The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

April 21, 2014

Family friendly

Forbes ranks area 5th best place in U.S. to raise a family, No. 1 in housing affordability

By Michael Roknick
Herald Business Editor

EASTERN OHIO, WESTERN PENNSYLVANIA — “We’re No. 5’’ isn’t a sports cheer you’ll hear any time soon.

But considering the lumps the greater area has gotten over the years on economic rankings, it’s an outright victory.

Forbes magazine last week gave the Youngstown Metropolitan Statistical Area the No. 5 national ranking on its list of “Best Cities for Raising a Family.’’ The Youngstown MSA includes that city along with Mercer County and the greater Niles and Boardman area.

The ranking was based on criteria including median income, cost of living, crime rates, commuting, education and housing affordability among the nation’s top 100 largest metropolitan areas.

In looking at some of the stats, the local MSA didn’t fair well on median income – ranking 96 out of 100 – but did very well on cost of living, 18; crime, 31; commuting, 27; and education, 21. And – drum roll, please – it was No. 1 in housing affordability.  

Assessing the area, Forbes noted it was near the bottom in income, but it also “boasts low costs of living, short commutes, and solid school and crime statistics outside the (Youngstown) city proper.’’

Development leaders have been preaching this for years and it’s good to see the area get national recognition, said Bob McCracken, executive director of the Shenango Valley Chamber of Commerce.

“This validates what the chamber of commerce has been saying to businesses about locating here,’’ McCracken said. “We’ll certainly use this. It’s nice to have something published about your community that you can hold out.’’

Realtors, human resource managers and local business leaders have always told executives interested in settling here about having the most affordable housing market in the country, he noted.

When new employees of a business enter major markets such as Boston and Chicago, they often get sticker shock when looking at housing costs. A $200,000 house in the greater Mercer County area can get a top-notch home. In a major market that price may get you a bungalow.  

“There are very few places left where you can find these kind of home values,’’ McCracken said.

“You get to see how much more home you can buy compared to other MSAs in the county,’’ McCracken said.   

Sometimes, he noted, residents who have lived here awhile get spoiled about their commute to work, shopping or going almost anywhere. A resident of the Philadelphia suburb of Bucks County, McCracken said traveling roads in that region was a continual nightmare.

“There’s such an ease of travel here. People get upset if they are four vehicles back at an intersection,’’ he said.

Further, a good educational system is always an attraction to parents. In the big cities school systems often have 5,000 students to deal with. That often means students who want to try things such as sports, music and theater have much more difficulty in trying to find spots in those activities, he noted.

Overall, the quality of life and sites for raising a family isn’t the only criteria a business uses in deciding where to locate, he noted.

“But it is a factor,’’ McCracken said. “You never make a site selection without looking at the quality of life.’’

Forbes magazine’s’ Top 10 cities to raise a family

 1. Raleigh, N.C.

 2. Grand Rapids, Mich.

 3. Ogden, Utah

 4. Omaha, Neb.

 5. Youngstown  (includes Mercer County)

 6. Des Moines, Iowa

 7. Boise, Idaho

 8. Scranton – Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

 9. Cincinnati, Ohio

10. Provo, Utah