Median home price: $180,000
The Richland region, which includes the nearby cities of Kennewick and Pasco, added 3,300 jobs to the local economy over the past year—more than any other metro area in the country.
One big reason: It's home to Washington State University-Tri-Cities and the Energy Department's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. The city was developed by employees of Hanford Engineer Works, a company that helped produce the atomic bomb. Today, a number of companies and government agencies employing more than 11,000 people are working on a massive cleanup project at the Hanford site, where reactors were deployed for decades to produce plutonium. For example, Bechtel and the DOE are developing a cutting-edge waste treatment plant to convert hazardous waste to glass.
Richland sits on the Columbia River within easy reach of the Yakima and Snake rivers, which means boating and plenty of outdoor attractions. Homes are affordable, and the cost of living is below the national average.
Median home price: $122,130
If you're familiar with the famed Mayo Clinic, you already know much of what you need to know about Rochester, or "Med City." Mayo employs more than 30,000 people and there's no denying that healthcare dominates this town, which is a magnet for people from around the country seeking care. Older workers with healthcare and social assistance backgrounds will find that the fast-growing jobs include registered nurse, home health aide, and medical assistant. IBM, the town's second-biggest employer, has over 4,000 workers at its life sciences division.
Situated along the banks of the Zumbro River, Rochester has plenty of green space in its 3,500 acres of parkland. Or white space, depending on the time of year. The city averages 48 inches of snow annually.
Median home price: $242,000
Like ice cream? Berkey Creamery at Penn State is the largest university creamery in the nation. It's known for its products, which include sherbet and cheeses, and for launching the careers of none other than Ben and Jerry. Or maybe you're a rabid Nittany Lions fan considering the town so as to be sure of nabbing a prime seat at the football and basketball games.
But the opportunity to find work in an economy buoyed by a top-drawer university is the true carrot for those not yet ready to simply clock out. Penn State itself certainly has made an effort to appeal to such folks, boasting a retirement community on campus that gives residents access to free college classes and priority tickets to games. For culture buffs, the Penn State Center for the Performing Arts presents music, dance, and theater. And those who enjoy the great outdoors have plenty of nearby lakes and hiking trails to choose from.
On the other hand, State College can get a little quiet when school's out and when the football crowds leave town. But Philadelphia is 200 miles away, and it's only 140 miles to Pittsburgh.
Contributing Editor Kerry Hannon is the author of What’s Next? Follow Your Passion and Find Your Dream Job (Chronicle Books).