For young families, choosing where to live is one of the most important financial decisions they will make, and it means more than buying a home. It means buying into the community, including its local economy, with the jobs it has to offer, and, for those families with kids, its schools. We wanted to identify the communities with the best such opportunities in Mississippi, so we asked the following questions as we analyzed cities and towns across the state:
- 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 to 10 scale (10 representing the highest score). Higher ratings led to a higher overall score.
- Can you afford to live there? We looked at both median 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.
- 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.
The Best Towns for Young Families
Petal is just outside Hattiesburg, in Forrest County. Schools here are excellent, having been rated “Star” schools – the highest possible rating – by the statewide accountability system,. This distinction is given only to schools that perform well not only relative to other Mississippi schools but also the best of the best nationwide. In 2011, graduating seniors earned $3 million in scholarships.
Madison is located just 15 miles from Jackson, and it is home to a superb school district. The district encourages strong mentoring relationships between students young and old by asking high school seniors to mentor elementary and middle students struggling with learning and family issues. For recreation, residents can enjoy the Madison Square Center for the Arts, a community center with a gymnasium, an auditorium and 16 classrooms for art, dance and music lessons.
Hernando is the seat of DeSoto County, located in the Memphis metro area. The community is one of the fastest growing in the state – its population doubled last decade. DeSoto County is expected to continue to grow, too, thanks to the upcoming construction of the I-269/69 corridor. In 2010, the community became the first city in Mississippi to be a “Healthiest Hometown” – a designation and accompanying $50,000 grant given by the Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi Foundation.
4. Long Beach
Long Beach is part of the Gulfport metro area. Its schools have a strong academic record, with two National Blue Ribbon Schools: Long Beach High and Middle, which earned the award in 2007 and 2009, respectively. The community was hit hard by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, but it has been making a strong recovery. Earlier this year, the University of Southern Mississippi finished five major building projects on its Gulf Coast campus, effectively completing all repairs to Katrina-damaged structures.
5. Olive Branch
Olive Branch is a suburb of Memphis in DeSoto County. The community posted an 838 percent increase in population in the last two decades – from 3,567 residents to 33,484 – enough to earn it the title of Fastest-Growing City in the United States, according to Bloomberg Businessweek. Major employers in the area include the county school district, Walmart and Baptist Memorial Hospital-DeSoto, located in our #9, Southaven.
Brandon is near Jackson, in Rankin County. The county school district boasts the lowest property taxes of any district in the Jackson metro area. The schools are great, too. Students excel on standardized tests, earning them a 9 out of 10 rating from GreatSchools; they also stay ahead of the state average on the ACT by over a point.
Pearl sits across the river from Jackson. The community’s Center City Multiplex keeps over 2,000 young residents active with baseball, softball and soccer. Also nearby is the Ross Barnett Reservoir, where locals can swim and boat.
Grenada is the seat of Grenada County, in north-central Mississippi. In town is the largest body of water in the state – Grenada Lake – where residents can swim, jet-ski, boat and fish. Along the water is also the Dogwoods Golf Course, which Golf Digest has called one of the best courses in the state.
Southaven is a suburb of Memphis in DeSoto County. The local school district serves the largest population of gifted students in the state. Southaven schools also have computers in each classroom and at every grade level – Mississippi was the first state to lead such an initiative.
10. Ocean Springs
Ocean Springs is a city in Jackson County, on the Gulf Coast. Like many other coastal Mississippi communities, Ocean Springs was hit hard by Hurricane Katrina. But the community has been rebuilding itself. The Biloxi Bay Bridge, which was severely damaged by the storm, was reopened in 2007. The schools here are great as well; Oak Park Elementary was one of four Mississippi schools to earn a National Blue Ribbon this year.
|Rank||City||Nearest big city||GreatSchools rating||Median home value||Monthly owner costs||Median household income||Growth,’99-’11||Overall score for young families|
|5||Olive Branch||Memphis, TN||9||$166,000||$1,448||$68,287||23.7%||59.7|
|10||Ocean Springs||Biloxi, Gulfport||8||$169,600||$1,429||$61,469||34.0%||55.9|
The overall score for each city was derived from the following measures:
- 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)
- Median home value from the U.S. Census (2011 ACS, data set DP04, half-weighted)
- Monthly homeowner costs from the U.S. Census (2011 ACS, data set DP04, half-weighted)
- Median household income from the U.S. Census (2011 ACS, data set DP03, half-weighted)
- Income change between 1999 and 2011 from the U.S. Census (data sets P053 and DP03, half-weighted)
41 Mississippi cities and towns designated as places by the U.S. Census were included in this analysis. Only places with a population greater than 10,000 were considered.