The Quad-Cities ranks number 79 among the top 150 best places to live in the nation, and the sixth most affordable, according to U.S. News & World Report.

The report, released this week, represents a pretty good win in economic development. U.S. News analyzed 150 metro areas in the U.S. to find the best places to live, based on quality of life and the job market in each metro area, as well as the value of living there and people’s

The Davenport skybridge, with the Figge Art Museum behind it.

desire to live there.

The report used 2019 figures, showing the Q-C with a 4.2% unemployment rate (it was twice that as of August 2020), metro population of 382,720, average $47,220 annual salary, $746 median monthly rent, and no average home price cited. The affordability was determined as 20 percent of income required for living expenses.

U.S. News said Boulder, Colo., ranked number one overall as best place –with  $64,690 average annual salary, a $524,417 median home price, and average rent of $1,411. The most affordable city nationwide is Huntsville, Ala., with an average home price of $179,175, average annual salary of $54,630 and 19.2% of income spent on living expenses.

Des Moines ranked in the top 10 in both – number 7 overall, and number 3 in affordability. Its average salary is $52,220; average home price is $196,067, average monthly rent of $880 and 19.8 percent of income spent on living costs.

“I was just happy that out of the 150 they looked at, we were 79 for best places to live and number 6 – top 10 – for affordability, as it relates to being a place to live,” Visit Quad Cities president/CEO Dave Herrell said Wednesday.

“Anytime that we can be ranked in reports, and hopefully we’re seeing some growth and increases in those over time, that’s a good thing for

A biker on the Marshall Mesa loop in Boulder, Colo. Boulder was ranked the number one city overall as the best place to live.

the Quad-Cities,” he said. “I was really pleased to see us recognized.”

For people or companies looking to relocate and considering cost of living, being in the top 10 is a key takeaway as a destination or community, Herrell said.

“I want to find a place that’s a great place to live, that has a whole positive portfolio of amenities – but can I afford to live there?” he said. “These are things we all in the economic development space can use to help tell our story, but also use it as a marketing vehicle when we’re out there trying to share information about the Quad-Cities.”

Paul Rumler, president/CEO of the Quad Cities Chamber, said Wednesday that as the chamber markets the area as “a prosperous regional economy where all can thrive, these rankings help us draw serious attention from companies and site selection consultants.

“Once we have their attention, then we can talk about our region’s workforce capabilities as well as our infrastructure available to support many different types of industries,” he said. “Factor in diverse quality-of-life offerings on top of those, and that allows us to attract new investment because new investment likes to go where previous investment has gone. Growth leads to more growth.”

Herrell said those who promote the Q-C don’t use these kind of rankings enough, to articulate the area’s advantages. Visit Quad Cities is doing more of that with its website and social media, he said.

“If you’re a company and trying to consider relo, or an individual taking a job, you’re trying to find places you can consume information to make that decision,” he said. “More often than not, those individuals or companies are going to destination websites, because they blend the full story of the community.”

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Herrell wasn’t surprised to see Colorado cities at the top of the list. Denver was number 2, and top 5 rounded out by Austin, Tex.,. Colorado Springs, and Fort Collins, Colo.

“The livability there, from a sense of place, is really strong,” he said. “Des Moines in the top 10, I was really happy to see that. I think that says a lot about the state of Iowa. I certainly think there are things we can learn from Des Moines, but also all these other markets. If you pluck some things they’re doing in their respective communities and bring them back, use them as benchmarks, that’s something we should do.”

“In this timeframe we’re going through right now, it allows the Quad-Cities to really think through how we’re positioned as a regional market

Dave Herrell is president/CEO of Visit Quad Cities.

and a regional destination,” Herrell said. “What’s the right strategy that will advance us forward? How are we gonna be competitive in this new era that we’re all dealing with?”

That helps the Q-C recruit and maintain talent, and keeps this a great place to live and work, he said.

“Everybody in economic development wants to do that; it’s about creating a sense of place,” Herrell said. “Metrics like this and reports like this aren’t the only measuring stick, but I do think it’s an important measuring stick because it’s something we can aspire to be. If we’re number 79, how do we move that up and be in the top 10?”

Compared to Des Moines, their “community culture is strong,” he said. “They all believe they’re a great place to live. I think culturally, people in Des Moines, they feel that sense, this is a great place to live. And it’s a capital city, and certainly that benefits communities.”

“I don’t think there’s any reason why we can’t be competitive and be in a posture where people are looking at us – saying Des Moines is a wonderful community, but there’s this huge trajectory and upside to the Quad-Cities,” Herrell said. “If we can get more people talking and believing that this is a great place to live and help be the brand champions, we can be incredibly competitive with them.”

Moderate housing costs help

Caroline Ruhl, CEO of Ruhl & Ruhl Realtors, said Wednesday: “Affordability is a huge deal, especially for people who are relocating to this area from Chicago or East Coast or West Coast. They’re always pleasantly surprised at how much home they can buy.”

The Pappajohn Sculpture Park in downtown Des Moines. Des Moines ranked in the top ten.

“It’s affordable compared to other places, and it’s affordable compared to last year,” she said of more attractive, low-interest mortgage loans. Shorter average commute times (compared to bigger cities) are also a key driver. U.S. News found the average Q-C commute to work was 19 minutes.

