What’s the best place to live and work? Obviously, that’s a highly subjective question, but some data can be brought to bear, though that has limitations too.
An organization called NerdWallet, which strategy associate Jaime Ortiz called an “unbiased source of personal finance information” – it’s a good website on which to compare credit cards – has listed what it considers the best cities in Missouri for job seekers. Lee’s Summit is No. 2, and Blue Springs is No. 20. Overall, the metro area didn’t do all that well.
NerdWallet looked at three criteria: Is the city’s working-age population growing? Can a person afford to live there comfortably? The group looked at median household incomes as well as homeowner costs. And third, do most people have jobs? The group looks at U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data.
Now there are problems with having no boots-on-the-ground work to back up sheer numbers. Context and accuracy are among them, and that’s common in these “best of” lists generated from afar. NerdWallet suggests that Wentzville, a St. Louis suburb, is in central Missouri, and it describes Lee’s Summit as “about 30 minutes southeast of Kansas City,” a tortured description considering that those two cities share a long border. That’s my less than generous way of suggesting we take all of this with a grain of salt.
Still, NerdWallet really likes No. 1 Wentzville – GM plant, lots of jobs, programs to help job seekers – and No. 2 Lee’s Summit, with its rapid growth and assets such as the University of Central Missouri Summit Center, where workers can update their skills. No. 3 is Columbia, with all those university jobs and a jobless rate of just 3.7 percent. No doubt some quality-of-life index to reflect the abundance of Shakespeare’s Pizza would push the city higher. Again, the limits of data.
Blue Springs came in at No. 20. Ortiz said the city’s slow growth is overcome by good incomes and a low jobless rate, which the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center last month put at just 4.9 percent. Overall, NerdWallet looked at 52 cities of 15,000 or more. Independence, which had 6 percent unemployment in December and is consistently higher than Blue Springs and Lee’s Summit in that category, came in No. 28.
Our metro area didn’t fare all that well, with just five of the top 20: Lee’s Summit, No. 8 Grandview, No. 16 Raymore, No. 19 Liberty and Blue Springs. St. Louis had three of the top five and nine of the top 20, including Wildwood, O’Fallon and Chesterfield. Springfield, Joplin, Nixa, St. Joseph and Jefferson City all made the list.
Here’s another way of looking at it. In sheer size, six cities in Missouri are significantly bigger than the rest, with populations of 90,000 or more. The three of those six that are managing to grow rapidly – Springfield and especially Columbia and Lee’s Summit – made the top 20, while the three with modest or no growth – Kansas City, St. Louis and Independence – did not.
Oh, nationally, who’s No. 1? That’s Austin, Texas. Isn’t it No. 1 on every trendy list? Many of the other usual suspects – Minneapolis, Denver, Charlotte, Oklahoma City – also are in the top 10, but so are Omaha and Washington, D.C. Kansas City, on the other hand, did not crack the top 20.
Jeff Fox is The Examiner’ s business reporter and editor. Reach him at email@example.com or 816-350-6313. Follow on Twitter @FoxEJC or @Jeff_Fox.