City Ranked No. 1:
Gainesville Tops List of 400 Cities in U.S., Canada
Jeff Adelson, Sun Staff Writer, Gainesville Sun
Loog had a good idea of what to expect as he pulled an
advance copy of "Cities Ranked and Rated, Second
Edition" from its shipping carton Friday morning.
But, even so, the director of the Gainesville/Alachua
County Visitors and Convention Bureau couldn't help but
gasp as he flipped open the phonebook-sized tome.
"There we are, first page," Loog said in his downtown
Gainesville office. "Incredible. Just incredible."
Of the 400 cities in the United States and Canada
cataloged, examined, analyzed and described in the
850-page book, Gainesville ranked No. 1.
"What a shocker," Loog said.
The book, written by Bert Sperling and Peter Sander and
published by Frommer's, goes on sale Monday. And many
involved in promoting Gainesville and Alachua County say
the book and Gainesville's top ranking could be a
powerful tool for bringing people and businesses to the
area. It also provides an impressive addition to a list
of top rankings Gainesville has already garnered.
"We'll make sure this is included in a lot of things
that are sent to economic development prospects and
people doing recruiting," Gainesville Area Chamber of
Commerce President Brent Christensen said.
"I can't imagine it not having a positive impact."
High Quality of Life
Sander and Sperling's ranking is based on a mixture of
hard statistics, personal observations and "bonuses"
designed to reward or punish cities for particular
achievements or problems.
Cities are rated based on statistics in nine categories:
economy; cost of living; climate; education; health;
crime; transportation; leisure; and arts and culture.
These are then modified by a subjective score gleaned
from the way people feel about the city and other less
tangible factors. Gainesville scored an 87 on this
"quality of life" rating.
All the scores in the book are based on Gainesville's
metropolitan area, which includes all of Alachua County
and part of Gilchrist County.
Sander said he has traveled to more than two-thirds of
the cities in the book and 84 of those in the top 100 -
Adding a subjective element to the rankings is
important, he said, to provide a sense of things not
readily captured in statistics, like the way people who
live in a community feel about their home.
"We do try to see what a place looks like and feels like
and what they're trying to say," Sander said. "You get
to talk to someone in a laundromat or a hotel lobby and
find out what it's like to live in these places."
In the book's first edition, published in 2004,
Gainesville didn't even break the Top 50. So how did it
make it to the top?
One big factor was a strengthening employment picture,
Sander said. The statistics used in the 2004 edition
showed a loss of about 2.7 percent of jobs in the area,
though the statistics also suggested the economy might
rebound significantly in the future, he said.
With some of that growth realized, statistics in the new
edition showed recent job growth at 3.8 percent. Thus
one stumbling block was removed.
An increase in the number of people with four-year or
graduate degrees - 45 percent, according to the new
edition - also helped boost the scores, Sander said.
While seemingly small, slight changes to a score can
mean a big difference on where a city ends up, Sander
"The difference between one and 10 or 10 and 20 or 30
and 50 are not really all that much when you're talking
about the rankings," he said.
Gainesville also benefited from faring well according to
a variety of measures used in the book, even if the city
wasn't the best in any of them. The authors awarded
extra points to cities with this kind of diversity,
"Gainesville was not number one in any one category," he
said. "But the fact that Gainesville scored well above
average in almost every single category, that's the
reason it jumped to number one."
What about those national championships?
successful sports teams are not reflected directly in
the rankings, Sander said, though he said they can "get
into the woodwork indirectly" by strengthening alumni
loyalty and providing exposure for the city. College
sports, in general, help the rankings by providing a
leisure activity, he said.
College Towns Do Well
In general, college towns did well in Sperling and
Sander's study. Last edition's top city,
Charlottesville, Va., is home of the University of
Virginia, and 10 of the top 25 spots on this year's list
went to cities that are the host to major universities.
This is common among many lists of cities, in part
because university communities are able to offer
cultural, athletic and educational amenities that
otherwise would only be found in major urban areas,
Sander said. A small college town, however, usually
doesn't have to contend with the same levels of crime,
congestion, pollution and other issues that plague urban
areas, he said.
Forbes a Fan, Too
Gainesville is no stranger to "best of" lists. The last
time it ranked No. 1 on such a prominent list, however,
was in 1995 when Money Magazine declared the city to be
the "Best Place to Live in America," an honor the city
More recently, the city has ranked eighth among the "Top
Ten Value Towns for Those Considering Retirement in
2007," was No. 11 on an AARP list of "Best Places to
Reinvent Your Life," and was ranked the "Most
Technologically Advanced City" in Florida by Popular
And last month, Gainesville ranked 12th on a list in
Forbes Magazine of the best places to do business and
have a career.
Forbes' statistics drew on work done by Sperling's Best
Places, an analysis company run by Bert Sperling, and
not surprisingly resulted in some similar conclusions.
"Gainesville has a few very positive things going for
it: a very educated labor supply, very strong income
growth over the last few years, very low business
costs," said Kurt Badenhausen, an associate editor for
Forbes. "Those are very strong indicators of a healthy
economy and an attractive place for businesses."
'A Place to Start'
While ranked lists have become a staple of modern media,
some economists question whether these lists can provide
a truly objective and useful evaluation of an area.
"There's nothing that everybody would agree on that
reflects something like quality of life, because that's
a fairly vague concept," said Stanley K. Smith, director
of UF's Bureau of Economic and Business Research. "Even
some specific factors one person might consider to be a
plus and others might consider to be a minus, such as
rate of growth, for example."
Sander said his book, intended to be used by those
looking to move, those watching cities over the
long-term as they plan retirement and businesses, should
not be considered the definitive guide for all people,
given differing tastes and preferences.
"This is a place to start," Sander said, who happens to
live near Sacramento, Calif., which ranks 183rd in his
book. "We would hope people are not moving to
Gainesville just because they saw it in this book."
Impact is Great
But for many of Gainesville's promoters, the ranking
could be a way to pique interest or lure residents and
businesses who are on the fence about coming to the
This could be particularly true for a
book with a three-year shelf life and which is expected
to get heavy attention in the national media, said
Christensen, the chamber president.
In Charlottesville, the ranking was used in promotional
materials by economic development offices, said Timothy
Hulbert, president of the Charlottesville Regional
Chamber of Commerce, who refers to his area as
"American's Number One Community."
"To be selected first - there's only one number one -
that's an accomplishment," Hulbert said.
Loog, with the Gainesville/Alachua County Visitors and
Convention Bureau, was already preparing promotional
material Friday afternoon. And, he said, he was already
expecting an influx of calls from those who might
suddenly develop an interest in the area."
"The impact is great, as soon as those lists come out,
the phone responds," Loog said. Copyright 2007, The