Ames recognized as 9th best place to live

Katherine Klingseis

With its low unemployment rate, abundance of culture and diversity, superb recreational facilities and friendly people, Ames is no average city; it is extraordinary.

Before recent years, only Ames residents and a few others knew how wonderful Ames truly was. However, the rest of the nation has started to take notice. This month Ames was ranked the ninth best place to live in America.

During the past decade, Ames has been recognized by several magazines and websites. ranked Ames the fifth best city for job seekers in 2006, and ranked Ames the sixth smartest city in America in 2008.

“As people are looking at different places in the country to live, to establish businesses, to raise their children, hopefully [recognition] like this will be money in the bank for us,” said Mayor Ann Campbell.

This month, ranked Ames the ninth best place to live in America. The website praises Ames for having an unemployment rate at a mere 4.3 percent.

“In a large part, Iowa State is the reason why Ames is ranked so highly [on the list] and one of the best places to live in America,” said Dan Culhane, president and CEO of the Ames Chamber of Commerce. “You have stability when it comes to employment when you have a major institution like Iowa State.”

Employing 9,000 people, Iowa State helps Ames maintain its low unemployment rate in a turbulent economy. As a highly regarded research institution, Iowa State also attracts many educated people.

“We get a lot of educated people here to teach and work at the university, which helps at least with these rankings,” said Tom Wacha, first ward representative in the City Council. “People tend to look at the percentage of people with higher education degrees and what not.”

The people who come to Iowa State also bring culture and diversity to a city that might otherwise have little of both.

“A major research institution, [and] a major athletic conference institution, tend to bring a high level of vibrancy to a community, [which] ultimately makes life pretty exceptional,” Culhane said.

Iowa State offers several artistic and cultural opportunities for Ames residents to take part in. For instance, many musicians and performers come to Ames to perform at one of Iowa State’s venues.

“As an adult, I like [Ames] because it offers a lot of unique opportunities, yet it’s a pretty small scale,” said Matthew Goodman, at-large councilman in the City Council and co-owner of Fighting Burrito. “I don’t have to live in a city of 250,000 to enjoy art or music or good food.”

With 36 parks, Ames does not fail to cater to its nature-loving residents. Ames also provides family-related facilities, such as bowling alleys, an ice skating rink and an aquatic center.

Ames provides families with an excellent school system.

“[Ames is] very much concerned about education and opportunities for young people,” said Mary Kay Abbott, previous owner of Mary Kay Flowers and lifelong Ames resident. “I think we take a lot of pride in how the city takes care of our community.”

Although it is relatively small in size, Ames has many big city amenities, like an outstanding school system. These amenities are mixed with the city’s small town feel, making Ames a unique place to live.

“When you combine [how educated Ames residents are], which isn’t unique to college towns, with the good old Iowa charm of quality education and safe neighborhoods, low cost of living and, finally, the people, I think it’s a winning combination,” Wacha said.

The website specifically mentions the friendliness of Ames residents. The good old Iowa charm is ever-present in the city.

“I think it’s a very authentic and honest community,” Goodman said. “[The city] is well attended by traditional, model people.”

Even though Ames is culturally diverse, Ames residents share common personality traits.

“It’s not just that people in Ames are friendly, because there are lots of communities in Iowa that are friendly and have that mentality; but it’s clear, in my professional job, that people here work hard and they care about what they do, are very good at what they do and they want to continue to improve themselves,” Wacha said.

Right now, Ames residents are celebrating the city’s success and the recognition it has received. However, city officials know there is always room for city improvement.

Wacha, for instance, ran for City Council last year under the message that “Ames is great, we know Ames is great, I know Ames is great, but let’s make it better.” Wacha, for one, wants to improve the unemployment rate.

“This, [4.3 percent], is low to a New York City magazine publisher looking at all these cities across the nation, but it’s not low for Ames,” Wacha said.

Wacha hopes to attract more retail in Ames. More businesses would lead to more jobs and more sale taxes, which would help with funding.

Culhane agrees with Wacha and believes more businesses would help Ames attract more events. The city’s business infrastructure has caused Ames to lose many events to other cities.

“We need to catch up when it comes to hosting visitors and events in this community,” Culhane said. “We do an exceptional job hosting them once they’re here, but it’s time to upgrade the facilities and infrastructure to make those events happen.”

As a lifelong Ames resident, Abbott has seen many businesses come and go. She has seen Ames improve and decline. However, after everything, Abbott still has a lot of love and respect for her city.

“[Ames residents] know how much we love Ames,” Abbott said. “We’re happy that [now] other people know too.”