MSA: Waterloo-Cedar Falls, IA
Best places ranking: #17 among small metro areas
Waterloo and Cedar Falls are two communities joined at the hip. Waterloo, with a population of about 60,000 and three John Deere factories, is predominantly a manufacturing town. John Deere, in conjunction with the city, recently developed a biotechnology research center called Cedar Valley Tech Works. Over the past decade, Waterloo has also built two industrial parks, and offers tax abatements and free land to businesses that meet certain criteria.
Cedar Falls, once considered a Waterloo suburb, has developed its own identity. With a population of about 40,000, Cedar Falls is a thriving college town -- the University of Northern Iowa has a student population of 13,000. It's also the home of a wide range of technology, service, and advertising businesses. Target operates general merchandise and food distribution centers here.
Cedar Falls has a moderate tax structure and operates its own utility company, which translates into lower rates than the national average. The city is also aggressive about offering tax abatements. And because it owns an industrial park, Cedar Falls has a more than two-decade history of giving free parcels of land to qualifying businesses.
But out in the heartland, nature takes its toll. In 2008, a tornado hit Cedar Falls, and some parts of the city that flooded are still in the process of recovery. -Coeli Carr
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"I knew there was a need for this type of shop, and when my co-founder and I decided to launch, the only placed we wanted to be was historic downtown Cedar Falls." -Gretchen Behm