The Top 15 Economic Power Towns in America

By    February 17, 2014

economic power towns

Ah, life in the suburbs. If TV and movies are to be believed, it’ll either leave you feeling bored and longing for the excitement of the city or suspicious of your neighbors and the dark secrets they’re hiding. In exchange for their beautiful neighborhoods and spacious homes, suburbanites trade long commutes to good jobs in the city, right?

Not always. As suburbs continue to grow, some of them are—at least in economic terms—desirable places to live, offering jobs at major companies without the hassle of commuting. By our count, 124 of the Fortune 500 companies are based in communities with fewer than 50,000 residents. In fact, 14 of these communities host more than one Fortune 500 company.

Playing host to a huge corporation doesn’t automatically make a city, town or suburb an economically advantageous place to live, though. Some hometowns of the Fortune 500 have median household incomes under $40,000 and poverty rates higher then 20 percent. Not so with SpareFoot’s list of America’s Economic Power Towns. All of them have 50,000 residents or fewer and are home to at least one Fortune 500 company, and they all boast high home values, high home ownership rates, low unemployment rates and more.

Here is SpareFoot’s list of America’s Top 15 Economic Power Towns:

  1. McLean, VA
  2. Weston, MA
  3. Riverwoods, IL
  4. Franklin Lakes, NJ
  5. Warren, NJ
  6. Armonk, NY
  7. Des Peres, MO
  8. Westport, CT
  9. Oak Brook, IL
  10. Dublin, OH
  11. Chesterbrook, PA
  12. Deerfield, IL
  13. Rye, NY
  14. Lake Forest, IL
  15. Bloomfield Hills, MI

Notice a pattern? The top two spots belong to suburbs of Washington, DC, and Boston, but suburbs of New York City (five towns) and Chicago (four towns) dominate our list.

gannett

McLean, VA, is home to six Fortune 500 companies, including Gannett.

Both people and businesses benefit from life near metro giants like New York City and Chicago, according to public policy consultant Wendell Cox, principal of think tank Demographia. People in major metro areas enjoy easy access to big-city amenities, and businesses in those areas enjoy access to services and infrastructure.

“In many ways, the airport is becoming a center,” Cox said. “Whether you’re located in a city or a suburb or an exurb, you’re probably equally well off. The key is access to that airport.”

Not all companies need access to an airport, but those that do prefer a place like Chicago to a place like Indianapolis, according to Cox. It’s possible to fly directly from Chicago to Shanghai and other far-flung destinations, but getting from Indianapolis to even domestic destinations like Los Angeles can require layovers.

Another major advantage in smaller towns is that residents generally enjoy more political power, according to Cox.

“In small towns, voters have control. In big places, special interests have control,” he said. “I’ve done considerable research that shows that smaller towns, even within metropolitan areas, have much lower costs per capita for public services—and, therefore, lower taxes—than cities.”

mondelez

Mondelēz International is among the five Fortune 500 companies in Deerfield, IL.

To determine our ranking, we analyzed the following characteristics:

  • Home ownership rate.
  • Median household income.
  • Local unemployment rate.
  • Percentage of residents living in poverty.
  • Ratio of median home value to median income.
  • Median value of owner-occupied homes.

We emphasized the home ownership rate and median household income over the other characteristics. We included the ratio of home value to income to adjust for the fact that home values in some places may be so high they’re out of reach of many residents. For that measure, as well as the unemployment and poverty rates, higher numbers counted against a location. For the rest, higher numbers were better.

In most instances, local unemployment is based on the rate for the county because that’s the best local data available. In some cases, though, town-level data was available; in those cases, we used those figures. Some towns are located in more than one county, so for those, we used an average of the appropriate county unemployment rates.

Freddie Mac

Freddie Mac’s headquarters in McLean, VA.

McLean, VA

This DC suburb is close to having 50,000 residents, if not a few more, but the latest U.S. Census Bureau estimates for its population are from 2010. Population estimates for the rest of the towns on our list are either from 2012 or are well below the 50,000 mark. If we assume McLean grew at the same rate as the rest of Virginia between 2010 and 2012, it would have 49,221 residents.

Population: 48,115

Nearest major city: Washington, DC

Fortune 500 companies: Freddie Mac, Capital One Financial, SAIC, Booz Allen Hamilton, Exelis, Gannett

Home ownership rate: 86.7 percent

Median household income: $179,066

Local unemployment rate: 4 percent

Percentage of residents living in poverty: 2.4 percent

Ratio of median home value to median income: 5

Median home value: $895,500

Biogen Idec

Biogen Idec’s headquarters in Weston, MA.

Weston, MA

Population: 11,261

Nearest major city: Boston

Fortune 500 company: Biogen Idec

Home ownership rate: 87.3 percent

Median household income: $176,875

Local unemployment rate: 5.2 percent

Percentage of residents living in poverty: 2.8 percent

Ratio of median home value to median income: 7.35

Median home value: $1.3 million

Discover Card

Discover Financial Services is based in Riverwoods, IL.

Riverwoods, IL

Population: 3,660

Nearest major city: Chicago

Fortune 500 company: Discover Financial Services

Home ownership rate: 99.4 percent

Median household income: $166,579

Local unemployment rate: 7.8 percent

Percentage of residents living in poverty: 2.1 percent

Ratio of median home value to median income: 4.5

Median home value: $758,500

Becton-Dickinson

Becton Dickinson’s headquarters in Franklin Lakes, NJ.

