work. The mid-sized cities in the U.S. with the very lowest costs of living (including costs for housing, food, healthcare, utilities, groceries, transportation, and goods and services) were Mobile, AL and McAllen, TX with a score of 85—that’s 15 points below average. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Huntington Beach, CA scored a 173. But with their average salaries of over $73,000, it looks like they can afford it.

Make Money Money

I included the average annual income per household here, because, like it or not, how much money you make really has a lot to do with the quality of life in your city. You could live in the most exciting city in the world; but if you can’t afford the excitement, well, you’re likely just making ends meet. Aside from Huntington Beach, as mentioned above, several mid-sized cities had an even higher annual income. Naperville, IL came in first here, with an annual income of over $98,000! This was closely followed by Thousand Oaks, CA and Frisco, TX with incomes around $90,000 per year. So, that’s definitely something to look forward to in these mid-sized jackpots.

Making only about a third of this amount, though, was Dayton, OH, coming in last. But hey, some salary is better than no salary at all, right?

Which Brings Us to Unemployment

I included each city’s unemployment rate as a good way to measure your odds of finding a decent job upon moving there, and also, as a gauge for the city’s economy and productivity in general. The cities with the lowest unemployment rates were Sioux Falls, SD, Alexandria, VA, and Salt Lake City, UT— not surprisingly, all of which ranked very high on our hardest working cities list.

On the other hand, Salinas, CA and Paterson, NJ, have the highest unemployment rates of the cities we measured—above 14 percent.

Which Brings us to Crime

I included crime rankings here, because, let’s face it, nobody wants to get mugged on the way to work. Tied for first place, as the very safest mid-sized cities in America, were Frisco, TX, Overland Park, KS, Cary, NC, Thousand Oaks, CA, Sunnyvale, CA and Naperville, IL.

On the other end of the spectrum, though, were Bridgeport, CT, Rockford, IL, and Springfield, MA. But hey, maybe they make up for it with their stellar school systems?

Be Cool, Stay in School

I included school systems in my criteria because, well, a lot of folks looking to move are not just looking for themselves; they’re looking for their entire family. Interestingly (and perhaps not surprisingly), some of the cities with the highest unemployment rates and the highest crime rates, also had some of the worst school rankings, like Springfield, MA and Bridgeport, CT, for example, each scoring a two out of 10 for public school rankings.

But then there were our honors students—those who went above and beyond, scoring well above the national average. Frisco, TX came in first of the mid-sized cities with an unheard of 10 out of 10 ranking for its public schools, where Frisco High School has even received a Silver Medal Award and has been rated one of the best in the nation by US News. Fisco was closely followed by Naperville, IL with a 9 in education, with its innovative curriculum and award-winning teachers like second grade teacher, Kathy Burns, for example, who won the Golden Apple Award.

So if you’re one of those parents who, you know, wants your children to have a bright and promising future, maybe you should consider one of these cities—or at least avoid Springfield.

The Best of the Best

After averaging it all up, the winner, the very best mid-sized city to move to in the U.S., was Frisco, TX. It is safe, it has a stellar school system, and a helluva yearly income. Perhaps that’s why Frisco is one of the fastest-growing mid-sized cities in the country, or maybe it’s the delightful ring to its name, or maybe it is simply because they are so darned friendly there (rated one of Forbes’ friendliest cities, in fact!), but whatever the reason—and there are a lot to choose from—people are flocking to Frisco.

After all, living in a big city can be exciting, but sometimes in order to really live in-between paying your bills, a mid-sized city is your best bet. These 10 are at the top of the list.

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posted on: December 4, 2013
62,582 views, 2 comments


  1. Sarasota real estate

    Very interesting stuff. I bet there are more cities in Florida that are worth a mention than you’d notice from this list.

  2. Shane

    Having lived in Frisco for 4 years, I can say it is a very nice place to live.


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