Through September, the average home price in the Illinois Q-C was $134,500, compared to $225,700 in the Iowa Q-C (including $335,900 in Bettendorf/Riverdale). The average home price in the metro Q-C is $183,200, up from $180,500 last year.

The Iowa side has had higher average home prices since the 1980s, Ruhl said. “There’s basically been a lot less new construction in Illinois,” she said. “A lot of people go to Illinois because it is much more affordable. You can get a lot more house for the money.”

The U.S. News entry on the Q-C says the area is affordable on both sides of the Mississippi River. “Both Iowa and Illinois have average home prices lower than the national average, and Davenport, Moline and Rock Island have average home prices lower than the state averages,” it says. “While property prices are good, both states have high taxes.”

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The Quad-Cities are changing, but not evenly, the report says. Scott County and Rock Island County both have aging populations overall but while Scott County is growing, Rock Island County is “hemorrhaging residents,” U.S. News says. “Meanwhile, Bettendorf is on pace to become larger than Rock Island within a few years and attracts a lot of families.”

Growth or reduction of population isn’t a factor in where people buy homes, Ruhl said.

Caroline Ruhl is CEO of Ruhl & Ruhl Realtors.

“It’s more a matter of availability, what they can afford, the schools if they’re looking at schools,” she said. “There’s a lot of variation.”

Compared to last year, average Q-C home prices have gone up 3 percent, while Des Moines has gone up 1.7 percent. The reason for that is lower-priced homes appreciate more, she said.

Working remotely this year has affected the market, Ruhl said.

“That’s enabled people to stay in more rural settings, where they don’t have to worry about the commute,” she said. “It’s changed what people are looking for in houses. Everyone wanted an open floor plan; now they want more privacy, where kids can study in one room and they can work in another room. It’s very interesting.”

The U.S. News entry on the Q-C (compiled by former Quad-City Times reporter Megan Valley) said each of the main cities is distinct, and the area “offers many of the amenities you’d expect from one larger city.”

“There’s a bustling brewery scene, casinos and river cruises,” it says. “Davenport alone is the third-largest city in Iowa. Rock Island’s historic downtown includes a pedestrian mall with a popular nightlife area known as The District.” The site also notes the local thriving theater scene, touring musical acts, a ballet company, Figge Art Museum, Putnam Museum & Science Center, summer festivals, county fairs, John Deere Classic, Bix 7, and the area’s professional sports teams.

The U.S. News data also was weighted based on responses from a survey of more than 3,000 people throughout the U.S., to determine what matters most to them when picking their next place to live.

Florida a popular place to retire

Of the U.S. News Best Places to Retire, Florida metro areas took a majority (13) of the top 25 rankings and swept the top three: Sarasota moved up a spot to No. 1, followed by Fort Myers at No. 2, and Port St. Lucie landed at No. 3.

Metro areas that ranked in the top 25 of both 2020-2021 Best Places to Live and Best Places to Retire include Charlotte, NCSarasota, FLDallas-Fort Worth, TXGrand Rapids, MI; and Nashville, TNAnn Arbor, MI and Naples, FL, which debuted in the rankings this year, also placed in the top 25 for places to live and retire.

The Talbot Memorial (Centennial) Bridge connecting Rock Island and Davenport.

“After a prolonged period of staying at home, people are taking a critical look at where they live, and many are looking to find a place they can feel happier, afford more or pursue new opportunities,” said Devon Thorsby, real estate editor at U.S. News. “The Best Places rankings can help people examine the details they consider important in a larger community as they seek a house with a bigger yard or a spot that makes it easier for the whole family to quarantine safely together.”

This year, U.S. News increased the number of metropolitan areas evaluated for both sets of rankings from 125 to 150, to provide a broader and more accurate reflection of where Americans can live and retire.

A common feature among many of the top 25 Best Places to Live is the prominence of engineering and technology as a choice career field for many.

Austin, TX (No. 3), San Francisco, CA (No. 10) and Huntsville, AL (No. 15) are popular destinations for young and established professionals alike for offering job markets heavy in technology, aerospace and engineering, according to U.S. News.

Metro areas with colleges well-known for their engineering programs also made the list, such as Colorado Springs, CO (No. 4), Ann Arbor, MI (debuting at No. 12) and Boulder, CO. Boulder debuted in the rankings this year and catapulted to No. 1 due to its strong Desirability,

The U.S. News & World Report Best Places to Live logo.

Quality of Life and Job Market scores.

“At the top of this year’s Best Places to Live rankings, we see a combination of metro areas that can appeal to people looking for city living or more of a small-town atmosphere, but all offer a balance between cost and quality of living,” Thorsby said.

Boulder – in a spectacular, scenic part of the country – is described this way: “This blissed-out enclave attracts young professionals, families, academics, scientists, transplants from both coasts, old guards who insist it was way cooler in the 1970s and, above all, lovers of outdoor recreation. Trail runners, hikers, climbers, cyclists and more move here to live in this perpetual playground, where the answer to “What do you do?” is often one’s activity of choice, not occupation.”

To see the full report (which includes best places to retire), visit https://realestate.usnews.com.

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Jonathan Turner has been covering the Quad-Cities arts scene for 25 years, first as a reporter with the Dispatch and Rock Island Argus, and then as a reporter with the Quad City Times. Jonathan is also an accomplished actor and musician who has been seen frequently on local theater stages, including the Bucktown Revue and Black Box Theatre.