By Nora Caley
From the March/April 2023 Issue
There is more to life than working and commuting. People tend to have other interests, and some regions are very adept at providing a healthy environment for residents.
Quality of life is something that cannot be measured with precision, and its very definition is open to interpretation. Numerous entities have worked to create metrics that help rank cities or areas by quality of life. U.S. News, in its 25 Best Places to Live for Quality of Life, notes that while affordability and career opportunities contribute to quality of life, the six categories that should be considered are daily commute, access to quality education, access to health care, crime rates, air quality, and general well-being.
Meanwhile Moving.com, in its 15 Affordable Cities with a High Quality of Life, points to affordable real estate, excellent city amenities, and an abundance of job opportunities as key factors. The online real estate and moving services provider prepares the list with AreaVibes, which uses an algorithm to create a Livability Score. That score takes into account categories including nearby amenities, cost of living, crime rates, employment, schools, housing, and user ratings.
Economic development entities each have their own attributes that they herald, such as outdoor recreation, arts organizations, and picturesque scenery. Here are some regions that are leveraging a great quality of life to attract businesses.
NORTH TAMPA BAY, FL: BETTER LIFESTYLE, LOWER COST OF LIVING
From country to a nature rich coastline, Pasco County, Florida has something for everyone. Pasco County features pro-business government leadership in a right to work state with local incentives, low operating costs, and no personal state income tax, ranking the fourth best tax climate in the United States.
The location provides easy access to the Tampa Bay region, which features Tampa International Airport, one of the top five international airports in the U.S., as well as Port Tampa Bay, the closest U.S. deepwater port to the Panama Canal. All this growth has attracted many new residents to Pasco County, about 150,000 over the past decade. It’s easy to see why they chose Pasco when the cost of living is an average of 54% lower than places like New York City and Silicon Valley.
This massive influx of people has brought workers with new skills and expertise that has traditionally only been seen in major metropolitan cities. Pasco’s workforce has increased by 37% over the last 10 years (American Community Survey 2011 and 2021)! This increase in experience and skill level has drawn more advanced industries to Pasco County from companies like TRU Simulation + Training, a full-flight motion simulator company, as well as health research giant Moffitt Cancer Center. Moffitt is currently developing Speros FL, a 775-acre research and corporate innovation district that will bring an additional 14,500 high-skill, high-wage jobs to the area. Speaking of jobs, Florida ranks number one in the nation for attracting and developing a skilled workforce (Lightcast’s November 2022 annual Talent Attraction Scorecard), with an education system ready to train students for these high-skill jobs.
Twenty-one percent of young adults migrating to Tampa from outside Florida moved from major Northeast U.S. cities (migrationpatterns.org). These young professionals live and enjoy their free time in multiple vibrant historic downtowns or over 30,000 acres of master planned developments. These developments incorporate a mixture of residential living, small and large businesses, trails, and excellent dining and entertainment options, promoting a healthy and balanced lifestyle.
Outdoor enthusiasts can choose from dozens of parks and bike trails to explore throughout the county. The Suncoast trail is a 42-mile trail in Pasco County that connects users across Tampa Bay. It will eventually connect with trails across Florida through the Coast-to-Coast Trail. For those who like even more of a challenge, many cyclists enjoy the rolling hills of San Antonio and the historic downtown in Dade City.
There is also unforgettable ﬁshing and scalloping on Florida’s Sports Coast in Pasco County with over 24 miles of coastline to explore. Located on the Gulf of Mexico, it is the perfect place for an angling adventure. With key sport ﬁsh like red drum, spotted seatrout, and common snook, the temperate coastal waters have been luring scores of ﬁshermen for years.
For a more relaxed waterfront experience, Anclote Key Preserve State Park is a tropical paradise just off the coast of Pasco County. Residents have been boating and exploring the island and nearby sandbars for years. A 15-minute boat ride makes one feel like they are on a tropical vacation in their own backyard.
Visit pascoedc.com for more information.
WHEELING, IL: WHERE BUSINESS AND QUALITY OF LIFE THRIVE
Home to over 850 businesses, Wheeling, IL is attracting enterprises at the forefront of technology, automation, and manufacturing. A diverse and dynamic community of 40,000, Wheeling has become a hub of construction activity, facility expansions, and business startups.
Restaurant Row. More than Dining. Wheeling is the home of Milwaukee Avenue’s Restaurant Row, which offers world-class dining, breweries, bakeries, and more. Restaurant Row includes new Class A restaurant and retail space adjacent to the Westin Chicago North Shore hotel and convention center. Recently the Village adopted the Restaurant Row Corridor Plan aimed at carrying the Restaurant Row brand into the future. Historically Restaurant Row has been a destination for residents and visitors alike, and the Plan aims to continue that legacy.
Wheeling’s gateway on North Milwaukee Avenue transformed in the fall of 2022 with the opening of craft brewery and food hall District Brew Yards, which provides a casual, relaxed atmosphere featuring indoor communal seating, a large patio, and dining options from three distinct restaurants.
