Three Colorado cities — Centennial, Arvada, and Highlands Ranch — were among the top five cities to live in the United States, according to a recent 24/7 Wall St. story.
We looked at a number of different factors in its analysis, including job market, poverty and crime rates, and education and health, to determine its list of the 50 best cities to live in America.
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Centennial and Arvada made the list because their poverty and crime rates were well below the national average. Highlands Ranch received high marks for its low rate of hospitalizations. All three cities have household incomes above the national median of $59,039.
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Stephan Weiler, professor of economics at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, said the three cities are located in the region known as the Front Range. This is the area between Fort Collins and Colorado Springs, near Interstate 25. “This area gets a ton of sun, but not a lot of condensation; any condensation is mostly snow,” said Weiler. “[The towns] are easy driving distance to Denver.”
Weiler said all of the Colorado cities that made the list have crime and poverty rates well below the national average, as well as great amenities such as parks.
There were only 22 violent crimes for every 100,000 people in Centennial in 2016, a fraction of the U.S. violent crime rate of 386 incidents per 100,000 Americans. Only 2.7% of the population lives in poverty, compared with the national average of 14.0%.
Arvada had only 27 violent crimes for every 100,000 residents in 2016. In Arvada, only 5.4% of the population lives below the poverty line.
For every 100,000 people in Highland Ranch, there were 5.52 crimes. The poverty rate in that city was just 3.1%.
The three towns have strong leadership and have done good work in redevelopment, he said.
Arvada’s historic Olde Town section, spurred by economic incentives from the city, is experiencing a surge in restaurant openings. In Centennial, Jones District, a 1.8-million-square-foot mixed-use development, is slated to include offices, retail outlets, and a hotel. Tenants are taking space at 100-acre Central Park development in Highlands Ranch. That project will include apartments, single-family homes, restaurants, and fitness studios.
Weiler said cities in this region have worked to diversify the local economy and have gotten away from the energy-reliant economy that led to booms and busts in the past in Denver.
The 2001 recession hit the region hard, said Weiler, as industries such as tourism, telecommunications, and technology laid off employees. “But rather than wait to get another job, they went out and started their own businesses,” said Weiler. “There’s a strong entrepreneurial streak in the region.”
Colorado ranks second in the nation in Small Business Administration loans per 100,000 people at 43.45. The state has 2.81 small businesses — companies with 50 employees or fewer — for every 100 residents, the eighth-highest among U.S. states, according to Small Business Administration data.
Weiler also said Colorado has benefited by in-migration of young, talented people from other states. “It goes beyond tech,” he said. “It’s a job machine that creates jobs in tech, information services, higher-end services,architects, and engineers.”
He added that the region is university-inclusive. Among the institutions of higher learning in the region are Colorado State University, the University of Colorado, and the University of Northern Colorado.
With the high quality of life and robust job market come concerns regarding income inequality. Weiler, who is from the West Coast and has lived in Colorado since 1996, said the region reminds him of Silicon Valley before the technology boom.
Weiler said Colorado is aware of the issues related to income disparity and affordable housing and is looking to address them. People in Colorado, he said, view what has occurred in Silicon Valley as a cautionary tale.
“In Colorado, you can afford to live in these towns and live next to cooks and school teachers. Everybody is mixed in,” said Weiler. “You don’t get that in Silicon Valley anymore.”
Recent Census data bear out concerns of Coloradans. There are signs that Colorado’s population growth rate is cooling. Census data showed that in 2016, the state saw its first drop this decade in the number of people arriving from other states, while those leaving Colorado reached a record high. People who are leaving complained about rising housing prices, jobs that don’t pay enough, and traffic.
By John Harrington