Apex is the best place to live in the country, says Money Magazine.
The western Wake County town has “small-town charm, plus all the benefits of being close to a big city,” the magazine wrote Monday in releasing its annual rankings that this year focus on small towns.
The cover features a family from Apex, and an accompanying story and video tout the town’s character, parks, affordable housing and proximity to Research Triangle Park and area universities.
“The community is friendly, and there are a variety of activities for residents to enjoy, from the youngest to the oldest,” the magazine said.
The publication’s annual list honored Apex in 2013 as No. 9 in the country and No. 1 in North Carolina. Other Triangle towns have topped the list or have ranked in the Top 10 in the past decade.
Money used data on the economy, real estate, taxes, safety and health to narrow down the list of potential best towns. Then, reporters were dispatched to 44 finalist towns to get a sense for intangibles, such as traffic, parks and community spirit.
The reporting, combined with the data, put Apex at the peak.
“It sets a tone of optimism, and hopefully it will make us more progressive moving forward,” said Apex Mayor Bill Sutton, the town’s former town manager who had a hand in guiding Apex’s growth.
This year’s list considered towns with populations up to 50,000. Apex, with a population of 42,000, has continued it growth spurt since it cracked the magazine’s Top 10. The downtown has flourished, and new parks and roads have been built as new shopping centers have opened on the outskirts of town. The town is expected to double in size in 15 years if growth continues at the current rate.
Shannon Flaherty, president of the Apex Chamber of Commerce, said business leaders like the growth because it means more stability. She said people thinking about moving to Apex contact the chamber every week for information on the town. They’ve had requests from all over the country and even internationally, she said.
“There’s lots to do,” Flaherty said. “We have lots of festivals. There are wonderful schools. The weather, you couldn’t ask for better weather.”
The magazine’s story on Apex focuses on downtown, especially the weekly farmers market and annual festivals, such as Jazz Fest.
“It’s sort of a real Americana, the downtown,” Sutton said. “It sort of reminds some people of their childhood or, if not their childhood, what they imagine America used to be like.”
Even though several downtown shops and restaurants are closed Mondays, there were a few people on the sidewalks on Salem Street, shopping or walking back from the new $1 million skate park on nearby Hunter Street.
Allwyne Richards was downtown for lunch. He said he often drives to Apex from his home near Fuquay-Varina.
“It’s a nice, walkable downtown,” Richards said.
Low cost of living
Apex also has one of the lowest property tax rates in the region at 39 cents per $100 valuation. Sutton said the tax rate – and low cost of living in general – are two reasons he commonly hears about why people move to Apex from larger cities, especially those in California.
The magazine notes that both Apex and Silicon Valley have many residents with tech jobs, but a three-bedroom home in Apex costs an average of $265,000, compared with more than $1 million for a comparable house in Silicon Valley.
Sutton said Apex jumped from ninth to first in the rankings because of the strength of the local job market and low unemployment rate, as illustrated by the story of the family pictured on the Money cover. The couple said they moved to Apex in 2010 with no job prospects, yet they both found steady, middle-class jobs.
Apex officials hope the bragging rights that come with the national recognition brings more than just new residents or downtown shoppers.
Sutton, who was Apex town manager from 1993 to 2001 and later served on the planning board, isn’t seeking a second term. But he said whoever is elected shouldn’t rest on the town’s laurels.
“You could take the idea, ‘Well we’re No. 1, let’s not change anything,’” he said. “I’m the opposite. I say, ‘Onward and upward. Let’s keep moving.’”
Joanna Helms, the town’s economic development director, said the town is actively recruiting several businesses.
“I’m sending them links to this story, hoping that’s the tipping point,” she said. “Because the kind of companies we want in Apex, they want a high quality of life for their employees.”
Cary Mayor Harold Weinbrecht said he has seen that strategy work. Cary ranked No. 1 on the list in 2004 and has landed on the list several times since.
“It’s always good to have when you negotiate with businesses and when you’re talking with people,” he said. “That’s something you want to hear.”
To accompany the Money Magazine story, Apex Town Manager Bruce Radford narrates a video about the town’s positive factors, including its community feel.
As the video wraps up, Radford says, “If you’re thinking about relocating, we’d love to have you join us here in the peak of good living.
And then with a laugh, he adds, “Just don’t come all at one time.”
Kathryn Trogdon and Jessica Banov contributed reporting.
Doran: 919-460-2604; Twitter: @will_doran
Who is No. 1?
Money magazine has ranked several Triangle towns on their annual “Best Places to Live” list in recent years. The magazine alternates between ranking small towns and big cities.
2014: Cary, No. 19; Chapel Hill, No. 36
2013: Apex, No. 9
2012: Chapel Hill, No. 10; Cary, No. 56
2010: Cary, No. 23; Chapel Hill, No. 40
2008: Cary, No. 16; Chapel Hill, No. 65
2007: Apex, No. 14; Holly Springs, No. 22
2006: Raleigh, No. 4 (big cities); Cary, No. 5
2004: Cary, No. 1
1994: Raleigh, No. 1