For those who might have missed the big news, Killeen is the fifth-best place to live in Texas.
That’s according to a study conducted by U.S. News and World Report and announced Thursday by the Greater Killeen Chamber of Commerce.
This is a pretty huge accolade for our community — especially since the magazine conducting the study is very well respected, and also produces an annual, high-profile ranking of the nation’s colleges and universities.
The Texas cities ranking puts Killeen in some pretty elite company. Austin comes in at No. 1, followed by Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth and San Antonio. The fact that Killeen is the highest ranked city that is not among the state’s major metropolitan population centers is significant.
Among the five Texas cities following Killeen in the rankings, two are major metro areas — El Paso and Corpus Christi. The other three — Beaumont, McAllen and Brownsville are not.
So, what are the common denominators setting these communities apart — at least as far as this study is concerned?
As with any study, the rankings are a product of the demographic factors chosen. In this case, the factors used were affordability, unemployment rate, diversity of population, recreational opportunities, average commute time, access to major metro areas in Texas, and desirability.
Killeen certainly scores high in several of these areas.
With an unemployment rate of around 4 percent, Killeen’s numbers are at or below the state average. The city is also well known for its highly diverse population, with several ethnic and racial groups represented.
With rents averaging less than $900 per month and median home prices listed at $155,000, Killeen certainly qualifies as being affordable, especially in comparison to larger metro areas.
Also, the presence of I-14, a six-lane interstate highway, a recently widened Farm-to-Market 2410 and several improved surface streets such as Stan Schlueter Loop, Clear Creek Road and Rosewood Boulevard help to ease traffic congestion and minimize commute times for Killeen-area drivers.
Killeen is also centrally located, with drivers able to reach Austin in about an hour; Dallas and San Antonio are just over two hours away. It also has a regional airport, with several flights daily to Dallas and Houston. No doubt, those facts scored our community some points in the study.
Recreational opportunities abound in Killeen as well, with a first-class recreation center in Lions Club Park, a variety of youth and adult sports leagues, pools and skate parks. In addition, two large lakes nearby offer residents boating, fishing and camping options. Killeen also has a community theater and a downtown arts and activities center.
Certainly, it would seem that our community does well in almost every category included in the study.
The one factor that is harder to define is “desirability.”
What makes a city desirable for one segment of the population may be a non-factor or even a negative for another.
For example, veterans and their families often decide to retire in the Killeen area because of access to Fort Hood’s commissary and post exchange, as well as the community’s proximity to the VA hospital in Temple. However, for people who move here and are not affiliated with the military, those are not considerations.
For some, Killeen’s climate is ideal — with its mild winters and hot, dry summers — especially for those who grew up in areas with long, cold winters and muggy summers. Others would rather see some snow and a more definite change of seasons — making the Central Texas weather a negative in their eyes.
Finally, the size of the community is a major consideration for most people. Some would prefer to live in Austin, Dallas or Houston, with their myriad cultural attractions, eclectic restaurants and entertainment venues. In the case of Dallas and Houston, you can add professional sports teams to the list of perks. However, some people simply do not want to live in big cities, with their high-density housing, increased crime, traffic congestion, longer commutes and generally higher cost of living.
Still, the top four cities in the U.S. News study are the state’s largest metro areas, so at least according to the study’s parameters, bigger equals better in the overall scheme of things.
As with any list, the results are debatable.
For example, how did the Rio Grande Valley cities of McAllen and Brownsville — with their high unemployment and long distance from major metropolitan areas — make the Top 10, while local cities Temple and Waco did not?
Temple is home to major civilian and military medical facilities, has a community college, a civic theater, a relatively low cost of living and is just as close to major metro areas as is Killeen.
Waco has a major university plus a technical college and community college, offers plenty of recreational and cultural opportunities — including several good museums — and also has a relatively low cost of living. In addition, it’s even closer to Dallas-Fort Worth and not much farther from Austin and San Antonio.
The recent U.S. News study was an offshoot of an April study that ranked Killeen at No. 101 among 125 “best” cities nationwide, sandwiched in between Baltimore and Philadelphia. Killeen was just 21 spots below New York City and 30 spots lower than St. Louis. However, Killeen ranked higher than both Chicago (104) and Los Angeles (107).
Corpus Christi came in at 105 and El Paso at 110. McAllen and Brownsville were ranked 112 and 116, respectively.
So what does this all mean? Is it more desirable to live in Killeen than in Chicago or L.A.? Does our community measure up favorably with St. Louis and the Big Apple?
It could be argued that Killeen has some qualities that stand up well against all those major cities — especially by those who see the city’s future potential, which is substantial.
Obviously, a community’s appeal is in the eye of the individual — as it should be.
Some Killeen residents aren’t too enamored of the city, but others wouldn’t dream of living anywhere else.
Certainly, the city is struggling to lower its crime rate, manage growth and balance its budget. It also faces challenges in funding infrastructure — particularly street repairs in older areas of town. But these and other problems can be tied to cities all up and down the U.S. News rankings — as well as those not included on the list.
Ultimately, dozens of factors go into deciding whether a community is a place someone wants to live.
Jobs, transportation, recreation and other amenities may be major selling points, just as crime, traffic and rent rates may be detractors.
But perhaps the biggest factor that sets Killeen apart from others is the quality of the people who call it home — an intangible characteristic that makes our community a special place — both among Texas cities and nationwide.
And that’s something even a big-name study just can’t quantify.