I took a look at this list expecting to see one or more Colorado cities at the top and was shocked that none of our Colorado home towns made the list! Kiplingers’ numbers guru, Kevin Stolarick, evaluated 361 U.S. cities for their growth potential; he looked not just at the overall number of jobs, but also at the quality of those positions and the ability of cities to hold on to them when the economy softens. Employment here in Colorado, and Boulder in particular, has held pretty steady during the current economic downturn, so … I decided to look at the study a little closer and find out why we didn’t make the list.
The top ranked cities (in order) were Huntsville, AL, Albuquerque, NM, greater Washington DC/MD/VA area, Charlottesville, VA, Athens, GA, Olympia, WA, Madison, WI, Austin, TX, Flagstaff, AZ, and Raleigh, NC. Since Boulder in particular is often likened to several of these cities I wanted to see how we compared on each of the individual ranking areas.
Allbuquerque, Washington DC, Madison, Austin and Raleigh are all much bigger metropolitan areas compared to Boulder, which I think is a plus for Boulder. Who wants the fight the DC area beltway traffic everyday? You can get from one end of Boulder to the other in 15 minutes even at peak commute times. Score one for Boulder.
The statistic that really should have put Boulder on top is the % of Creative-class Workers. According to Kiplingers, creative-class workers -- scientists, engineers, educators, writers, artists, entertainers and others -- inject both economic and cultural vitality into a city and help make it a vibrant place to live. Compared to the top ten ranked cities, and all of the other Colorado cities that made the study, Boulder is second only to the greater Washington DC area for % of Creative-class workers, while the DC area’s population over 18 times bigger than Boulder’s!! Boulder shows 43.4% Creative-class Workers as compared to 43.6% in DC, a scant difference. That to me is amazing. The next closest city on the top ten list was Huntsville with only 39.7%. Clearly there is a significant brain trust that chooses to make their home beneath the Flatirons.
Median household income was the next statistic used in the rankings. Clearly a high median household income is indicative of local salary levels, which is a huge draw for people wanting to reside in any city. Again, Boulder was second only to Washington DC in this category – Boulder’s median household income reported at $63,064 compared to a whopping $81,163 in Washington DC. The next highest median household income was in Madison, WI at $58,090 and Denver was at $58,039. Madison is another college town, with UW often compared to CU in terms of the type of educational experience for students, quality of instruction, college town atmosphere, etc…
Four year salary growth was also used to compare the cities, and again Boulder ranked higher than all but one of the top 10 ranked cities. Boulder’s rate was reported at 12.0 while Olympia reported an astounding 22.0! Wonder when everyone will start moving to Washington State?? The next closest city to Boulder on the top 10 list was Hunstville with 9.7. Elsewhere in Colorado, Fort Collins made an impressive showing at 13.6, while big sister Denver reported in a lackluster 7.0 and Pueblo a dismal 4.7. Interestingly, there were some cities that appeared on the top 10 list, like Charlottesville, that reported only marginal salary growth at 4.8. So why in the heck isn’t Boulder on the top ten list – it should be!!
Not so fast … there was one remaining statistic that, in my opinion, was the killer for Boulder, and that was the Cost of Living Index. If 100 is the baseline, then Boulder reports in at a daunting 124. This means that goods and services costing $100 in places like Greeley, CO, Athens, Madison and Raleigh will cost you $124 in Boulder. Boulder being 24% more expensive is nothing to disregard casually, especially when it comes to housing. With an average single family home price of $725,617 in April 2009 in the City of Boulder, and $459,714 in Boulder County, living here sure ain’t cheap! However, not surprising is that the greater Washington DC area has a cost of living index of 138! Guess living near all of those fancy politicians has its price. Hmmm – would I rather live near the Flatirons, or the White House? Gee … tough choice … not!
What does all of this mean? In my humble opinion Boulder should have made Kiplingers’ top ten list. Three of the four statistics clearly place us on this list, if not at the very top. One factor that wasn’t included in the study, probably because it is too subjective, is quality of life. There are reasons that all of those Creative-class Workers choose to live in Boulder – yes salaries and salary growth are motivators to be sure. But the fact is that we live in a truly incredible place – astounding natural beauty, abundant and varied close-in recreational opportunities, vibrant downtown, great mix of local and nationally branded shopping, award winning restaurants, and a top ranked school system. Kiplingers, you really missed the boat on this one – Boulder should have made your top ten list. People in Boulder don’t need to read Kiplingers to know this, and maybe now they won’t bother to read it at all!