Raleigh, N.C., has built a solid economy around financial services, software and energy, a major retail shipping operation and its renowned Research Triangle.
The metro area is also blessed with quality schools, low crime, lots of oak trees and a low cost of living relative to its residents’ rising level of income. About two-thirds of locals own their own homes. Among America’s major population centers, is there a better place to raise a family? We don’t think so. Raleigh gets the nod in 2014, edging out Grand Rapids, Mich.; Ogden, Utah; and Omaha, Neb.
Grand Rapids, our winner in 2012, boasts the highest percentage of homeowners in the country (77%), with minimal commute times and low crime. Both Ogden and Omaha, much like Raleigh, offer relatively low costs of living even with household incomes that beat the average of large U.S. metro areas.
Taste in cities is always subjective, of course. There’s nothing wrong with raising children in New York or Chicago, and if the bright lights and energy of those towns are what suits you then you probably wouldn’t be very happy in Raleigh, Grand Rapids or Omaha.
But individual tastes aside, we believe there’s a logical, objective set of criteria with which to measure family friendliness. We ranked America’s 100 largest metro areas on median household income (data from Census Bureau), Cost of Living Index (Center for Regional Economic Competitiveness), housing affordability (the percentage of homes in the area affordable to those making the local median income – NAHB/Wells Fargo WFC -0.16%), the percentage of residents who own their homes (Census Bureau) average commuting delays (Texas Transportation Institute), crime rate rankings (FBI via CQ Press) and local school quality (greatschools.org).
You’ve probably noticed that Raleigh has appeared on a few of these “Best” lists in recent years, in Forbes and other publications. And for good reason: it’s managed to grow into a major metro area (its population has expanded about 50% since 2000) with a minimum of the hassles that invariably come along with it, like rising prices and congestion. A beltway loop built around the city has helped ease local traffic. Median household income ($58,000) ranks in the top 30 among the nation’s 100 largest metros, while the local cost of living still ranks in the bottom 30. Commuting delays, always a factor in missing quality family time, are eighth-lowest in the country, according to the Texas Transportation Institute.
The one area where costs are creeping higher: housing. Just under 72% of Raleigh-area homes are deemed affordable at the median income level, according to the latest joint study from the National Association of Home Builders and Wells Fargo. That’s not bad, but it’s the one category where Raleigh falls a bit below the national major metro average. It could be a sign that growth beyond the family comfort zone is slowly creeping in. But for now, Raleigh sits in the sweet spot of big city and small town life rolled together.