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Where do Tampa Bay's small cities rank on list of nation's best and worst?

A new ranking of 1,268 smaller U.S. cities looking at 22 factors from affordability and economic health to depth of education and health services and overall quality of life finds Pensacola the highest rated city in Florida, yet still trailing 51 higher ranked places in other states.

Pensacola ranks 52nd overall but 8th in quality of life among all U.S. cities with populations between 25,000 and 100,000 surveyed by the financial analysis website WalletHub. In all, 82 Florida cities are ranked in the 1,268 city survey with Fort Pierce on Florida's east coast rated the weakest, mainly because of its economy, struggling at No. 1,222.

Among the smaller cities in the Tampa Bay region, Valrico ranks high with the nation's 17th best economic health, followed by up-and coming Wesley Chapel and Bradenton — all locations, it should be noted, that are close to Interstate 75. Dunedin, Pinellas Park, Largo and Riverview also ranked favorably.

Ranking low on the national and state rankings in the area are Spring Hill, whose affordability could not offset other weak ratings. Plant City also lags badly in the category of education and health. Plant City in particular might dispute its rankings of 60th in the state and 882nd nationwide given its recent uptick in attracting new jobs and its decision to create its own economic development corporation (EDC) to recruit even more opportunities.

Landing in the middle — not too hot but not too cold — according to WalletHub's review are Palm Harbor and Land O' Lakes.

Why focus on smaller cities with populations so small that Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater are too big to be included in the survey? Several experts reviewed WalletHub's findings and offered some insights.

Small cities may seem more manageable and accessible than large cities, are often more affordable and can offer a stronger sense of community, says DePaul University associate professor Winifred Curran. She urges smaller cities to focus as much on keeping residents as soliciting new ones. And she cautions smaller cities jumping into the competitive pursuit of the "creative class" as a "zero-sum game."

"The lifeblood of any city is the people it can attract, the jobs it can bring in," says James Morone, public policy professor at Brown University. "But the formula will differ for every city." His advice? The first step is to get a city's public and private leaders and its residents to work together. "For any town — tiny or mega — the spirit of the place, the vibe, the self confidence, is crucial."

The top rated small city in the WalletHub survey is Princeton, N.J., home to Princeton University. While the town is expensive to live in it also ranked No. 1 in economic health, No. 7 in "education/health" and No. 71 in quality of life.

The "worst" or lowest ranked city among the 1,268 analyzed: Bell, Calif. In fact, California's small cities dominated the bottom ranking of the survey, occupying every one of the last 33 spots.

Contact Robert Trigaux at rtrigaux@tampabay.com. Follow @venturetampabay.

