America's top 10 affordable suburbs
These small siblings of the nation's big cities scored best for cost of living, lifestyle, schools and the strength of their local economies.
Mill Creek, Wash., a suburb of Seattle, ranked No. 2 in BusinessWeek's state-by-state ranking of the most affordable suburbs in America. © Larry Celustka/City of Mill Creek
If you're not a Wisconsin native, you've probably never heard of it.
But the city of Pewaukee, Wis., a small Milwaukee suburb overlooking a picturesque sailing and fishing lake of the same name, has award-winning schools, low crime, natural beauty and homes for every budget. It topped the list of BusinessWeek.com's 2009 rankings of the "Best Affordable Suburbs." Pewaukee was selected for Wisconsin in our state-by-state rankings, and scored No. 1 on our nationwide list.
The city of Pewaukee should not be confused with the village of Pewaukee, which the city surrounds. (Pewaukee village, which has a beach on the eastern tip of the lake and serves as the downtown for the area, fell just short of Pewaukee city in our scoring for Wisconsin.)
Close to Milwaukee
Pewaukee, which has about 12,800 residents, has managed to keep its rural character despite its growing population and location on a major highway just 20 minutes from Milwaukee and 70 minutes from the college town of Madison. Among the region's largest employers are large health-care providers such as Aurora Health Care, Covenant Healthcare and GE Healthcare, a subsidiary of General Electric, as well as Kohl's Department Stores and Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance.
Pewaukee continues to grow, in part because of its proximity to Milwaukee, and its setting on the eastern end of the 4-mile-long Pewaukee Lake. The lake is popular for skating and ice fishing during the winter, and sailing, water skiing, swimming and canoeing in the summer. "You can be near a metro area where you can go to a world-class museum, a zoo, and things like that but you're out in the suburbs … where you can go out and see cows and picnic in the park," said Harlan Clinkenbeard, who has been Pewaukee's city planner for three decades.
BusinessWeek used data from Manhattan-based OnBoard Informatics to select one suburb within 25 miles of the most populated city in each state. The recession has flattened home prices across the country, but the idea behind the list is to help readers find the most for their money within some of America's largest metro areas.
Affordability is No. 1
We evaluated suburbs on a variety of factors but weighted affordability most heavily. We also considered lifestyle (short commutes, clean air, low crime, good weather and green space), the quality of schools and the strength of the local economy. None of the places had populations of more than 60,000 or less than 5,000.
We found places, like Pewaukee, that weren't too far from the attractions of a big city, but also retained their small-town charm. The recession has brought down costs in just about all of these communities. But some of these places have managed to draw in large businesses and new residents even in these difficult times.
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Companies have recently invested $22 million in new industrial development in the small suburb of Brandon, S.D., east of Sioux Falls, said Dennis E. Olson, the city's administrator and finance officer. Brandon is still growing by about 100 homes a year, compared with the 350-home annual pace during the housing boom, Olson said.
Good schools a draw
He said residents like the fact that Brandon has a small school district where students get a great education without getting lost in the crowd. They also like the variety of homes, which range from about $225,000 to $440,000, he said.
And by the way, it's safe. "We have our own police department, but I can't remember the last time we had a murder," Olson said. "We had a guy who was growing marijuana in his basement for a few years but that was no big deal."
Pewaukee parent Sandy Wysocki said she loves the fact that all the district's K-12 schools are situated on a single campus because it creates a greater sense of community. And the campus setting allows for high school students to volunteer in elementary school classrooms and for elementary school students to attend high school sports events.
Proximity breeds closeness
Sandy and her husband, Paul Wysocki, moved to Pewaukee two decades ago and have three children. One is in college and two attend Pewaukee High School. "It's a town where a lot of people grow up together," Sandy Wysocki said. "A lot of kids have been going to school together since kindergarten."
The top 10 affordable suburbs
3. Brandon, S.D.
10. Fort Mill, S.C.
Find the most affordable suburb in your state. Visit BusinessWeek.com for the complete state-by-state list.
By Prashant Gopal, BusinessWeek