From OwnYourOwnMountain.com

Cities & Communities
Education, economy help make Colorado Springs BEST PLACE TO LIVE
By Jim Bainbridge, The Gazette Telegraph

Gen. William Jackson Palmer’s little prairie town is all grown up.

Money magazine’s 19th annual survey of the Best Places to Live in America ranks Colorado Springs No. 1 in the big city category, population of 300,000 or more.

The Springs outperformed Austin, Texas, and Mesa, Ariz. — not to mention New York and San Diego — in a study released Monday that factored a range of financial, housing, educational, health, weather, leisure and quality-of-life issues in 59 big cities.

One economic indicator that helped put the city over the top: a median home price of $192,250 that was well below the Best Places’ average of $256,659.

“Colorado Springs also did very well on education scores,” said Money magazine executive editor Craig Matters, “and in ease of living,” which he said included “factors like commute times and health.”

The Springs benefited from a change in methodology in the Money survey this year. In 2005, the editors had focused on communities of 14,000 people or larger but this year decided to alter their guidelines and include only those cities of 50,000 or more.

That decreased the sample from around 1,400 communities to 745 and allowed Money’s editors to look deeper, Matters said. They increased the number of measuring categories from 23 to 41 and did a breakout of big cities they did not have last year.  This magnified look at each community — and that breakout — pushed Colorado Springs to the top of the list. It was not even mentioned in the top 100 under the previous format.

Fort Collins was No. 1 in the small cities category, 50,000 to 299,999.

“I’m a little surprised we ended up No. 1,” said Fred Crowley, senior economist for the Southern Colorado Economic Forum. “I think it is wonderful that we rank well. It speaks well of the community on average. It doesn’t matter where we rank in individual categories, but that we rank well overall.”

Predictably, business leaders were as happy as if the No. 1 ranking came with a cash prize — which it doesn’t.

“It’s worth its weight in gold,” said David White, marketing vice president for the Greater Colorado Springs Economic Development Corp.

For the EDC, the top billing will help the Springs get noticed as it attempts to recruit new employers, as well as when it seeks to retain existing companies and get others to expand.

“It helps to put us on the radar screen,” White said. “It makes more people aware that Colorado Springs is a great place to live. Before, they may not have included Colorado Springs in their site selection survey. It’s an important tool in our tool bag to help market the region.”

Dennis Donovan, a New Jersey-based consultant who helps companies select locations and who toured the Springs last year, agrees that “once you’ve got Colorado Springs appearing in such a survey, you go to your boss to get approval, and you say, ‘Look, man, Money magazine says this is a great place.’ It legitimizes it. It makes it a much easier sell.”

Money is the nation’s largest personal finance magazine, with nearly 2 million subscribers and newsstand buyers.

Expect the Money magazine ranking to show up on the EDC’s Web site, White said. And when the EDC targets an area for a marketing campaign, it plans to place ads in local business journals in the area that tout the No 1. ranking.

“We’ll definitely play this for all it’s worth,” White said.

Will Temby, president and CEO of the Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce, was also happy to see the ranking.

“I think it makes people feel good about the location in which they reside,” he said, “and I think it validates why we live here.”

Beyond economics, the Springs also received positive health scores, which match other recent findings. The city was ranked as the third-fittest city in the nation by Men’s Fitness magazine in 2005 and came in as the leanest city in a 2005 study by the Trust for America’s Health advocacy group.

“We are in a state where recreation is a premium — we have the mountains to hike in, and we have people biking, running — you name it,” said Bradd Hafer, spokesman for city-owned Memorial Health System.

Colorado Springs also falls well below the national averages for cancer mortality and cardiac mortality in Money’s study.

One category in which the Springs scored poorly was crime. Property and personal crimes ranked above per-capita average compared with the other ranked cities.

In education, local student test scores in reading and math exceeded the state average — but not by as much as the survey’s best places overall.

The city outscored the state average by 4.8 percent in reading and 8.3 percent in math, while the top cities exceeded their state averages by nearly 12 percent in reading and 15 percent in math.

What struck many city officials as the most significant aspect of the study was that Colorado Springs scored so well in so many areas.

“I think it might all add up to people wanting the amenities of a big town but all the benefits of a small town,” said Amy Long, spokeswoman from Experience Colorado Springs at Pikes Peak, the convention and visitors bureau. “Between the cultural facilities, the schools and other attractions, we have lots of things you normally don’t find in a town this small. We have a great balance.

Said Mayor Lionel Rivera: “It is a reflection of job growth of nearly 9 percent since 2000, good housing affordability and purchasing power, clear air, low commute times and a very healthy community. It is very encouraging. It will be a strong attraction for businesses that are considering moving here.”

Sarah Colwell, Wayne Heilman, Debbie Kelley, Rich Laden, Brian

Newsome and Anslee Willet contributed to this report

BEST SMALLER CITIES

Money magazine’s Best Places to Live in America 2006, population 50,000-299,999: 1. Fort Collins 2. Naperville, Ill. 3. Sugar Land, Texas 4. Columbia/Ellicott City, Md. 5. Cary, N.C. 6. Overland Park, Kans. 7. Scottsdale, Ariz. 8. Boise, Idaho 9. Fairfield, Conn. 10. Eden Prairie, Minn.

BEST PLACES TO LIVE

Money magazine’s Best Places to Live in America 2006, population 300,000 or more: 1. Colorado Springs 2. Austin, Texas 3. Mesa, Ariz. 4. Raleigh, N.C. 5. San Diego 6. Virginia Beach, Va. 7. Omaha, Neb. 8. Columbus, Ohio 9. Wichita, Kan. 10. New York


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