Forget the big city: Move to North Dakota

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College students often dream of landing a high-paying job on Wall Street, of occupying a corner office in Silicon Valley, of taking the streets of D.C. by storm or of working for a glamorous company in a glamorous city.

But is moving to “glamorous” cities like Los Angeles, Chicago, New York City or Washington, D.C., the smartest thing for young professionals to do?

Statistics and experts say no.

“I don’t think graduates and students think as creatively about the opportunities that are out there as they could,” said Vaughn Worthen, associate director of BYU’s Counseling and Career Center.

Richard Barrington, a chartered financial analyst and personal finance expert at Moneyrates.com, advised students to consider job markets and locations with an open mind.

“It’s worth looking at the numbers because they often run counter to what people think,” Barrington said.

Barrington added that since the United States is such a large, diverse country, it is home to more than one economy.

“Things might be very different in different states,” Barrington said. “We live in a big country, and there’s just not one economy. There might be 50 economies, and that’s why you see so many differences.”

The 10 best states for young professionals may be surprising, but after considering a variety of both economic and lifestyle factors that matter to young people, it is clear that young professionals should look much farther than the big city when looking for the perfect place to start a career.

The top 10 states for young people:

A hiker overlooks the North Dakota Badlands. Photo courtesy North Dakota Tourism.
A hiker overlooks the North Dakota Badlands. Photo courtesy North Dakota Tourism.

1. North Dakota

Though few college students have cities in North Dakota on their list of post-graduate dream cities, it is “a modern-day gold rush,” according to Russ Sullivan, managing director of Accelerated Data Decision, Inc., a national executive recruiting and business consulting firm based in Augusta, N.J.

“North Dakota is hiring like crazy. They can’t hire fast enough,” Sullivan said.

With the nation’s lowest unemployment rates and highest job growth, North Dakota is a mecca for recent college graduates. With its abundance of jobs, relatively low cost of living and high state health rank, North Dakota should be on every college student’s radar.

  • 2013 unemployment rate for 20–24 year olds: 5.1%

  • 2013 job growth: 3.2%

  • Number of Inc. 5000 companies: 10

  • Average salary: $51,893

  • Car ownership costs (annual): $2,907

  • Average rental rate (monthly): $883

  • Percentage of 20–29 year olds: 16.2 percent

  • Healthfulness rank: 12

Rodeo is South Dakota's state sport. South Dakota is one of the best states for young people.
Rodeo is South Dakota’s state sport. South Dakota is one of the best states for young people. Photo courtesy South Dakota Department of Tourism.

2. South Dakota

Though South Dakota didn’t dominate any category as did its neighbor to the north, it has above-average scores in all categories save healthfulness, where it falls just outside of the top 50 percent. In addition to having the third-most-affordable vehicle costs in the country, South Dakota has low unemployment rates, high job growth and a fairly low cost of living.

  • 2013 unemployment rate for 20–24 year olds: 9.4 percent

  • 2013 Job growth: 1.83 percent

  • Number of Inc. 5000 companies: 3

  • Average salary: $43,659

  • Car ownership costs (annual): $2,343

  • Average rental rate (monthly): $786

  • Percentage of 20–29 year olds: 13.9 percent

  • Healthfulness rank: 27

The State Capitol Building overlooking Denver's freeway system
The State Capitol Building overlooking Denver’s freeway system. Photo courtesy Colorado Tourism.

3. Colorado

Though its unemployment rates leave something to be desired, Colorado has experienced high amounts of job growth within the last three years and is home to 134 of Inc.’s 5,000 fastest growing companies.

Colorado is also one of the healthiest states in the country and has a high volume of young adults, making up for its lackluster unemployment rates.

  • 2013 unemployment rate for 20–24 year olds: 12.9 percent

  • 2013 job growth: 2.26%

  • Number of Inc. 5000 companies: 134

  • Average salary: $45,135

  • Car ownership costs (annual): $3,381

  • Average rental rate (monthly): $1,231

  • Percentage of 20–29 year olds: 14.3 percent

  • Healthfulness rank: 11

St Paul skyline and Mississippi River from Indian Mounds Park.
St Paul skyline and Mississippi River from Indian Mounds Park. Photo courtesy Explore Minnesota Tourism.

4. Minnesota

Armed with the country’s 11th-highest average salary, Minnesota’s high health rank, high job growth and low unemployment rates make it an attractive place for young people.

  • 2013 unemployment rate for 20–24 year olds: 7.7 percent

  • 2013 job growth: 2.31 percent

  • Number of Inc. 5000 companies: 88

  • Average salary: $46,227

  • Car ownership costs (annual): $3,291

  • Average rental rate (monthly): $1,046

  • Percentage of 20–29 year olds: 13.7 percent

  • Healthfulness rank: 5

A skier at Park City Mountain Resort. Utah is home to the "best snow on earth" and is one of the best states for young people.
A skier at Park City Mountain Resort. Utah is home to the “best snow on earth” and is one of the best states for young people. AP photo.

5. Utah

Being home to the nation’s highest percentage of 20–29 year olds isn’t Utah’s only attraction — it has the second highest job growth rate and incredibly low unemployment rates. Utah has a moderate cost of living and is one of the healthiest states in the country.

