The Best Mid-Sized Cities To Start Your Career In 2020

By Kathy Morris
Jun. 26, 2020

Find a Job You Really Want In

Not everyone wants to live in a big city.

Even those who want to land a gig in a big city often can’t afford the big city rent and other expensive trappings that come with it. More and more graduates are turning to mid-sized cities for the great cost of living and exciting opportunities– all at a price they can actually afford.

But what mid-sized cities should new graduates turn their attentions to? We analyzed the data to find the best place in each state for new grads to start looking for that dream job.

Best Mid-Sized Cities To Start Your Career

  1. Bentonville, Arkansas
  2. Urbandale, Iowa
  3. Bismarck, North Dakota
  4. West Seneca, New York
  5. Wauwatosa, Wisconsin
  6. Lee’s Summit, Missouri
  7. Carmel, Indiana
  8. Lenexa, Kansas
  9. Mentor, Ohio
  10. Bloomington, Illinois

These 10 cities offer great job opportunities, strong pay, and reasonable costs of living- making them the perfect place to launch your career. None of these look good to you? No worries! Keep reading- we found the best mid-sized city to launch your career in each state.

How We Determined The Best Cities To Start Your Career

We looked at over 800 cities and ranked them on the following areas:

  • Median Income
  • Average rent
  • Unemployment

We first examined median income to find the cities where young professionals can expect to bring home the biggest paychecks. Money can’t buy happiness, but it can buy creature comforts and pay off hefty student loans which goes a long way.

However, big paychecks can come with big bills- so next we looked at average rent costs. For those just graduating college and moving to jump-start their careers, it can be a struggle to scrape together first month’s rent, last, and a security deposit. That first paycheck may not make it into their bank account for a month! The smaller the monthly rent, the better.

Finally, we looked at average unemployment. If that first job doesn’t end up being a dream job, getting your next job is easier when you’re in a city with a strong labor market.

We defined mid-sized as any city with a working population between 25,000 to 150,000 people. We then selected the highest ranking city in each state. Unfortunately, no Alaskan city made the cut- with Anchorage to large and Fairbanks a hair too small.

All of our data came from the most recent Census ACS.

1. Bentonville, Arkansas


Median Earnings: $47,507
Rent: 918
Unemployment: 2

With a working population just above 25,000, Bentonville barely made the cut as a mid-sized city. However, don’t let size fool you, this Arkansas town has a lot to offer. Bentonville is home to Walmart corporate and other impressive employers that will catch eyes on your resume. Starting your career in Bentonville comes with a nice paycheck and rent under 1,000 bucks a month. Best part? That rent will get you more than a studio apartment.

2. Urbandale, Iowa


Median Earnings: $48,480
Rent: 895

Urbandale is just a short jaunt from the Des Moines, and all the Des Moines jobs. However, the city is more than just a suburb– it is the perfect launch pad for starting your career. Not only will that first pay check pay your rent and then some, should you ever lose your job, chances are good you’ll be able to find your next one fairly simply.

3. Bismarck, North Dakota


Median Earnings: $39,300
Rent: 850

Bismarck is the capital of North Dakota and a capital place to start your career. While median earnings are a bit on the low side, when combined with the affordability of this Midwestern city, you’ll still be able to start chipping away at those student loans. Bonus? Bismarck’s thriving craft beer scene, close proximity to world class nature, and great restaurant scene means living here won’t be a chore.

4. West Seneca, New York


Source: |GFDL

Median Earnings: $40,087
Rent: 797

New York has been dipping in population over the past few years, with cities like NYC seeing the biggest decrease. However, places like West Seneca are holding steady. Affordability and job opportunities make West Seneca a place not only to start your career but to thrive.

5. Wauwatosa, Wisconsin


Median Earnings: $51,063
Rent: 1,071

If you live in Wauwatosa, there’s a pretty good chance you work in Milwaukee. Not only does Wauwatosa over proximity to all the Milwaukee has to offer socially and professionally, but it also offers its residents affordability and spacious living. You can have a great career here without having to live in a box or deal with street parking.

6. Lee’s Summit, Missouri

Source: |CC-BY-SA-3.1

Median Earnings: $48,213
Rent: 1,015

Lee’s Summit may only be the 6th largest city in that state, but it’s the best place to start your career. Living in Lee’s Summit comes with a tidy salary, nearly $50k, which will outstrip a lot of what your friends in bigger cities are earning. Even better, that salary will go pretty far with average rent only being $1,015.

