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From sleepy bedroom town to one of America’s sweetest spots

By Lori Lindner
North Liberty Leader
NORTH LIBERTY– Now appearing in the national who’s who, what and where of America’s best small cities: North Liberty, Iowa.
North Liberty ranked 74th on CNN Money Magazine’s 2011 list of 100 Best Places To Live.
It’s not just a feel-good sobriquet; there are, in fact, actual statistics and a step-by-step formula for skimming down from the nation’s approximately 30,000 incorporated cities to find the crème de la communities.
Money Magazine uses the assistance of Onboard Informatics, a company that (according to its website) compiles information from hundreds of national data sources, including the U.S. Census and Bureau of Labor Statistics, and scrubs the incoming information with complex proprietary scripts and algorithms to ensure the quality and accuracy of its data.
To piece together its annual list of America’s sweet spots, Money Magazine first narrows the field to cities with populations of between 8,500 and 50,000. This year, that brought the possibilities down to 3,570. Next, the magazine screened out places where the median family income was more than 200 percent or less than 85 percent of the state median, those more than 95 percent white, and those with poor education and crime scores, narrowing the field to 749. After excluding retirement communities and towns with major job losses, and ranking the rest based on job growth, home affordability, safety, school quality, health care, arts and leisure, diversity and other ease-of-living criteria, the magazine found its heavenly hundred.
The rankings within the top 100 are made by factoring in additional data relating to economy, jobs, housing and schools. Once they find their top 35, magazine officials visit those communities to interview residents, personally assess public gathering places and consider intangible factors, such as community spirit.
This year’s number one best city for families was Louisville, Colo., population 18,400. Other Iowa cities that made the 2011 list were: Johnston (13), Urbandale (72), Ankeny (86), and Bettendorf (95).
Money Magazine cited North Liberty’s location as a prime factor in its designation, near two interstate highways and being within commuting distance of good employers such as the University of Iowa, Proctor & Gamble and ACT. “Much of the population is comprised of young families who enjoy safe neighborhoods and a new recreation center,” the article states.
Mayor Tom Salm, during his remarks to the North Liberty City Council on Tuesday, Aug. 23, joked that North Liberty should appear higher on the list. Later, Salm said location aside, North Liberty has transitioned from being a bedroom community to something better.
“People don’t just sleep here and work and do all their business elsewhere,” said Salm “Here, they have opportunities to go to the grocery store, restaurants, doctors, dentists, pharmacies, whatever [services] they need. The community center provides lots of opportunities for entertainment and recreation. So essentially, people don’t have to travel outside our community to live.”
And despite its exponential recent growth, North Liberty has long been a wonderful place to grow up. Ellen Colony has been a resident since 1935, when she was just a little girl.
“Back then, North Liberty was the community center, the church center, and had a lot of activities for this part of the world,” said Ellen. “We had a lot of clubs, like 4H, and many active things going on.”
But even in the early 20th century, she noted, North Liberty’s biggest asset was location, location, location.
“Because of the Crandic [railroad] connection, it made a good place to be because we could get to Iowa City and Cedar Rapids with no problem. That was important since most of the kids around here went to City High School or University High School, and they took the Crandic.”
The ease of transportation made life in then-rural North Liberty a little less remote.
“When I went to college at Iowa State University in Ames, I couldn’t understand why the other girls hated country life, because I’d had such a wonderful experience,” said Ellen. “It took me awhile to figure out I had the most wonderful place to be from, because I had all these things available to me.”
Today, Ellen still finds North Liberty a swell place to be. The community is a caring one, she said, because people get involved with projects like saving the historic Ranshaw House, and North Liberty has been receptive to the inclusion of the Iowa City schools.
“I enjoy all of the new growth here,” she said. “I am excited to know new people. I have new neighbors, and that’s kind of neat for an old country girl. That kind of expansion, the transition from farm to city living, is exciting.”
Apparently, it also puts you in some pretty prestigious company.
To view Money Magazine’s complete article, visit the website at money.cnn.com/magazines/moneymag/bplive/2011/.