Mid-size college cities don’t grab much attention, but for investors looking for deals, they can be just as lucrative as big- or small-size college towns. They have all the attractions of a big city—diversified real estate, retail and culture—while often retaining a smaller town feel.
Mid-size university cities don’t just appeal to college students. They also attract empty-nesters, who like an urban walking lifestyle, adult education and proximity to cultural activities. Along with university faculty and employees, they provide a steady tenant pool in these areas.
For the purposes of this article, mid-size college towns are defined as having populations of 200,000 to 400,000. In addition to major universities, many mid-size cities also have community and specialty colleges, which are not listed, but add to the student population. The cities listed were chosen based on size, economic diversification, past growth and potential for future growth.
1. Reno, Nevada (Population: 214,853)
Schools: University of Nevada-Reno (16,681 students)
Median price of homes: $257,348
Median family income: $63,610
Job growth: 19.61 percent (2000-2007)
Reno has hundreds of casinos and hotels, which dominate its landscape. But it also has other industries, which round out its economy. These include: computer logistics, electronics, financial services and agriculture. The area also has five colleges with some 20,000 students, supplying a well-educated workforce.
2. New Orleans, Louisiana (Population: 239,124)
Schools: University of New Orleans (11,363 students), Tulane University of Louisiana (10,125 students)
Median price of homes: $114,840
Median family income: $46,205
Job growth: -41.79 percent (2000-2007)
How does a city have tens of thousand of university students and a negative 42 percent job growth rate? When it’s been hit by hurricanes, of course. New Orleans is part of the GO Zone, which offers lucrative tax breaks for investors. The region is still rebuilding, but its industries are actively charging ahead. These include: oil and gas, shipping, port services, aerospace manufacturing, tourism and river-boat gambling.
3. Lincoln, Nebraska (Population: 248,744)
Schools: University of Nebraska-Lincoln (22,973 students), Nebraska Wesleyan University (2107 students)
Median price of homes: $132,108
Median family income: $66,653
Job growth: 8.5 percent (2000-2007)
The state government and the University of Nebraska are major industries in Lincoln, generating about one-quarter of the city’s income. Other industries include: insurance, manufacturing, grain milling and storage, and manufacturing. A city that grew up in a grain and livestock region, it has evolved to expand into printing, pharmaceutical research, veterinary supplies, farm machinery and concrete supplies.
4. Anchorage, Alaska (Population: 279,671)
Schools: University of Alaska Anchorage (17,351 students), Alaska Pacific University (719 students)
Median price of homes: $328,680
Median family income: $80,927
Job growth: 8.69 percent (2000-2007)
Anchorage is Alaska’s government center, although Juneau is the capital. Anchorage’s industries are dominated by oil and gas, the military, transportation and tourism. The city also serves as the state’s communications, trade and financial center, with two Foreign Trade Zones located in its airport and seaport. In the last three years, the city has also invested in projects to expand its arts, cultural and winter sports activities.
5. Madison, Wisconsin (Population: 228,775)
Schools: University of Wisconsin-Madison (42,041 students) ,University of Wisconsin Colleges (13,029 students)
Median price of homes: $208,565
Median family income: $75,019
Job growth: 6.37 percent (2000-2007)
Madison is one of the breadbaskets of America. With agriculture and manufacturing as its main industries, the city supplies meat, dairy and other food products to the country. Its manufactured products include hospital equipment, optical instruments, cell batteries and fabricated steel. The government is also a major employer, with one-third of the area’s workers on its payrolls. In the mid-2000s, the city began to aggressively develop its high-tech sector, becoming a center for “biocapitalism.”
6. Tampa, Florida (Population: 336,823)
Schools: University of Tampa (5628 students), Everest University-Brandon (1,800 students)
Median price of homes: $161,568
Median family income: $52,522
Job growth: 14.38 percent (2000-2007)
Tampa is known for its strong, musky Cuban cigars. And tourists flock there for the weather. But the city also enjoys a diversified economy, including: banking, financial services, high tech, aerospace and international trade. Renovation projects are also underway: a four-acre park, a new bridge, and a river walkway project.
7. St. Louis, Missouri (Population: 350,759)
Schools: St. Louis University-Main Campus (12,309 students), Maryville University of St. Louis (3,422 students)
Median price of homes: $50,803
Median family income: $41,320
Job growth: 6.01 percent (2000-2007)
St. Louis is a mid-western hub for the manufacturing and biotechnology industries. It serves as a life-science and agricultural research center for major healthcare corporations, such as Pfizer and Centocor. It also has a large information technology industry. Its manufactured products include: food, drugs, iron, auto parts, hardware and aircraft.
8. Honolulu, Hawaii (Population: 375,571)
Schools: University of Hawaii at Manoa (20,051 students), Hawaii Pacific University (7943 students)
Median price of homes: $531,333
Median family income: $70,849
Job growth: 8.38 percent (2000-2007)
Hawaii’s largest industries are tourism and the military. Honolulu, the state capital, is the center for other leading industries including: aquaculture, agriculture, housing development and shipping. The University of Hawaii at Manoa leads the region in researching oceanography, astrophysics, geophysics and biomedicine. The city attracts many retiring baby boomers—its median age is 44, about a decade more than other cities on this list. But it also attracts many university students from around the Pacific Rim.
9. Colorado Springs, Colorado (Population: 376,427)
Schools: University of Colorado at Colorado Springs (8660 students)
Median price of homes: $189,577
Median family income: $70,325
Job growth: 9.82 percent (2000-2007)
The military is the largest employer in Colorado Springs, hiring some twenty percent of the population. Its other main industries are aerospace, electronics and tourism.
In recent years, the city has made efforts to expand its economic base, with several incentives to attract national and international players. These include: low corporate taxes, training programs, and a Foreign Trade Zone.
10. Minneapolis, Minn.—(Population: 377,392)
Schools: University of Minnesota-Twin Cities (50,883 students)
Median price of homes: $208,565
Median family income: $62,943
Job growth: -2.94% percent (2000-2007)
The Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul is a financial center of the mid-West. It is also a regional high-tech, manufacturing and food processing hub. The area boasts more than 1,300 high-tech firms, many resulting from collaborations with the city’s university scientists and engineers. In recent years, the city has also invested in infrastructure, including a light-rail system and a convention center to boost growth.
Sources: Cyberhomes.com—housing data, as of Nov 24, 2008; CNNMoney.com—job growth and family income data; U.S. Census Bureau—population data, as of July 1, 2007; Collegetoolkit.com—college data; City-data.com—economic information.