  • 2013 unemployment rate for 20–24 year olds: 7.7%

  • 2013 job growth: 2.65 percent

  • Number of Inc. 5000 companies: 95

  • Average salary: $34,691

  • Car ownership costs (annual): $3,101

  • Average rental rate (monthly): $935

  • Percentage of 20–29 year olds: 16.5 percent

  • Healthfulness rank: 7

Rafting Payette River in Idaho.
Rafting Payette River in Idaho. Photo courtesy Idaho Tourism.

6. Idaho

Not only does Idaho have the lowest average housing rental rate in the country, it has the ninth lowest average vehicle costs as well. Coupled with the nation’s third highest job growth rate and a higher-than-average health rank, Idaho is a prime spot for young adults, though it does lose points for fairly high unemployment rates.

  • 2013 unemployment rate for 20–24 year olds: 14.0 percent

  • 2013 job growth: 2.49 percent

  • Number of Inc. 5000 companies: 17

  • Average salary: $33,749

  • Car ownership costs (annual): $2,792

  • Average rental rate (monthly): $703

  • Percentage of 20–29 year olds: 13.7 percent

  • Healthfulness rank: 17

The Omaha, Neb. skyline. Nebraska is one of the best states for young people.
The Omaha skyline. Nebraska is one of the best states for young people. Photo courtesy Nebraska Tourism.

7. Nebraska

The cost of owning a car is higher than average in Nebraska, but the state is well ahead of much of the country in terms of unemployment rates, healthfulness, housing rental rates and the percentage of young people.

  • 2013 unemployment rate for 20–24 year olds: 7.0 percent

  • 2013 job growth: 1.06 percent

  • Number of Inc. 5000 companies: 27

  • Average salary: $43,143

  • Car ownership costs (annual): $3,571

  • Average rental rate (monthly): $854

  • Percentage of 20–29 year olds: 14.2 percent

  • Healthfulness rank: 15

Bostom Customs House by night.
Bostom Customs House by night. Photo courtesy Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism.

8. Massachusetts

Massachusetts is home to the country’s second highest average salary, as well as 182 of the country’s fastest growing companies. Though car ownership and housing rental rates are on the high end, Massachusetts is one of the healthiest states in the country.

  • 2013 unemployment rate for 20–24 year olds: 9.2 percent

  • 2013 job growth: 1.73 percent

  • Number of Inc. 5000 companies: 182

  • Average salary: $54,687

  • Car ownership costs (annual): $3,625

  • Average rental rate (monthly): $1,980

  • Percentage of 20–29 year olds: 14.0 percent

  • Healthfulness rank: 4

Houston, as pictured here, is the energy capital of the world and is one of the best cities for young people. Photo courtesy Texas Tourism.
Houston, as pictured here, is the energy capital of the world and is one of the best cities for young people. Photo courtesy Texas Tourism.

9. Texas

Texas houses 387 of the country’s fastest growing companies and is ranked fourth in the country in terms of job growth. Not only is Houston considered the energy capital of the world, oil and gas has essentially turned the entire state into a boomtown.

Moving to a boom state might be disconcerting and even worrisome to some college graduates, but both Barrington and Worthen said it shouldn’t worry young professionals because they are young, mobile and capable of moving around.

“You want to look and see what kind of boom a town is experiencing, because some booms might be self-sustaining,” Worthen said. “Young people don’t have to worry about them being a flash in the pan.”

It is one of the least healthy states in America, but Texas has fairly low unemployment rates, a moderate cost of living and also has the sixth highest percentage of 20–29 year olds.

  • 2013 unemployment rate for 20–24 year olds: 10.8 percent

  • 2013 job growth: 2.49 percent

  • Number of Inc. 5000 companies: 387

  • Average salary: $41,471

  • Car ownership costs (annual): $3,078

  • Average rental rate (monthly): $1,089

  • Percentage of 20–29 year olds: 14.6 percent

  • Healthfulness rank: 40

Seattle's distinct skyline is a hallmark of Washington, one of the best states for young people.
Seattle’s distinct skyline is a hallmark of Washington, one of the best states for young people. Photo courtesy Visit Seattle.

10. Washington

Washington has seen a great amount of job growth during the last several years and scores points for being home to 130 of the country’s fastest growing companies. Washington has a slightly higher-than-average cost of living but is one of the healthiest states in the country and has a fairly higher percentage of 20–24 year olds.

  • 2013 Unemployment rate for 20–24 year olds: 12.0 percent

  • 2013 Job growth: 2.13 percent

  • Number of Inc. 5000 companies: 130

  • Average salary: $45,412

  • Car ownership costs (annual): #3,377

  • Average rental rate (monthly): $1,224

  • Percentage of 20–29 year olds: 14.0 percent

  • Healthfulness rank: 13

When considering where to move after graduation, Worthen said students need to know themselves, their interests and goals well.

“You might give up a job that looks better on paper for another job because you have good reasons to,” Worthen said. “Be willing to ask yourself, ‘What really matters to me? What is it that is really important? What are my markers for success?’ Not success career-wise, but just balancing life. And then make sure you’re evaluating those as you weigh your career options.”

Sullivan said young adults should view building their career, wherever the location, in the same manner as building a house, in that building one’s dream career happens gradually and only with a lot of hard work, time and effort.

“Don’t think of it as having to be with a company for 30 years,” Sullivan said. “No matter what you’re pursuing, just stay persistent. … There’s really no trick to it. Just persistence.”

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