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North Dakota, Minnesota Offer More Livable Small Cities than South Dakota

Governing reports on some new WalletHub number-crunching in search of nice small cities in which to live. Four professors looked at 1,322 cities with populations between 25K and 100K for affordability, economic health, education and human health, quality of life, and safety. The two South Dakota cities considered, Rapid City and Aberdeen, failed to make the top half of the survey:

Source: WalletHub

Of the nineteen cities that made the top 99th percentile, eight are in Massachusetts, three are in Indiana, two are in Washington, and Tennessee, Maine, Ohio, Wisconsin, New Jersey, and Kansas each have one.

Aberdeen is way down in the 47th percentile. Rapid City is even lower, in the 30th percentile. I find Aberdeen’s ranking above Rapid City puzzling, because, come on: Hills! WalletHub does rank Rapid City in the top 100 for quality of life while Aberdeen sits in the 700s, but WalletHub thinks Aberdeen is more affordable, more economically healthy, educationally and humanly healthier, and safer.

North Dakota has five towns in the 25K–100K population range. Williston lands in the 38th percentile, worse than Aberdeen but better than Rapid City. The other four beat both South Dakota outposts, with percentile scores for Minot of 56; Grand Forks, 61; Bismarck, 68; and West Fargo, an impressive 91.

Nebraska has four towns in this survey. Grand Island and Fremont are in the bottom half of the nation’s scores, at 43 and 31, respectively. Kearney and Bellevue score in the 60s.

Minnesota has 39 small cities in this survey. 34 of them rate in the top half. Ten, all Twin Cities suburbs, score in the 90th percentile: Plymouth, Lakeville, Eden Prairie, Savage, Cottage Grove, Ramsey, Maple Grove, Minnetonka, Edina, and Woodbury.

Sioux City, Iowa, matches Aberdeen’s 47th percentile. Five Iowa towns score lower; ten Iowa towns score higher, in the top half, with Ankeny and Urbandale reaching the 90s.

Laramie (70th percentile) is the only one of Wyoming’s four surveyed cities making the top half of nice places to live. Cheyenne scores 42; Casper, 36; and Gillette, 28.

Montana flips Wyoming’s performance, with only one town in the bottom half (Great Falls at 22) and three in the top half: Helena, 58; Missoula, 64; and Bozeman, 95.


  1. Mark Anderson 2021-10-26

    Anyone who thinks living in North Dakota is great needs to watch the old Michael Moore TV show segment on why North Dakota is the least visited state in the United States. Its on youtube. It’s still true. Aberdeen is a nice city but Rapid, well you are correct Cory, the Hills, the Hills. Sioux City stinks, traveling by there you understand that’s just a fact. Of course when my family lived in Sioux Falls it was smaller than the SS stinkers, but usury overtook the stockyards and as Gleason said “away we go”. Brookings must be near 25,000 its a real nice place, no Vermintown but still nice it will score high when it makes the list.

  2. Donald Pay 2021-10-26

    We lived in Mandan, North Dakota, for nine months. It wasn’t bad, but we were happy to move down the river to Pierre. Any place has good points and bad points. Pierre is often trashed, but I liked the river, the grasslands and the people (mostly). Rapid certainly has the Hills, which makes it heaven. It also has a lot of kooks and a lot of racism, which makes it hell, but it also has good people. You can find good people everywhere.

  3. Donald Pay 2021-10-26

    Notice I didn’t comment on the employment situation in any of the places I’ve lived. Jobs were available in every place in the Dakotas, but good jobs? Not really. I had a series of survival jobs, just to help keep our little group afloat during lean times. I suppose if you get on a career track, shut up and vote Republican you can survive better than we did. That wasn’t me.

  4. larry kurtz 2021-10-26

    In North Dakota’s Cass County the Latino concentration has doubled since the 2010 Census and in McKenzie County it is up over 1000 percent. Overall, in North Dakota the number of people who self-identify as Latino or Hispanic has gone over 33,000.

    What do these climate refugees and migrant workers have in common with their Midwest counterparts? Christianity. “Pro-life” is simply code for white people breeding. African-Americans terminate pregnancies at about the same per capita rate as white people do but don’t take their jobs. Latinas, however, have fewer abortions per capita and the extreme white wing of the Republican Party knows it’s hemorrhaging jobs to Latinos.

    Bozeman, Montana is a sweet town at risk to Republican gerrymandering.

  5. O 2021-10-26

    I see a strong association with “right to work” in those rankings. Montana has a strong union ethic.

  6. Porter Lansing 2021-10-26

    Now, 25k-100k is considered a “city”?

    Only by people trying to con-job something out of the resident’s.

