Best Bang for Your Buck: Best Mid-Sized Cities to Make a Living


Are you considering a move or searching for a new job? Whether you're a recent college graduate or a seasoned professional, your career success and satisfaction with your life may largely hinge on the city you decide to call home. After all, working and living where the local economy is strong and where salaries go further can largely determine your quality of life.'s number crunchers have ranked the top 40 mid-sized cities for making a living. They've identified those cities with populations between 100,000 and 500,000 that have relatively low costs of living and high salaries to help ensure you get the most bang for your buck.

  • About Our Methodology
  • Population
  • Compares median salary in a city against the cost to live there.
    Income/Cost Ratio
  • Compares cost of living from one city to another - a value of 100 reflects the national median.
    Cost of living Index Ranking
  • Major Employers
1Durham North Carolina 267,743 128.0% 95 Image

Duke University, IBM, Durham Public Schools, GlaxoSmithKline, Blue Cross & Blue Shield of North Carolina.

Durham has successfully transitioned from a city once dependent on the tobacco and textile industries to a high-tech center for IT, informatics and software. The metro area also serves life sciences and financial services firms. Nearby 7,000-acre Research Triangle Park is one of the world's largest research parks, comprising more than 170 companies — and plenty of well-paying jobs. Companies such as IBM, Cisco and GlaxoSmithKline have offices there. Don't forget that Duke University, with nearly 7,000 students, attracts academia-minded professionals to the city. Durham's cost of living and housing costs fall below the national average, which draw both businesses and individuals. Durham offers residents ample dining, shopping, entertainment, recreational and cultural opportunities. Despite its growth, the city continues to exude southern charm.

2Springfield Illinois 114,868 126.9% 91 Image

State of Illinois, Memorial Health System, St. John's Hospital, Springfield School District, Springfield Clinic LLP.

Perhaps best known as Abraham Lincoln's hometown, Springfield attracts tourists ready to immerse themselves in a history lesson of the Civil War president, through the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and the Lincoln Home National Historic Site. But to those who live and work in Springfield, the capital city exhibits remarkable stability and opportunities for a city of its size. If you're seeking out public service, Springfield offers numerous government job opportunities. Even if you don't entertain political aspirations, you may want to check out other prospects. Springfield has experienced growth in several other industries: financial and back-office services, health care, tourism, logistics and association management. In addition to a solid job market, Springfield offers affordable housing and a cost of living well below the national average.

3Huntsville Alabama 194,585 115.4% 97 Image

U.S. Army/Redstone Arsenal, NASA, Huntsville Hospital, Huntsville City Schools, The Boeing Co.

Huntsville has evolved into a dynamic economy through key industries: aerospace and defense, IT, research and technology, manufacturing and life sciences. In the past five years, the city has created 15,000 new jobs and generated $1.5 billion in capital investment. About 17 percent of Huntsville's employed hold high-paying STEM jobs. Huntsville salaries, combined with low housing costs and a modest cost of living, enable residents to easily afford a comfortable lifestyle. Numerous publications — Forbes and Kiplinger's included — have applauded the city's livability and robust business environment. "Huntsville offers all of the amenities of a much larger city without the high costs and the headaches," says city mayor Tommy Battle. "This includes an affordable lifestyle, good schools and a transportation network that provides an average 18-minute commute to work. We give our citizens the priceless gift of more time to enjoy life."

4Des Moines Iowa 217,521 114.2% 87 Image

Wells Fargo & Co., Hy-Vee Food Corp., Mercy Medical Center UnityPoint Health, Principal Financial Group.

Downtown Des Moines is booming, with over 20 major building projects in the works. Don't discount the already strong presence of Wells Fargo and Principal Financial Group. These already-dominant companies are injecting additional life to the city, as Wells Fargo's recent announcement of a new downtown museum and Principal's construction of a new headquarters demonstrate. "Greater Des Moines has a strong financial and insurance industry, as well as a growing number of tech start-ups and entrepreneurs," says Gene Meyer, president of the Greater Des Moines Partnership, an economic development organization. "We continue to attract and retain young professionals, and we believe a strong, vibrant, urban downtown is an important component of attracting those job candidates. Ultimately, Greater Des Moines provides accessibility, affordability and achievability. It is a great city to grow your career due to many opportunities available, affordably and with easy access to many of our region's leaders."

5Rochester Minnesota 115,733 113.3% 97 Image

Mayo Clinic, IBM, Rochester Public Schools, Olmsted Medical Center, Olmsted County.

