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Bologna Performing Arts Center at Delta State University in Cleveland.

PHIL HARDWICK — Cleveland, Madison or Oxford the best place in America to live?


If you could move to any place of your choosing, where would it be? And how would you choose?

Thanks to the increasing number of “Best Places” websites, there is plenty of information available. Maybe too much information. And that can make your decision more difficult and confusing.

So how does one go about discerning the better sources of information? It’s all about methodology. Before getting too deep into that subject, I invite you to take the following matching quiz:

_____ 1. Cleveland, MS
_____ 2. Detroit, MI
_____ 3.  Los Alamos, NM
_____ 4.  Jourdan River Estates, Kiln, MS
_____ 5.  Madison, MS
_____ 6. Overland Park, KS
_____ 7. Oxford, MS

a.  Nicest place to live in Mississippi
b.  Second best food town in the South
c.  Ninth best small town in the South
d.  Best place to live in Mississippi
e.  Worst place to raise a family in America
f.  Best place in America to raise a family
g.  Best small town to live in America

The answers to the above matching quiz came from the following websites: livability.com, wallet hub.com, niche.com, rd.com (Reader’s Digest) and southernliving.com (Southern Living.)
They did not all use the same methodology, which is a set or system of methods, principles, and rules. That can make a big difference. For example, the fastest growing city in America might be one thing if percentage is the measurement instead of actual increase in population. Or wording of the title can cause different cities to be on such a list. Did you know, for example, that the fastest growing city in America was Olive Branch, Mississippi?  That’s correct. From 1990 to 2010, Olive Branch had a growth rate of 838%.

And now, let’s see which methodology was used by those who awarded the designations.

Jordan River Estates was selected as the Nicest Place in Mississippi by Reader’s Digest. This was the third year for the Nicest Places search. The magazine’s editors said they sought to find the nicest place in each state instead of the nicest places in America, which was the case in the first two annual surveys. The methodology was with “the help of more than 1,000 nominations.”

Oxford’s listing as #2 on Southern Living’s annual “The South’s Best” issue came as a result of nominations and surveys. According to the magazine’s Editor-in-Chief, “For three years now, we’ve fielded an extensive survey of Southern Living readers to determine the best destinations in the region.” There were more than 65 thousand surveys.
Cleveland was also from the Southern Living methodology.

The best place to live in Mississippi is Madison, according to niche.com. Its website states that it uses a comprehensive set of data sources and reviews. Thirteen data sources are listed for the Best Places to Live section. “Niche does rigorous cleaning and analysis on large data sets, and combines them with feedback from our community for nuanced insight that can’t be found anywhere else.”

Best and worst places to raise a family in America are on wallethub.com’s list. Wallethub is well-known for searching for best credit cards, but it also has a long list of other “Best” items. Its method, “…  compared more than 180 U.S. cities based on 47 key metrics that consider essential family dynamics, such as the cost of housing, the quality of local school and health-care systems, and the opportunities for fun and recreation.”

Finally, livability.com was the source for the Best Small Town to Live in. Its website provides the following about its methodology: “We looked at micropolitan areas with populations under 20,000, then dug into statistics like cost of living, health-care spending, racial and socioeconomic diversity, adult obesity, crime, civic engagement, air quality and natural amenities, just to name a few of the 41 data points. Data alone can’t tell the full story, so after narrowing down the list, we conducted further research into the cities and found what visitors had to say about them and what residents liked about living there.”

The bottom line is that there is so much information about places to move that care and diligence must be taken. Do not rely on only one source. Online information is only the beginning of the research needed before selecting a place.

The most relevant data in an online source may mean very little to someone whose methodology might be quite different.

ANSWERS: 1-c, 2-e, 3-g, 4-a, 5-d, 6-f, 7-b

» PHIL HARDWICK is a regular Mississippi Business Journal columnist. His email address is phil@philhardwick.com.


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