In February, OKAY Cannabis Dispensary and West Town Bakery opened in a 12,000-square-foot former restaurant site by the Westin hotel: Illinois’ first dispensary and bakery under one roof. West Town offers classic brunch favorites, dessert, and coffee in its unique space.
Transforming Wheeling One Project At A Time. Wheeling’s projects speak for themselves. In the last four years alone, over 1,000 new housing units have been constructed within walking distance of the Wheeling Metra station. Wheeling is located near the affluent North Shore, where many residents are downsizing into condos, townhomes, and single-family homes.
“Wheeling has transformed from a quiet suburb to a modern community with new luxury housing, outstanding parks, and quality school districts,” said Village President Patrick Horcher. “The Village Board is committed to encouraging new development and retail growth, especially along the major corridors of Milwaukee Avenue and Dundee Road.”
The most prominent recent project, Wheeling Town Center, a $110 million transit-oriented development adjacent to the Wheeling Metra station, features 301 luxury apartment units and over 100,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space anchored by Cinergy Dine-In Cinemas. One 2,500-square-foot space and two outlots are still available.
Wheeling Town Center features 301 luxury apartment units and over 100,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space.
Just north of the Metra station, Uptown 500 offers 321 luxury apartments and 10,000 square feet of restaurant/retail space. Recently Rosebud Steakhouse announced that it will open in the development, providing a 200-seat restaurant for Wheeling residents and visitors. Less than a mile west, the new London Crossing development is under construction, and will include 55 rowhomes and 33,000 square feet of commercial/retail space.
Grants for Restaurants & Retail. To help current and future restaurateurs and entrepreneurs open and expand, the Village offers a robust Restaurant and Retail Build-Out Grant that provides up to $150,000 to help cover the costs of permanent improvements in eligible spaces.
For more information, visit www.wheelingil.gov/whywheeling.
OPELIKA, AL: A TRUE SENSE OF COMMUNITY
Opelika is just the place for employees to enjoy an environment that promotes the perfect work-life balance. After all, a healthy, happy employee equals a productive employee. The community fosters a culture where work ethic is respected, tradition is honored, and people prosper—both professionally and personally. Opelika is a growing metro area that includes a supportive ecosystem, low cost of living, talent rich population, business-friendly environment, a vast pool of mentors and leaders, and an exceptional quality of life.
Opelika is a destination for those who treasure history, dream of easy living, and crave authentic entertainment venues and unique food experiences. It’s home to entrepreneurs and their thriving businesses. Restaurants, a brewery, a distillery, stylish boutiques, and others proudly source local goods to craft their offerings. The downtown space is a true destination—a culture in itself.
There is plenty to do today, but Opelika never loses focus on the future. The growing community offers an abundance of homes and amenities. In addition, the state-of-the-art school system prepares children for work in a competitive global society. The city is a prime location for business startups as well as established industries looking to expand.
Workers can enjoy a lunchtime walk beside a calming stream or participate in a meeting with their team in an open green space. The newest development, the Opelika Innovation and Technology Park (OITP), includes the Creekside Trail System where employees can enjoy lunch or simply take a walk to focus on workday challenges.
The OITP is centered in the Auburn-Opelika MSA, just five miles from both Auburn University and Southern Union State Community College. Opelika is positioned along the I-85 corridor in East-Central Alabama, which each year produces more than 10,000 college graduates who are ready to work.
Opelika is everything a growing, talent-thirsty company needs to thrive in today’s marketplace. There are plenty of potential employees who can lead companies to increased productivity, and ultimately increased profits. Opelika, which is just 75 minutes from Atlanta International Airport, is located in a federal Opportunity Zone. Designated zoning and infrastructure are in place, and there is an abundance of water. There is accessibility to markets, quality of place, a labor/talent pool, and a pro-business government.
Opelika has the perfect work-life balance for people, families, and teams.
For more information, visit www.ChooseOpelika.com.
PFLUGERVILLE, TX: FOCUS ON INCLUSION, FAMILY & EDUCATION
The Pflugerville Community Development Corporation’s mission is to make the City of Pflugerville, TX a regional employment center by actively pursuing opportunities in the areas of business retention, expansion, and attraction through the promotion of economic and community development. The vision of the organization is to make Pflugerville a thriving job center in Central Texas—built on core values of inclusion, family, exemplary education, and purposeful investment in the community.
The City of Pflugerville is in the heart of Central Texas, conveniently located northeast of Austin between I-35 and SH130. The city was the nation’s third fastest-growing city with a population of over 50,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau in 2018. With a population of more than 75,500, Pflugerville has tripled in size over the last decade and has a median household income above $93,700, which is significantly higher than the national average. Pflugerville is home to one of the best independent school districts in Texas and is in close proximity to 28 universities and colleges, resulting in nearly 40% of residents attaining a bachelor’s degree or higher.
Pflugerville offers a prospering economic climate with business incentives, a skilled workforce, expansion opportunities, and prime U.S. trade routes along State Highways 45 and 130 and Interstate Highway 35. These routes provide direct access to other nearby cities and a quick route to nearby Austin Executive Airport and Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. The “Silicon Hills” near Pflugerville is a vital player in the thriving global high-tech industry and Austin’s recent emergence as a renewable energy hub provides Pflugerville with a wealth of resources and abundant business opportunities.