7. Carmel, Indiana


Median Earnings: $60,289
Rent: 1,199

Carmel has the highest earnings of any city in the top 10 at $60,289. While money can’t buy happiness, it buys comfort and the trappings of adulthood many struggle to obtain today– including retirement savings and home ownership.

8. Lenexa, Kansas


Median Earnings: $45,859
Rent: 1,089

Lenexa, Kansas is surrounded by prosperous suburbs, but residents of this city know its affordability puts it above and beyond its neighbors. New graduates will appreciate the low unemployment and less competition in the job market to snag that first job.

9. Mentor, Ohio


Median Earnings: $41,356
Rent: 934

Mentor’s location on Lake Eerie make it especially appealing for new grads who dream of beach life but can’t afford the pricey coasts. Landing a job here won’t just get you fun weekends at the lake but a decent paycheck. What’s not to love?

10. Bloomington, Illinois


Median Earnings: $37,824
Rent: 825

Bloomington, Illinois is the 10th best city to start your career. While the pay is a tad lower than other cities on the list, low unemployment mean you won’t have a hard time finding a job and living on your own is still affordable. Just don’t tell your friends in Chicago your rent is 825 (or less) a month, they might cry.

Where You Start Your Career Is Important

Chances are, you will live more than one place and have lots of jobs in your lifetime. However, your first job is a pivotal career move.

It can be the difference between deferring on student loans and living in a shoebox with three roommates, or making a comfortable salary and steadily advancing in your career path.

These Mid-sized cities have a lot to offer new job seekers, eager to start out their career on the right foot. Not only do they typically have low unemployment indicating an employee-friendly market, but they offer decent pay and reasonable cost of living.

However, if none of them stood out to you (or you can’t brave Midwestern winters!), check out the rest of the list to see 40 other promising cities to start your career!

The Best Mid-Sized City To Start Your Career In Every State

State City Earnings Rent Unemployment(%)
Alabama Hoover $44,796 $1,100 2
Arizona Scottsdale $49,876 $1,284 2
Arkansas Bentonville $47,507 $918 1
California Folsom $64,175 $1,601 2
Colorado Castle Rock $48,806 $1,460 2
Connecticut West Hartford $53,976 $1,297 3
Delaware Wilmington $31,526 $974 5
Florida Palm Beach Gardens $44,453 $1,638 1
Georgia Brookhaven $50,946 $1,350 1
Hawaii East Honolulu $56,161 $2,661 1
Idaho Meridian $37,252 $1,045 2
Illinois Bloomington $37,824 $825 2
Indiana Carmel $60,289 $1,199 1
Iowa Urbandale $48,480 $895 2
Kansas Lenexa $45,859 $1,089 1
Kentucky Owensboro $27,488 $723 3
Louisiana Metairie $36,290 $935 2
Maine Portland $34,041 $1,079 2
Maryland Ellicott City $64,622 $1,605 2
Massachusetts Newton $60,228 $1,829 1
Michigan Royal Oak $50,824 $1,042 2
Minnesota St. Louis Park $48,877 $1,176 2
Mississippi Southaven $35,378 $1,025 3
Missouri Lee’s Summit $48,213 $1,015 2
Montana Billings $31,954 $861 2
Nebraska Grand Island $30,418 $737 3
Nevada Carson City $31,433 $895 3
New Hampshire Manchester $34,763 $1,086 3
New Jersey Hoboken $82,546 $2,231 2
New Mexico Santa Fe $31,761 $1,043 3
New York West Seneca $40,087 $797 2
North Carolina Cary $53,441 $1,199 2
North Dakota Bismarck $39,300 $850 1
Ohio Mentor $41,356 $934 2
Oklahoma Edmond $37,275 $1,028 2
Oregon Tigard $40,722 $1,159 3
Pennsylvania Scranton $25,743 $765 2
Rhode Island Cranston $38,487 $1,021 3
South Carolina Mount Pleasant $52,452 $1,533 1
South Dakota Sioux Falls $33,391 $791 2
Tennessee Collierville $54,506 $1,250 1
Texas Keller $60,330 $1,332 2
Utah South Jordan $45,168 $1,418 1
Vermont Burlington $26,901 $797 4
Virginia Leesburg $49,313 $1,545 2
Washington Richland $42,015 $1,010 3
West Virginia Charleston $29,200 $727 3
Wisconsin Wauwatosa $51,063 $1,071 1
Wyoming Casper $35,799 $859 2

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Kathy Morris

Kathy is the head of content at Zippia with a knack for engaging audiences. Prior to joining Zippia, Kathy worked at Gateway Blend growing audiences across diverse brands. She graduated from Troy University with a degree in Social Science Education.

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