Rochester's humble beginnings as a stagecoach stop belies its modern day status as Minnesota's third-largest city. Yet despite its expansive size, which encompasses nearly 40 square miles, Rochester workers spend an average of 14 minutes commuting to work, one of the shortest of all large cities. The city is home to the Mayo Clinic, the area's top employer and nucleus of the city's economy. Mayo Clinic's workforce numbers more than 36,000 in Rochester. The city experiences an influx of 2.7 million visitors a year, many who come to the Clinic for medical care. As a result, the area has developed strong service and hospital industries. But don't forget about the region's rich soil. Agriculture is the area's third-largest industry, with 1,400 working farms in the county. Dairy producers, processing plants and production plants all contribute to the city's economy.

6Ann Arbor Michigan 121,477 112.1% 110 Image

University of Michigan Medical Center, University of Michigan, Trinity Health, General Motors Milford Proving Grounds, VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System.

If you love all-things brainy, Ann Arbor may be the ideal place to live. That's because the city regularly appears on most-educated-cities lists, including Forbes and U.S. News rankings. Ann Arbor offers the best of many worlds. Smart talk aside, you'll find world-class educational facilities at the University of Michigan as well as top-notch medical and high-tech research centers. Yet the city is situated in a peaceful setting with the feel of small-town America. Bottom line: The area, with its hundreds of high-tech and life science businesses, nonetheless provides residents with affordable housing, plentiful cultural and recreational opportunities and excellent medical care.

7Cedar Rapids Iowa 132,228 111.9% 94 Image

Rockwell Collins, Transamerica, UnityPoint Health - St. Luke's Hospital, Cedar Rapids Community School District, Nordstrom Direct.

With a cost of living well below the national average, Cedar Rapids, situated in eastern Iowa, is a pleasant place to live and work. Two dozen Fortune 500 companies — including Rockwell Collins, Quaker Oats and General Mills — make Cedar Rapids their home. Engineering is big here. The city has more engineers per capita and produces more ethanol than any other city. Nearly 300 manufacturing plants have set up shop in the region. In Iowa's second largest city, housing is also affordable. The city has taken measures to revitalize the downtown area, injecting $1 billion to the effort. New projects are under construction, including convention facilities and housing buildings, which will give residents more options for downtown-living. Cultural offerings are also numerous, and include wineries, breweries and the Midwest's largest open-air farmer's market during the summer.

8Cincinnati Ohio 301,301 111.0% 85 Image

Kroger Co., University of Cincinnati, The Procter & Gamble Co., Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, TriHealth Inc.

As home to six Fortune 500 companies, Cincinnati supports numerous industries — such as consumer products, financial services and marketing services — that contribute to its economy. In 2019, the city experienced job growth totaling more than 20,000 new jobs, with additional growth projected. Federal data shows the metro area grew the fastest among major cities in the Midwest. Business services sectors, including legal, accounting, architectural, engineering and advertising, all contributed. In the late nineteenth century, the city earned the moniker "Paris of America" for its numerous novel architectural projects of the period. Today, these architectural elements — including the Music Hall and Cincinnatian Hotel — continue to attract notice. The city also offers unique culinary experiences, such as Cincinnati chili, served by numerous chili parlors throughout the city.

9Midland Texas 134,610 110.7% 105 Image

Midland Independent School District, Warren Equipment Cos., Midland Memorial Hospital, Dawson Geophysical, Midland College.

Although Midland is characterized by a multi-faceted economy, the city remains heavily dependent on the oil and gas industry. As a result, the low cost of crude oil is exerting a negative impact on the city's economy. According to economic development organization Midland Development Corp., the economy is expected to contract "for the foreseeable future." Despite this projection, the city's other industries, including agriculture and ranching, health care and transportation, may buoy prospects. According to a September 2019 report by AdvisorSmith, Midland added 25,000 jobs between 2016 and 2019. It also had the lowest unemployment rate of any Texas Metropolitan Statistical Area in November 2017. Home prices are affordable compared to other Texas cities.

10Raleigh North Carolina 464,758 108.9% 102 Image

State of North Carolina, Wake County Public School System, IBM Corp., WakeMed Health & Hospitals, North Carolina State University.

Raleigh, known as the "City of Oaks," has been one of the nation's fastest-growing communities for the past 15 years. In fact, CNNMoney recently named this state capital the top city in the country for jobs. Demand for skilled workers is strong because of proximity to Research Triangle Park — one of the world's largest research parks — and its approximately 170 health and technology companies. The city has become a leading center for innovations in technology and life sciences. The area offers a temperate, four-season climate, access to cultural offerings — including the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts and Walnut Creek Amphitheatre — a low cost of living, excellent healthcare, affordable homes and many job opportunities. Several higher educational institutions also reside within the city.

11Pueblo Colorado 111,127 108.5% 88 Image

Parkview Medical Center, Pueblo City Schools, Evraz Inc., St. Mary Corwin Hospital, Walmart.