    Colorado Springs, the extremist, right-wing bastion is 475,000 and it’s just a sh*thole, small town without direction or necessity.

    It’s not a legitimate city unless it has a major league sports franchise.

    Even Jacksonville, Portland, and Oklahoma City aren’t real cities.

  7. Donald Pay 2021-10-26

    Each state defines what they consider a “city,” the Census Bureau has their own complex way of defining various sized places, and this project defined their small cities as 25,000 to 100,000 population. No definition is any better than anyone else’s, as far as I’m concerned. Some agencies don’t even use population, but some factor like a certain number of square miles of a certain population density, or some figure that encapsulates a certain amount of economic activity. I notice Fitchburg, Wisconsin, on the list. It began as a bedroom community of Madison, and has now developed quite a lot of it’s own economic activity. I didn’t see Verona, Wisconsin, on the list, maybe because it is still too small, but it’s a booming place.

  8. Porter Lansing 2021-10-26

    Denver is a “small city”.
    Sioux Falls and Madison, WI are big towns.

  9. larry kurtz 2021-10-26

    Looks like Santa Fe and Missoula are tied: wages have only modestly increased while housing in both towns is unreachable.

  10. Bonnie B Fairbank 2021-10-26

    I’ve always found Rapid to be depressing and ugly, but I expect it has more to do with taking elderly in-laws there for endless rounds of Medicare swindling health care appointments. I’ve not been there for more than two years, so much may have changed.

    The drivers were among the worst I’ve ever encountered; they treated red traffic lights as a challenge and stop signs were an excuse to gun it.

  11. Mark Anderson 2021-10-26

    Come on Bonnie, I’ve loved Rapid since I was about six and saw those wonderful concrete Dinosaurs. I still like them.

  12. Bonnie B Fairbank 2021-10-26

    I envy you, Mark. Under different circumstances, I undoubtedly would feel different, and I’m glad the dinos are still there.
    Absolutely the worst traffic accident I’ve seen in my entire life was at the intersection of Catron Blvd and 16. It still be rainin’ minivan parts. Oof.

  13. grudznick 2021-10-26

    Of for sure Aberdeen is safer than Rapid City. I hesitate to wander out at night unless accompanied by my granddaughter’s boyfriend or some other strong young fellow. This is especially true if you frequent a few of the establishments down town. Rapid City can be a nasty, nasty place. But that’s OK, we really don’t want people to come here so…you know…stay away. People should go to the more barren, more rectangular Dakota.

  14. bearcreekbat 2021-10-26

    I recall an issue that arose when officials were taking the 1980 census in Rapid City. Apparently it appeared that Rapid’s population was going to be just short of the number needed to qualify for federal subsidies as a “city.” The powers that be suddenly decided that Rapid’s homeless people had value and took special efforts to actually find and count each homeless person in the censuus count, including seeking people out that were barely surviving in campsites in the woods near M Hill and several other secluded wooded areas normally ignored by officials (you know, “out of sight out of mind”). During that particular era, Rapid City normally either ignored or affirmatively harassed homeless folks, including a countty poor relief director who when asked for help would only offer a one way bus ticket out of town. Indeed, the city even sued to close down the first attempt at creating a private shelter, the first Cornerstone Rescue Mission set up by Dave Adams, devoted to helping the homeless survive (and saving their souls). The city lost in circuit court but won in the state supreme court, temporarily closing the Mission and putting homeless people back on the street and in the woods.

    Over the years, however, to the credit of the community Rapid began to take more humane steps in dealing with the homeless, including offering substantial support to the Cornerstone Rescue Mission, and adding government funded resources to assist rather than harass people in need. The system is not perfect today, but compared to the late 1970s and early 1980s it is a quasi-Nirvana.

  15. grudznick 2021-10-26

    Nowadays, Mr. bat, you are correct that it is muchly better.

  16. Mark Anderson 2021-10-27

    Come on grudz how can a city with a President on every corner be nasty?

  17. O 2021-10-27

    I think I might be coming around to the Right’s succession thinking. Instead of a formal political separation, I see more a true economic diversion of fair pay, family leave, fair tax structures, being allowed to really go full Blue versus full Red. The disintegration of the Democrat agenda from the conservative (NOT moderate) Senate duo means that the nation will not be won over to better economics, so let the states go all out in their race to the top and bottom respectively.

    This will hause a generation of immigration/emigration heartache, but I think the time for the real laboratory of economic philosophies needs to finally settle which creates the better atmosphere to live in.

  18. larry kurtz 2021-10-27

    Well, there is that. Given the choice between Rapid City and Minot Cheyenne looks pretty good.

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