It’s been a year since Money named Apex the country’s No. 1 place to live, putting an Apex family on the national magazine’s cover and serving as a source of civic pride and celebrations.
But town leaders are divided about how the distinction has affected the town, positively or negatively.
It’s hard to pinpoint the direct effects of the honor, given how quickly Apex was growing in the years before it drew the national attention and how it’s continued to grow since then.
Everything the magazine cited to explain why Apex is the No. 1 small town in the country happened before the magazine went to print, including its downtown, community spirit, affordable housing and proximity to universities and Research Triangle Park.
“We got to be No. 1 without the No. 1 rating,” said Apex Town Councilman Bill Jensen, who looks upon the distinction unfavorably. “What it did, for the most part, is get the attention of a lot of national builders who want to swoop in here, put in a bunch of houses, and leave.”
Other town officials, including Apex’s director of economic development, Joanna Helms, also pointed to the real estate market as the segment that likely benefited most from the ranking. But the town’s efforts to recruit businesses, she said, haven’t seen a significant boom. Helms said quality of life is important for businesses looking to relocate, but not as important as cost or proximity to universities and other resources.
“I’d love it if I can tell you we had 10 businesses who said, ‘We saw the article; we’d love to be in your town,’ ” Helms said. “But usually we’re the ones who bring it up. We usually throw it in our promotional packets. Having that accolade can’t hurt.”
The Apex Chamber of Commerce, which also functions as the town’s visitors center, may be best positioned to view the effects of the honor. Shannon Flaherty, the chamber’s executive director, said the ranking is a recurring theme in her conversations with visitors.
“We’ve seen an influx of people, visitors from around the country, who have quoted the No. 1 ranking and said that’s one of the reasons they came here,” Flaherty said. “We’ve seen that a lot.”
Flaherty also said the Chamber has seen an increase in both membership and member attendance at events in the past year, perhaps because businesses sense that they can benefit from that influx if they’re more closely associated with what is often the first place tourists stop in town.
Despite the few outcomes shaped directly by the honor, Apex Mayor pro tem Nicole Dozier said she thinks it has bolstered town pride.
“I had a friend in from Georgia, and we took her downtown,” Dozier said. “That’s not something people used to do, driving around Apex like you would in Atlanta. We saw people walking around wearing Apex T-shirts, and she said she’d never seen that before. To her, that meant people had so much pride in the town, like it was a school or a team they loved.”
For some residents, the ranking represents confirmation of something they had long suspected – that Apex had arrived. In that situation, the only real change since last August has been the spotlight, which Dozier said she’s been somewhat wary of as she tries to remain focused on the day-to-day minutiae of governance.
“We can’t lose sight of smaller things like holes in the pavement for the bigger picture of goal-setting,” Dozier said.
Like Dozier, Apex Town Manager Drew Havens said he takes pride in the honor – he has a copy of the magazine cover hanging in his office – but doesn’t use it as a reason for self-congratulation.
“The reality of that ranking is, at least in my somewhat cynical mind, is that the ranking is done by someone looking to sell magazines, and they do,” Havens said. “Whether we get another magazine ranking or not, we should aspire to be No. 1 all the time.”
With pride comes an increased pressure on elected officials from residents, Jensen said, who sometimes use the ranking to attack decisions they don’t find befitting of the country’s best place to live. That forces the town to balance the town’s already exemplary qualities with the reality that growth is occurring and will continue to occur – sometimes in ways inconvenient to current residents.
“When they think we’re doing something wrong, they tell us, ‘We’re the No. 1 town, how can you be doing that to us?’ ” Jensen said. “But everything’s a tradeoff: How can we bring the people in and keep the quality of life?”
Gargan: 919-460-2604; @hgargan