The Best North Carolina Towns for Young Families


by on July 9, 2013

North Carolina has done exceedingly well in the last 20 years, having brought 1.5 million more people to the state in the last ten years alone. But which towns are the best of the best and the most suitable for young families, who want a thriving economy and good schools for their kids?

NerdWallet wanted to find out, so we asked the following questions as we analyzed cities and towns across the state: 

  1. Does the town have good public schools? We measured schools’ academic performance with ratings from GreatSchools. This non-profit compares a given school’s standardized test scores to the state average to obtain a rating on a 1 through 10 scale (10 representing the highest score). Higher ratings led to a higher overall score.
  2. Can you afford to live there? We looked at both average home values in each town and ongoing monthly home costs, including mortgage payments, real estate taxes, insurance costs, utilities, fuel and other bills. Lower costs led to a higher overall score.
  3. Is the town growing and prospering? We assessed a town’s economy by looking at average household income and income growth over the last decade. Higher income and greater growth led to a higher overall score.

Check out our cost of living calculator and mortgage rates calculator for more information.

The Best Places for Raising Kids

1. Morrisville

Morrisville is smack dab in the middle of Raleigh and Durham, putting it in the heart of the Research Triangle. The town has done its fair share in building a strong support system for the tech startups setting up shop in the area. Organizations like the Morrisville Innovation Foundation give entrepreneurs a place to network and learn how to make it in today’s economy.

2. Mooresville

Mooresville is a few miles up 77, just north of Charlotte, and it features some of the most beautiful and historic buildings in the area. The downtown is as walkable as it gets and looks as if it sprung out of the late 1800s. More than beautiful, the town is also economically efficient. A New York Times piece last year showed that a dollar stretched further in Mooresville than in any other school district in the state. While Mooresville ranks 100th in the number of dollars spent per student out of 115 school districts in North Carolina, it has been tremendously successful, with the third-highest test scores in the state and the second-highest graduation rate. Furthermore, the Mooresville Center of Mitchell Community College, which offers a variety of college credit and continuing education programs, just built a new facility to satisfy growing student demands. Social life is active here, too – Mooresville is Race City USA, home to a number of NASCAR and IndyCar teams and drivers

3. Holly Springs

In 1990, Holly Springs did not even have 1,000 residents. Today, over 20,000 people live here, which just goes to show how quickly this small town is expanding with the booming economy in the Research Triangle. The town recently cemented its ties to that tech-industry hub – literally, with the construction of the Triangle Expressway and other road improvements and infrastructure upgrades. Within the town, industry has picked up. For example, pharmaceutical giant Novartis has planned to expand its manufacturing operations in Holly Springs, bringing hundreds of jobs to the town.

4. Indian Trail

The people of Indian Trail are supported by Charlotte’s gigantic financial services industry, including giants like Wells Fargo’s East Coast division and Bank of America, both of whom call the big city home. Homes are relatively inexpensive in Indian Trail, too, thanks to a construction boom that’s managed to keep up with the explosion in population growth; as the population has grown over 10 times over, new homes have continued to spot the landscape here, keeping median home prices at an affordable $182,000.

5. Apex

Like Holly Springs next door, Apex is building a tighter relationship with the Research Triangle with the help of the Triangle Expressway, whose branch to Apex opened just under a year ago. The downtown area maintains a classic feel – it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places – and dotting its sidewalks are fine-dining establishments, antique shops, ice cream parlors and more.

6. Chapel Hill

Chapel Hill is a quintessential university town. It is home to 30,000 students, and benefits from all the cultural facets of college life: concert venues, plenty of fine-dining options and great shopping destinations are scattered around the city. While life may center around the university, jobs here are nevertheless diverse. BlueCross BlueShield of North Carolina employs heavily here, even after moving down the road a few miles, and tech companies like USAT Corp. and RealTime Ops call this small city home.

