CEDAR CITY – A recent survey listed the top 100 most affordable cities in the United States, and Southern Utah was well represented including both Cedar City and St. George. Both cities strive to increase the standard of living through economic growth, while still managing affordability.
A NerdWallet study, headed by analyst Sreekar Jasthi, listed Cedar City as the 17th most affordable city in the country and St. George came in at 92nd. The two cities were the only ones to represent Utah.
By using data from a cost of living index published by the Council for Community and Economic Research, NerdWallet was able to rank the cities, Jasthi said.
“We sort of compile these things every year at NerdWallet, we did this last year,” Jasthi said, “and now we wanted to look at it again to see which cities sort of changed.”
In order to rank the cities an index score was assigned to each city. A score of 100 is the national average. If the score was below 100, it’s considered affordable based on the national average.
The index score was based off of six cost categories: housing, grocery items, utilities, transportation costs, health care costs and miscellaneous goods and services. Each category generated its individual index and the average was taken to create the overall index score.
“In Cedar City, with an index of 87.3 compared to the average of 100,” Jasthi said, “that means it’s very affordable to live in Cedar City.”
Cedar City scored below the average index in every category, the lowest being the cost of living at 72.3. Transportation and miscellaneous goods and services were the closest categories to the average with an index of nearly 96 each.
St. George had an index score of 91.6, just over eight points below the national average.
Although, according to the study, Cedar City is affordable, Iron County also has one of the lowest household incomes in Utah.
This could change as large industries have come to the area such as, Genpak, GAF and MSC Aerospace – specifically Metal Craft and Syberjet.
Large organizations coming to the Cedar City area with the intent to receive tax incentives are required to meet two standards: provide at least 25 new jobs and pay 25 percent higher wage than the county’s average wage.
As wages increase and more money is made in the area, is it possible for the city to remain affordable?
As jobs are created, the cost of living does not necessarily increase, said Brennan Wood, director of economic development for Cedar City.
“There are large cities with a low cost of living index,” he said.
According to the study, the majority of the affordable cities listed were rural cities or suburbs of larger cities, but there were exceptions.
Memphis, the largest city in Tennessee with a population of 646,889 people at the time of the 2010 census, is listed 4th, making it more affordable then Cedar City.
Columbus, Ohio, and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, the capitols and largest cities of their respective states also made the list.
“I think as you bring in better jobs that pay higher, more people have disposable income and that money flowing throughout the economy,” Wood said, “it doesn’t necessarily translate to high prices, it means that there’s a better standard of living for the residents of the area.”
As Cedar City grows, the goal is to maintain the feel and values of the city.
“Our goal is not necessarily to be anyone else, we don’t want to be Salt Lake, we don’t want to be St. George, we want to continue to be Cedar City and maintain the values of our community,” Wood said, “but we do want to continue to grow.”
Scott Hiraschi, director of Site Select Plus, an organization that focuses on recruiting primary industries for Washington County, believes there is no connect to higher wages increasing cost of living.
“I’m not sure there’ a correlation between higher wages and higher cost,” Hiraschi said, “I’m not sure how direct that correlation is.”
In order to understand what creates the cost of living, those specific elements need to be looked at, not necessarily the wages of workers, Hiraschi said.
As both Cedar City and St. George grow through economic development, the goal is to remain in similar fashion to the way they are today, affordable.
- Syberjet project receives national recognition for economic development
- Executive director of governor’s office of economic development steps down
- SyberJet accepts tax incentives, headquarters in Cedar City; 1,200 new jobs – 2013
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