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16. Novato, Calif.
Population: 48,410
Pro: Educated workforce
Con: Competitive labor market

The northernmost city in Marin County, Novato is about 29 miles north of San Francisco and 20 miles from the wine regions of Napa and Sonoma. Still, it's one of the most affordable towns in the Bay Area, with a median home price of $625,500. Birkenstock Footprint Sandals call Novato home, and many software and telecommunications companies are based here. In recent years, the local economy has generated numerous small,knowledge-based startups oriented toward global markets.

As city officials seek out ways to provide more available commercial space, the Novato Independent Business Alliance has rallied to support local businesses and to discourage an influx of big-box retailers.

As the fastest growing community in Marin County, Novato enjoys a healthy influx of new potential workers. The city recently revitalized its 10-block stretch of downtown, making way for additional mixed-use space and attracting new retailers. -Kelsey Abbott

Interactive map: Novato, Calif.
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NEXT: 17. Santa Fe

Last updated July 02 2008: 11:16 AM ET
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