How to Decide if You Want to Live in a Small Town or Not

by Susan Dunn

I coach people who are in transition. Often their plans for the future include a move, and some contemplate moving to a small town for a change of lifestyle.

If you're looking,

(1) Pay attention!

The Chamber of Commerce in a Michigan farming community is being inundated by city folk who retire there only to start complaining about the smells and sounds of, doh, a farming community. They've started providing visitors with manure-scented scratch'n'sniffs, but there's no way they can pre-package that those tractors start cranking up before 6 a.m.

(2) Check your assumptions at the door.

I recall back in college, there were an inordinate number of science geniuses from Oak Ridge TN, which puzzled me because I thought it must be some back-country town in the boondocks. Being from a "liberal arts" family, I'd never heard of Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The population density there is only 328.6 and the median age is 48. A very unusual small town indeed.

Here are four examples of how to go about your search:

ANGIE worked as a secretary in a building 3 blocks from the Towers. 9-11 made her get serious about her life and her dream of moving from New York City to Arizona. She is an introvert with a high school education, and was sick of the crowding, the lifestyle, and the vandalism in her condominium neighborhood. She has no children and lives alone.


1. There's work for good secretaries everywhere.

2. No crime rate is likely to scare her after New York.

3. All she talked about is Arizona, nature, open spaces

SHANNON lived in Poway, CA and was tired of the fiscal crises, fires and earthquakes. She'd worked in National City, CA which at least at one time had the highest poverty rate in the nation. She's single, has a lucrative and portable Internet business, and will do well when she sells her house. She is sophisticated and well-educated. She has 3 daughters, each living in a different state.


1. She wants to live somewhere affluent.

2. She doesn't want to favor any child, and they keep moving anyway, so she'll go her own way.

3. She wants 4 seasons, trees and water, and to return to the Midwest.

TOM is a retired college professor who lived in San Antonio, TX. His sister wanted him to move to Haltom City, TX where she lives (out in the country near Dallas), but he had recently spent a week on Ono Island, AL and was intrigued with that area.


1. He just couldn't get excited about Dallas.

2. He wanted to pay $50k or less for a house.

3. His constant refrain was no traffic, no hassle, laid back, easy-on-the-eyes, "but some educated people my age, please".

4. He struggled with allergies.


1. Make a list of possibilities and start investigating.

Tell everyone you know what you're looking for and ask them if they know of such a place.

2. Know WHY you're seeking a small town.

They differ greatly. The only thing they all have in common is small population size.

3. Find the demographics of the towns: .

These are things like unemployment rate, quality of air and water, median income, population density, comfort index, job growth rate, education, rate of violent and property crime, cost of living, school rating, and all sorts of other things which can give you a good picture of what the place is like, intellectually.

4. Narrow it to a couple of likely candidates and go visit them.

This will give you emotional information. Travel by public transportation as well as by car. You want to see what it will be like when friends and family come to visit. If a prop plane's involved, followed by a 2-hour drive, or it's in a location with spring (or ski season) airfare blackouts, you may want to rethink. Visit in all 4 seasons. Mankato, MN is the prettiest place on earth in June. Just make sure you feel it in February.

5. Experience it as a resident, not a tourist.

Fredericksburg TX is by all accounts "darling" as you elbow through the tourists on Saturday, or creep down Main St. eyeballing those "precious" boutiques from your car, but this could get old every weekend. Plus where' s the WalMart and the DQ? A woman can't live on designer rodeo wear and caviar alone.

6. Check out the cost of housing, keeping in mind that lower housing = lower income. Find out what the annual taxes, are keeping in mind that lower taxes=lower something.

Taxes in Elberta, AL run $150 a year for a $100k house and the roads look great, so . . . wonder what the school system is like, and the police.

7. Check out the allergy situation if you're sensitive - .

There can be some nasty stuff in that "fresh, country air." Today, as I write, Tom's Haltom City, TX is in the worst pollen rate in the country. Go here to check out the top 50 "allergy capitals" of the US and also about the probability of escaping allergies if you move.

8. Be sure you get to experience that "slower pace."

Fine for a visit, but what if you need flooring and the only tile-layer in the county is booked for 3 months? How long can you wait to get am overflowing toilet repaired or parts for your Jaguar?

9. Check out cable, TV, phone and Internet connection.

10. Notice how far you'd have to drive to pick up a gallon of milk at a convenience store. How far would you have to drive to find a Barnes & Noble? Does this bother you?

11. Check out the healthcare facilities (and costs). The Johnsons retired to a Lake in the country and then had to move back to town when they were in their 70's and Ed had his bypass. The nearest ER was 70 miles away and the phones went dead every time it rained.


ANGIE knew what she wanted all right. Look at that low density rate. She didn't care about educational level, was not intimidated by the property crime rate, and LOVED that comfort index.

Median Income - $44,017
Population Density - 1089
Median Age - 42.8
% of Graduate Degrees - 8.10%
Pollen Count (one day) - 5.9
Comfort Index - 78

SHANNON narrowed it down to Lake Forest, IL and Duluth, MN. Here are their key demographics:

                     Lake Forest, IL  Duluth, MN
Median Income        $188,782  	      $39,324
Population Density   1171             2698
Median age           36.7             24.2
% with grad. degree  22.41%  	      14.59%
Property crime
(high is worse)      2192             3162
Pollen count
(one day)            0.l              0.1
Comfort index
(high is better)     52               51

And the winner was . . . Lake Forest, IL on the shore of Lake Michigan with trees and water, affluent, low-density rate, and a slightly older and definitely well-educated population. Having lived in California, she wasn 't shocked by the high cost of living or the really bad water quality.

TOM was choosing between Gulf Coast Alabama and Haltom City, TX. It really was no contest. He gladly traded the low comfort index, for the low pollen count, and welcomed the low-density, well-educated populace. In the vicinity were towns with median age of 56.6 and more affordable housing, and he was going to shop around. What really sold Tom was taking a trip there. "It has the sort of modified parrothead atmosphere I'm looking for," he said.

                    Haltom City, TX  	Daphne, AL
Median Income       $90,348  	        $70,600
Density  	     1102               1148
Median age  	     34.0               36.4
% with grad. Degree 8.71%               15.25%
Property crime      1587                3235
Pollen count
(one day)  	     7.7               2.1
Comfort index  	     21                8

If you're planning an optional move, I hope this process will be helpful to you. Do the left-brain analysis, then go visit the place, experience it, and let your right-brain and intuition guide your decision as well. Statistics only tell half the story. It's the emotionally intelligent thing to do.

Susan Dunn, MA, The EQ Coach, . I offer coaching, distance learning courses, and ebooks around emotional intelligence. Free ezine, Daily tips, send blank email to . I train and certify EQ coaches. Get in this field, dubbed "white hot" by the press, now, before it's crowded, and offer your clients something of real value. Start tomorrow, no residence requirement, global student body. Email for prospectus. Business programs - .

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