7. Matthews

The schools are especially strong here, earning a rating of 9 out of 10 from GreatSchools. There is ample opportunity for the parents to thrive, too. A number of successful companies have set up shop in Matthews, including the headquarters of Harris Teeter. 

8. Cary

Like a few other towns that made the list, Cary is tapped into the Research Triangle, just ten miles away. The brainpower shows, too: at last count, 68% of Cary residents held an associate degree or higher. Within the city limits are major players like Deere & Company, LexisNexis, Epic Games and SAS Institute, among many others. The SAS Institute, especially, has done a superb job of supporting the town, having employed over 4,000 people from around Cary. A number of other groups help small businesses hit the ground running, too. Duke’s Fuqua Client Consulting Program, for example, works with local businesses to help solve their business challenges. The Wake Tech Small Business Center in Cary also provides counseling, workshops, and classes to help small business owners.

9. Wake Forest 

Wake Forest is 20 miles removed from the city of Raleigh – connected enough to give residents access to a booming economy in the Research Triangle, but far enough away to give this town its own character. Fostering that small-town feel is a historic downtown district, which the city has continued to develop and expand. On the town’s outskirts are a number of lakes, which offer some relief on those hot and humid North Carolina summer days.

10. Havelock

Today Havelock is best known as the proud home of Cherry Point, the world’s largest Marine Corps air station and a big employer in the town. Havelock is a center of recreational activity, too, located only a 20-minute drive from the beautiful beaches of the Outer Banks and historic New Bern, the site of a Civil War battle. Throughout the year, Havelock hosts an abundance of exciting cultural events, including the famous Cherry Point Air Show, a popular chili festival and unlimited hunting, fishing and boating opportunities. Furthermore, Craven Community College’s Havelock campus is home to the Institute of Aeronautical Technology, which provides workforce training to many of the civilian and military aviation community.

Rank City Nearest big city GreatSchools rating Median home value Monthly owner costs Median household income Growth,’99-’11 Overall score for young families
1 Morrisville Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill 10 $271,500 $1,862 $78,088 38.09% 75.8
2 Mooresville Charlotte 9 $189,600 $1,559 $53,177 23.83% 67.5
3 Holly Springs Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill 8 $234,600 $1,665 $89,421 28.57% 66.8
4 Indian Trail Charlotte 8 $182,000 $1,440 $63,619 22.59% 64.3
5 Apex Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill 8 $254,200 $1,727 $86,782 22.14% 64.2
6 Chapel Hill Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill 8 $368,200 $2,188 $58,415 49.25% 63.8
7 Matthews Charlotte 9 $224,600 $1,585 $69,577 3.79% 63.5
8 Cary Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill 8 $301,900 $1,880 $91,997 22.46% 63.3
9 Wake Forest Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill 7 $246,500 $1,754 $72,155 37.95% 61.9
10 Havelock Jacksonville 7 $140,000 $1,269 $46,681 32.05% 61.6


The overall score for each city was derived from the following measures:

  1. GreatSchools city rating. GreatSchools city ratings are calculated by averaging the weighted overall rating for each school in the city (weighted by the number of students enrolled at the school)
  2. Median home value from the U.S. Census (2011 ACS, data set DP04, half-weighted)
  3. Monthly homeowner costs from the U.S. Census (2011 ACS, data set DP04, half-weighted)
  4. Median household income from the U.S. Census (2011 ACS, data set DP03, half-weighted)
  5. Income change between 1999 and 2011 from the U.S. Census (data sets P053 and DP03, half-weighted)

58 North Carolina cities and towns designated as places by the U.S. Census were included in this analysis. Only places with a population greater than 15,000 were considered.

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  • TJ Cawley

    There is no better place to live and raise a family than Morrisville.

  • ASU80

    You missed the boat! No towns in the NC mountains? Want to raise healthy, outdoor kids, exceptional schools, culture and natural resources. Small town quality of life? Then visit Brevard NC

  • nikitl

    Yellow my name is nikitl. My thing is. Let’s care about the smaller towns& cities in north Carolina