Franklin Lakes, NJ

Population: 10,590

Nearest major city: New York City

Fortune 500 company: Becton Dickinson

Home ownership rate: 90.8 percent

Median household income: $153,681

Local unemployment rate: 8 percent

Percentage of residents living in poverty: 1.3 percent

Ratio of median home value to median income: 5.86

Median home value: $900,000

Chubb

Chubb’s headquarters in Warren, NJ.

Warren, NJ

Population: 15,311

Nearest major city: New York City

Fortune 500 company: Chubb

Home ownership rate: 91.7 percent

Median household income: $152,750

Local unemployment rate: 7.4 percent

Percentage of residents living in poverty: 2.9 percent

Ratio of median home value to median income: 4.47

Median home value: $682,100

IBM

IBM’s headquarters in Armonk, NY.

Armonk, NY

Population: 4,330

Nearest major city: New York City

Fortune 500 company: IBM

Home ownership rate: 90.1 percent

Median household income: $143,311

Local unemployment rate: 7 percent

Percentage of residents living in poverty: 2.2 percent

Ratio of median home value to median income: 6.17

Median home value: $883,900

Edward Jones

Edward Jones’ headquarters in Des Peres, MO.

Des Peres, MO 

Population: 8,373

Nearest major city: St. Louis

Fortune 500 company: Edward Jones

Home ownership rate: 95.4 percent

Median household income: $121,319

Local unemployment rate: 6.5 percent

Percentage of residents living in poverty: 1.8 percent

Ratio of median home value to median income: 2.95

Median home value: $358,100

terex

Terex, based in Westport, CT, makes heavy equipment.

Westport, CT

Population: 26,391

Nearest major city: New York City

Fortune 500 company: Terex

Home ownership rate: 86.2 percent

Median household income: $152,586

Local unemployment rate: 7.4 percent

Percentage of residents living in poverty: 3.7 percent

Ratio of median home value to median income: 7.2

Median home value: $1.1 million

McDonald's Hamburger University

Hamburger University at McDonald’s headquarters in Oak Brook, IL.

Oak Brook, IL

Population: 7,883

Nearest major city: Chicago

Fortune 500 company: McDonald’s

Home ownership rate: 94.2 percent

Median household income: $131,458

Local unemployment rate: 6.9 percent

Percentage of residents living in poverty: 2.8 percent

Ratio of median home value to median income: 6.19

Median home value: $813,800

Cardinal Health

Cardinal Health’s headquarters in Dublin, OH.

Dublin, OH

Population: 41,751

Nearest major city: Columbus, OH

Fortune 500 company: Cardinal Health

Home ownership rate: 79.7 percent

Median household income: $114,183

Local unemployment rate: 5.1 percent

Percentage of residents living in poverty: 2.4 percent

Ratio of median home value to median income: 2.89

Median home value: $330,300

AmerisourceBergen

AmerisourceBergen’s headquarters in Chesterbrook, PA.

Chesterbrook, PA

Population: 4,589

Nearest major city: Philadelphia

Fortune 500 company: AmerisourceBergen

Home ownership rate: 84.8 percent

Median household income: $102,703

Local unemployment rate: 5.8 percent

Percentage of residents living in poverty: 1.7 percent

Ratio of median home value to median income: 3

Median home value: $308,400

Walgreens University

Walgreens University at the drugstore chain’s headquarters in Deerfield, IL.

Deerfield, IL

Population: 18,225

Nearest major city: Chicago

Fortune 500 companies: Walgreens, Mondelēz International (formerly part of Kraft Foods), Baxter International, CF Industries Holdings, United Stationers

Home ownership rate: 88.3 percent

Median household income: $129,187

Local unemployment rate: 8.35 percent

Percentage of residents living in poverty: 2.7 percent

Ratio of median home value to median income: 4

Median home value: $520,300

crock-pot

Brands from Rye, NY-based Jarden include Crock-Pot.

Rye, NY

Population: 15,720

Nearest major city: New York City

Fortune 500 company: Jarden (Crock-Pot, Oster, Sunbeam, Mr. Coffee)

Home ownership rate: 70.7 percent

Median household income: $143,359

Local unemployment rate: 7 percent

Percentage of residents below the poverty line: 3.1 percent

Ratio of median home value to median income: 11.86

Median home value: $1,700,000

Grainger

W.W. Grainger, based in Lake Forest, IL, makes industrial supplies.

Lake Forest, IL

Population: 19,375

Nearest major city: Chicago

Fortune 500 companies: W.W. Grainger, Tenneco

Home ownership rate: 89.2 percent

Median household income: $136,583

Local unemployment rate: 7.8 percent

Percentage of residents living in poverty: 4.5 percent

Ratio of median home value to median income: 6.3

Median home value: $866,200

Penske Automotive Group

Bloomfield Hills, MI-based Penske Automotive Group owns this car dealership.

Bloomfield Hills, MI

Population: 3,869

Nearest major city: Detroit

Fortune 500 company: Penske Automotive Group

Home ownership rate: 91.1 percent

Median household income: $136,875

Local unemployment rate: 9 percent

Percentage of residents living in poverty: 3.8 percent

Ratio of median home value to median income: 4.9

Median home value: $674,900

Data sources: U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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