Florida's "best" and "worst" small cities

Rank in Florida (U.S.)Why
1 (52) Pensacola8th in U.S. in quality of life
2 (56) The Villages5th in U.S. in "economic health" but low life quality
3 (75) Winter Parkhigh in life quality but more expensive
4 (116) Boca Ratonhigh in life quality but more expensive
5 (181) Valrico17th in economic health, near bottom in life quality
6 (186) Wesley Chapelaffordable, good economy, low life quality
7,(192) Sarasota6th in quality of life but pricey, lagging economy
8 (196) Ormond Beachreasonably affordable, decent life quality
9 (220) Oviedoreasonably affordable, good economy
10 (261) Clermontlagging education, health ratings
11 (296) Coral Gableshigh priced, but good life quality
12 (374) Cooper Citygood economy
13 (377) Doralhigh priced, good economy
14 (378) Palm Beach Gardensgood economy
15 (390) Jupiterdecent economy, lagging education/health
16 (445) Melbournelagging economy, good life quality
17 (463) Delray Beachgood life quality, otherwise lagging ratings
18 (477) Wellingtonfair economy
19 (492) Winter Springsaffordable, lagging quality of life
20 (500) Casselberrylagging economy
21 (504 Winter Havenlagging economy
22 (514) Westonpricey, lagging quality of life
23 (518) Bradentongood quality of life, lagging economy
24 (523) Altamonte Springsfair quality of life
25 (538) Plantationless affordable, lagging quality of life
26 (541) Rockledgeaffordable but lagging quality of life
27 (548) Ocoeeaffordable but lagging education/health
28 (549) Royal Palm Beachlagging quality of life
29 (555) Merritt Islandaffordable but weak economy
30 (557) Fort Myersgood quality of life, weak economy
31 (567) Dunedinfair quality of life, lagging education/health
32 (568) Winter Gardenmiddle of pack ratings
33 (579) Pinellas Parkaffordable, lagging quality of life
34 (581) Panama Cityquality of life, weaker economy
35 (597) Riverviewaffordable but low quality of life rating
36 (611) Aventuraless affordable
37 (634) Miami Beachpricey, good quality of life but high crime rate
38 (642) Apopkaaffordable but low quality of life rating
39 (649) Largomiddle of pack ratings, lagging education/health
40 (675) Coconut Creekmiddle of pack ratings, lagging life quality
41 (676) Ocalagood quality of life but weak economy
42 (708) Daviemiddle of pack ratings, lagging education/health
43 (718) Lake Worthhigh life quality, poor economy, lots of uninsured
44 (722 Boynton Beachmiddle of pack ratings, decent life quality
45 (728) North Fort Myers5th in affordability, almost last in life quality
46 (736) Port Orangemiddle of pack ratings, lagging education/health
47 (740) Palm Harboraffordable but weaker economy, lower life quality
48 (752) Land O' Lakesweak economy, poor life quality
49 (758) Sunrisemiddle ratings in all categories
50 (781) Deerfield Beachmiddle-to-weak ratings in all categories
51 (799) Cutler Baydecent economy, low life quality
52 (802) Lakelandfair life quality, lagging economy
53 (804) St. Cloudtrailing education/health, life quality ratings
54 (808) Navarre25th in economic health but very low life quality
55 (814) DeLandfair economy but otherwise weak ratings
56 (818) Titusvilleaffordable but weak economy
57 (831) Bonita Springsmiddle-to-weak ratings in all categories
58 (835) Greenacreslow quality of life rating
59 (869) Margatelow marks in economic health, education/health
60 (882) Plant Cityranked No. 1002 in education/health
61 (890) TamaracNo. 1103 in quality of life
62 (931) Port CharlotteNo. 1074 in economic health
63 (934) Oakland ParkNo. 1027 in education/health
64 (945) North PortNo. 1136 in quality of life
65 (947) SanfordNo. 1001 in economic health, 954 in education/health
66 (960) Riviera BeachRanked No. 1008 in quality of life
67 (961) North LauderdaleWeaker ratings across the board
68 (975) KissimmeeRanked No. 1064 in economic health
69 (983) Miami Lakes pricey, lower quality of life
70 (1002) Daytona Beachdecent life quality, but otherwise weak ratings
71 (1006) DeltonaNo. 1268 in life quality is lowest of U.S. cities ranked
72 (1035) Dania Beachfair education/health but otherwise weak ratings
73 (1045) North Miami BeachRanked No. 1058 in economic health
74 (1064) Spring Hillaffordable but ranked near bottom in other categories
75 (1082) Hallandale Beachweak rankings across the board
76 (1089) Palm Coastaffordable but ranked near bottom in other categories
77 (1097) Lauderhillweak rankings across the board
78 (1099) Lauderdale Lakesweak rankings across the board
79 (1124) Homesteadweak rankings across the board
80 (1168) KendallNo. 1265 in quality of life
81 (1195) North Miamiweak economic health ranked No. 1199
82 (1221) Fort PierceWeakest economic health of state's small cities: No. 1266

Source: WalletHub "2015's Best & Worst Small Cities in America" survey

Where do Tampa Bay's small cities rank on list of nation's best and worst? 11/04/15 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 4, 2015 11:30am]
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