In 2022, Pflugerville welcomed seven new and expanding companies, which included its second North American headquarters. Based out of Tel Aviv, Israel, REE Automotive, an electric vehicle (EV) manufacturer, is leading the industry in fully modular electric vehicle platforms. In addition to REE’s innovative technology in EVs, Pflugerville also has the largest additive manufacturing sector in the state, supported by a robotics company that is well-equipped to handle any company’s needs for high-tech, automated robotic maintenance and operations.
Pflugerville is home to one of the best independent school districts in Texas and is in close proximity to 28 universities and colleges, resulting in nearly 40% of residents attaining a bachelor’s degree or higher.
Hometown pride and quality of life are top priorities that are clearly evident in the City’s investment in Lake Pflugerville, a 180-acre reservoir completed in 2006 to provide water to area residents. The lake also offers recreation activities along the three-mile hike and bike trail, enhanced with fishing piers, kayak rentals, pavilions, picnic areas, and a beach. The lake trails are part of an extensive 40-mile trail system throughout the city connecting over 30 parks, and more recently, the shopping areas and restaurants at the Stone Hill Center Shopping Center, the fifth largest shopping center in Central Texas.
The community hosts many parades and festivals including the world-famous “Deutschen PFest” annually celebrating Pflugerville’s German heritage. All these amenities contribute to Pflugerville’s repeated designation as one of the Best Places to Live by CNN Money based on “strong job opportunities, great schools, low crime, and quality health care with plenty to do.”
Visit www.pfdevelopment.com for more information.
VIRGINIA: AFFORDABILITY, SCENERY, RECREATION, AND CULTURE
With its competitive cost of living, mild four-season climate, and unrivaled natural, cultural, and historical attractions, Virginia is renowned for its exceptional quality of life. Virginians enjoy vibrant cities and picturesque small towns within easy driving distance of both scenic shorelines and mountain vistas. The Commonwealth’s mix of rich history, culture, diverse recreation options, and quintessential Southern charm led Forbes to rank Virginia as the best state for quality of life.
Affordability. The Commonwealth has maintained a stable 6% corporate income tax rate since 1972 and has held a AAA bond rating longer than any other state. The competitive cost of enjoying a Virginia lifestyle became even more appealing last year when the Commonwealth passed nearly $4 billion in tax relief, the largest in its history. The package included the elimination of the state grocery tax, an income tax deduction for military retirement income for older veterans, and nearly doubling the standard deduction for single and joint filers.
Four Season Splendor. The Commonwealth’s strategic location in the middle of the Eastern Seaboard isn’t just an advantage for companies that require global and domestic connectivity—it’s also the foundation of an appealing, livable climate. A Virginia winter often brings at least a dusting of snow to every corner of the state, followed by spring’s magnificent blooms, including the famous cherry blossoms in Washington, DC and Northern Virginia. Summer allows residents and visitors to enjoy the beach or scenic lakes, while fall reveals an abundance of foliage color and panoramic views in Virginia’s mountains. Virginians experience all four seasons and can ski, surf, and hike without leaving the Commonwealth.
Recreational Variety. Outdoor recreation activities in Virginia range from cliff to coast and cater to all ages and skill levels. Bicyclists can take leisurely rides on multi-use trails or challenge themselves with adrenaline-pumping mountain routes. Water sports enthusiasts enjoy boating and relaxing floats on rivers and lakes or step up to more challenging whitewater adventures with rapids that range up to Class V+. There are also 7,000 miles of coastline along the Atlantic Ocean, Chesapeake Bay, and its numerous tributaries. Hikers of all experience levels can find a scenic footpath from walks through coastal marshes to backpacking trips along the Blue Ridge Mountains, to the iconic Appalachian Trail running through Virginia, which makes up a quarter of the trail’s total length.
Cultural Arts. Virginia boasts visual and performing arts institutions that gain context from the Commonwealth’s rich history. Vibrant enriching scenes are found in cities and rural areas alike, as well as a multitude of cultural attractions. History enthusiasts can stand in the same places where the country was forged and improved in the colonial era, the American Revolution, the Civil War, and the Civil Rights era, gaining real-world context for events many only read about in textbooks. Museums, theaters, live music venues, and a nationally acclaimed food and beverage scene round out Virginia’s cultural amenities.
Exceptional Livability. In major cities, charming smaller towns, and breathtaking coastal and mountainous regions, from cost of living and beautiful scenery to recreation and cultural offerings, Virginia provides a quality of life that is second to none. Enthusiasts of any interest, activity, or lifestyle can pursue their passions in the Commonwealth. “In Northern Virginia, you go an hour west, you’ve got mountains, if you go an hour east, you’ve got the bay,” said Tim Hurlebaus, President, CGI, an IT and business consulting services firms. “I like to sail and boat, and I like to hike. All these things are available within a short drive, they’re all-day activities. If you like wineries, there’s wineries all over the state of Virginia, the great bicycling trails, you name it. It’s a great place to recreate.”
For more information, visit www.vedp.org.