Pueblo is one of the nation's largest producers of steel, which has earned it its nickname, "the Steel City." As the home to more Medal of Honor recipients than any other city, Pueblo is also referred to as the "home of Heroes." Its low cost of living routinely earns the city placement in top rankings for affordable living, and the Pueblo Economic Development Corp. boasts on its website that "you can live rich" in Pueblo. Major industries include manufacturing, agriculture, healthcare and distribution and logistics. The recreation and tourism industry is thriving as well from the city's four-season climate and access to year-round outdoor activities. The site of numerous waterfront restaurants, the Historic Arkansas Riverwalk of Pueblo (HARP) is a 32-acre urban waterfront experience that attracts both residents and visitors.

12St. Louis Missouri 319,294 108.4% 88 Image

BJC HealthCare, Boeing Defense, Space & Security, Washington University in St. Louis, Scott Air Force Base, SSM Health Care.

According to the St. Louis Regional Chamber, the city is emerging as one of the nation's leading financial service centers, with more investment advisors than in any other city except New York and Boston. Healthcare, transportation, logistics and manufacturing are key drivers as well — and the source for numerous jobs. St. Louis is home to many startup companies, with nearly $1 billion in venture capital invested in technology firms since 2000. Additionally, 19 Fortune 1000 companies have headquarters in the city. The city's manufacturing sector includes three American automakers — Chrysler, General Motors and Ford — which operate assembly plants. While the job market and economy are robust, the low cost of living further reinforces the city's attraction. Residents tap into the city's cultural centers, and can visit the local zoo, art museum, history museum and science center for free.

13Minneapolis Minnesota 422,331 107.0% 109 Image

UnitedHealth Group, Target, Best Buy, Supervalu, 3M.

After a decade of stagnant job growth leading up to 2010, Minneapolis in the past five years has steadily regained ground through a strong job market for professionals. Minneapolis is home to 18 Fortune 500 companies and its growth hasn't gone unnoticed. ZipRecruiter recently ranked it as the best big-city job market in the nation for 2015 and pointed to professional services, healthcare, technology and food manufacturing as vital industries. With its high number of Fortune 500 companies and reasonable cost of living, Minneapolis is on a trajectory that continues to attract young professionals. Low unemployment is indicative of the city's economic stability, something that residents find reassuring. Minneapolis also offers an excellent education system and is one of the most environmentally friendly cities in the world.

14Richmond Virginia 227,032 106.8% 100 Image

Capital One Financial Corp., VCU Health System, HCA Inc., Bon Secours Richmond, Walmart.

Richmond, the capital of Virginia, offers excellent career opportunities as well as a great lifestyle and low cost of living. Many financial services firms call the city home — in fact, the Fifth Federal Reserve District's headquarters are in Richmond. As headquarters for companies such as GE Financial Assurance, LandAmerica Financial Group and Anthem, the city maintains its prominence. But there are ample employment opportunities in other industries, including healthcare, biotechnology, insurance, manufacturing, professional services and the government. The city has a four-season climate and offers many recreational, cultural and educational opportunities. For instance, the city proudly hosts the 17th Street Farmer's Market, in operation since 1737. For residents, getting to work isn't a time-waster: The average commute is only 24 minutes.

15Omaha Nebraska 466,893 106.4% 90 Image

Offutt Air Force Base, CHI Health, Omaha Public Schools, Methodist Health System, Nebraska Medicine.

Omaha, the largest city in Nebraska, is home to four Fortune 500 companies and five Fortune 1000 firms. The city's cost of living is lower, and its median household income higher, than the national medians. Housing is affordable, with the median price of an existing home substantially below the U.S. median, and the unemployment rate is low. Omaha offers a diverse economy, excellent public education and extensive cultural opportunities—not to mention the average commute to work lasts 18 minutes. Over the past few years, over $2 billion has been invested in Omaha's riverfront and downtown areas. The Bob Kerrey Bridge, one of the longest pedestrian bridges ever constructed, spans the Missouri River, giving residents and visitors amazing views of the skyline. The city also boasts a lively performing arts scene as well as numerous museums, including art, jazz and air and space venues.

16Tulsa Oklahoma 401,800 105.9% 87 Image

Saint Francis Healthcare System, American Airlines, St. John Health System, Spirit AeroSystems, Bank of Oklahoma.

Significant public investment in Tulsa's downtown area has propelled Oklahoma's second largest metro through a renaissance of sorts. The revitalization efforts have attracted Millennials — and their employers. The city focuses on attracting retailers, as a way to generate revenue from sales and use taxes, a strategic push that makes sense considering taxes are the primary funding sources for Oklahoma cities. Tulsa's efforts haven't gone unrewarded. Recent successes include Costco and Trader Joe's. Still, retailers aren't the only ones with business presence in the city. Aerospace and aviation are also large industry sectors: American Airlines alone employs 7,000 workers in Tulsa. "Tulsa has worked over the years since the oil bust to diversify our economy, and we are continuing to look for growth opportunities in sectors such as aerospace and technology," says Clay Bird, the city's chief economic development officer. "Small business is a large part of our economy, so we place a heavy development focus on increasing entrepreneurial opportunities.

