"The Best Places to Live Today"
The following are excerpts of an article in the September 1995 issue of
Money Magazine's 9th annual survey

Florida - a great spot for jobs-lands five cities in this year’s top 10, including our No. 1, Gainesville.

Everyone knows that Florida can be hot. But not this hot! This year, in our ninth annual exclusive ranking of the 300 largest U.S. metropolitan areas, five Florida cities today, including No. 1 Gainesville (up from No. 7 in 1994), home to the University of Florida. The prime reason: According to our data, no other part of the country has had such strong recent employment growth, sizzling-yet still affordable-housing values and dazzling prospects for job creation. Take Gainesville, a small city (metro area pop. 186,300) in north central Florida. Its unemployment rate is a microscope 2.8% (the national average, according to Arizona State University’s Economic Outlook Center. "In the past three years, Florida’s economy has come roaring out of the gate, doing much better than the nation as a whole," says Atlanta Federal reserve economist Andrew Krikelas.

The Sunshine State also offers a magnetic lure for tax-weary workers. It’s one of only nine states with no tax on earned income. So toast the Florida Five with a raised glass of Gatorade - that popular thirst quencher invented at the University of Florida. All but Gainesville is breaking into our top 10 for the first time since we started our annual ranking in 1987. The other honorees: No. 3 Jacksonville (up from 67 last year); No. 5, Ocala (78); No. 6 Fort Lauderdale (56); and No. 10, Naples (28). Also, Gainesville becomes only our second southern winner, after 1994’s No. 1 Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill, N.C.

Curious to learn more about No. 1, Gainesville? You can start by floating down that grand old Suwannee River as it meanders for 250 miles from Georgia to central Florida. Seventy miles south of the Georgia border, nearly smack-dab between the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic, you’ll find booming Gainesville. The metro area, which encompasses all of Alachua County, includes a handful of picturesque pinpoint communities like Cross Creek, High Springs and Micanopy, where Michael J. Fox filmed his 1991 hit movie Doc Hollywood. In all, 65% of the county’s 965 square miles is rolling greenery, braceleted by a crystalline web of lakes, creeks and springs.

At the center is job-rich Gainesville, one of the few places in the U.S. where you can work in town, live in the wilderness and have a maximum 30-minute commute. You won’t pay much for the privilege either. Locals love the area restaurants’ all-you-can-eat Sunday buffets of ham, turkey and fried chicken priced at $5.50 or so. Housing is quite affordable too. A typical three-bedroom cost $82,000 according to Century 21. "You can purchase lakefront properties out of the hurricane path for a fraction of the price you would pay for a beach front house in South Florida," say Joey Herres, Century 21’s north Florida business consultant.

Town and gown are inextricably entwined here. The university is the city’s economic taproot, employing more than 15,500 people, including 4,100 at the 576-bed Shands Teaching Hospital, a national leader in orthopedics, neurology and gastroenterology. While there are no pro sports in town- the closest is Jacksonville’s new National Football League Jaguars, a little over an hour away-the UF Fightin’ Gators football team is a local passion. The seventh-ranked Gators (10-2-1 last year) "are practically a religion," says UF psychology professor Betty Capaldi.

Although no Fortune 500 companies are based in Gainesville either, you’ll recognize some employers. For example, Energizer makes its rechargeable batteries here. Mainly, though, the city is an entrepreneur’s haven. Many companies-like Bear Archery and Hunter marine, a leading sailboat maker-capitalize on the South’s passion for sports. Jim Wood, 46, a former real estate agent, moved from Philadelphia in 1989 and now runs the Santa Fe Canoe Outpost. Weekends, eager renters take his 100 canoes for leisurely paddles to Rum Island or Hollingsworth Bluff, 15 miles away. "I don’t miss the rat race at all," Wood says.

Gainesville, this year’s top place, offers a gracious charm and relaxed life that few U.S. spots can match. There’s plenty of outdoor recreation, affordable housing, topnotch health care-and a vibrant local economy to boot. Listed below is a cross section of Gainesvilleans who tell why they are particularly partial to their town, home to the University of Florida.

Locals Say Why They Love It

  • "Feeding the family is cheap: $5.50 for us, $2.75 for our kids"
  • "Its an excellent medical community that offers me exciting opportunities."
  • "There’s clean air, lots of space for us-and it’s safer than Taiwan."
  • "The people in Gainesville like to help new business. We’re earning more than $4.00 an hour."
  • "I like tubing and swimming in the springs and hiking along the trails around Gainesville."
  • "Retirees are integrated into the community and not by themselves."