MSA: Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers, AR-MO
Best places ranking: #13 among midsize metro areas
Locals love Fayetteville, which lies 1,400 feet above sea level in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains. There's plenty to do: football fanatics go crazy for the University of Arkansas Razorbacks, flooding the city during home games. Outdoor enthusiasts fish in nearby lakes and bike and hike in the Ozarks. But culture isn't lost on this diverse area: The university brings art, theater, and music to the city. And then, of course, there's the Walton family's Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, currently under construction in nearby Bentonville. It's one of the nation's first new art museums in 30 years.
Big businesses, too, like the Fayetteville area: It's home to Tyson Foods and to J.B. Hunt, the nation's largest transportation company. Wal-Mart, headquartered in Bentonville, has grown an ecosystem of business by encouraging its vendors -- at last count, more than 1,300 of them -- to open local offices. That's created a thriving business community that has cushioned the area somewhat from the recession. Unemployment is at 6.2%, more than a point lower than the state's rate.
Newcomers flooded the area over the past several years, pushing house prices up and enticing real estate developers to build. Many developers who jumped in at the peak have gone under. The area is dotted with empty commercial buildings, bringing lease and purchase prices down to more affordable levels. -Elaine Appleton Grant
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"It's a very economical place to live and work. National chain hotels cost about $58 a night on our corporate rate. And there's plenty to do. " -Cathy Mastalerz
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