17Kansas City Missouri 488,943 105.9% 94 Image

Federal government, Cerner Corp., Fort Leavenworth, HCA MidAmerica, Whiteman Air Force Base.

If you thought Kansas City was just a great place for barbecue, then think again because it offers so much more. After some up and down years during the Great Recession, Kansas City has regained solid footing. The city grew employment by 7,400 jobs in 2019, with health and professional services jobs gaining the most momentum. With its growing economy, Kansas City has all the right ingredients to attract job hunters looking for mid-sized living. The city offers an affordable cost of living, friendly atmosphere, low crime rates, excellent schools, entertainment and sports options and great food. The city is also home to the National World War I Museum and Memorial, which holds the most diverse collection of World War I objects and documents in the world. The museum is so popular that it has broken attendance records for each of the past two years.

18Lincoln Nebraska 284,736 105.8% 93 Image

Lincoln Public Schools, State of Nebraska, Bryan Health, University of Nebraska - Lincoln, Ameritas Life Insurance Corp.

Ask Lincoln residents for their opinion about the place they call home and you'll likely hear them say Lincoln is a great place to live, work, play and raise a family. According to Mayor Chris Beutler, local government has worked with entrepreneurs and new businesses, providing tax incentives and cutting government red tape, to help facilitate local development. The unemployment rate is low, at 3 percent, the economy is strong and the cost of living is much lower than the national average. "The Lincoln job scene is healthy and diverse," says Wendy Birdsall, president of the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce. "We have openings in manufacturing, the skilled trades and in an office or corporate setting. If someone is looking for a lower cost of living, a steady job and the ability to have some fun in a safe environment, Lincoln has it. You truly can have it all here."

19Spokane Washington 217,108 105.5% 96 Image

Providence Health & Services, Walmart, URM Stores Inc., Rockwood Clinic, Kalispel Tribe (Northern Quest Resort & Casino).

Some people might say that Spokane is a well-kept secret. The city offers quality of life along with a strong economy, excellent medical care, four distinct seasons, great schools and affordable housing. You can live in a historical downtown area and walk to work, restaurants, shopping and entertainment. The economy is diverse; Major sectors include logistics and distribution, aerospace, manufacturing, health services, finance and insurance, government and agriculture. Of these various industries, aerospace plays a significant role in the local economy. Over 80 companies make up the sector, which employs over 8,000 people and creates a $500 million economic impact on the region.

20Salt Lake City Utah 200,544 105.2% 106 Image

State of Utah, Intermountain Healthcare, University of Utah, Salt Lake County, U.S. Postal Service.

Historically dependent on farming and mining, Salt Lake City has developed a multi-faceted economy. As the capital of Utah, government jobs are plentiful. But the healthcare industry also exerts a strong presence in the region, as do education and tourism. The city is also home to the headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The city offers a great qualify of life, with plenty of recreational, cultural and educational opportunities. It has seven world-class ski resorts, opera and ballet companies and a symphony orchestra. It's also home to the University of Utah, a leading research institution known for its biomedical and chemical discoveries. The city has a burgeoning food and beverage scene, including chef-owned restaurants, craft breweries and urban wineries.

How Other Cities Ranked

  City State Population Income/Cost
Compares median salary in a city against the cost to live there.
Cost of Living
Compares cost of living from one city to another - a value of 100 reflects the national median.
21 Fort Wayne IN 265,904 104.8% 84 Image
22 Tacoma WA 213,418 104.7% 110 Image
23 Baton Rouge LA 225,374 104.5% 96 Image
24 Birmingham AL 210,710 104.4% 81 Image
25 Dayton OH 140,371 104.0% 83 Image
26 Topeka KS 126,587 103.9% 83 Image
27 Colorado Springs CO 464,474 103.8% 105 Image
28 Rockford IL 147,651 103.3% 85 Image
29 Worcester MA 185,677 102.9% 118 Image
30 Odessa TX 116,861 102.8% 90 Image
31 Lexington KY 321,959 102.6% 94 Image
32 Madison WI 255,214 102.5% 108 Image
33 Rochester NY 208,046 102.5% 88 Image
34 Buffalo NY 258,612 102.3% 83 Image
35 Green Bay WI 105,116 102.1% 86 Image
36 Wichita KS 390,591 101.7% 90 Image
37 Peoria IL 112,883 101.5% 92 Image
38 Fargo ND 122,359 101.4% 97 Image
39 Pittsburgh PA 302,407 101.2% 91 Image
40 Hartford CT 123,400 100.9% 108 Image