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 [email protected] Follow @venturetampabay.