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Union County Represents 4 of top 5 Best Cities for Young Families in North Carolina

10 February 2015


Few states can claim to have made more changes over the past few decades than North Carolina. Not only has the state modernized its economy — from agriculture to one of the nation’s fastest-growing centers for software and technology services, biotech and life sciences — the state’s economic prospects, affordable housing and moderate climate have attracted new residents from across the nation. According to an analysis by the New York Times, in 1980, 76% of North Carolina residents were natives. Today, that number has shrunk to 58%, with a large number of newcomers coming from the Northeast, the Midwest and, increasingly, from outside the U.S.

By some measures, the economic recovery has been stronger in North Carolina than in the nation as a whole. Although the state’s most recent unemployment rate of 5.8% matches the national average, its post-recession high of 11.3% in January 2010 was higher than the national rate. The improving employment picture, affordability and more make North Carolina one of the nation’s top destinations for young families.

NerdWallet found the communities in the Tar Heel State that offer young families the best combination of solid schools, friendly neighbors and affordability in our analysis of 123 cities, towns and census-designated places in North Carolina.

Key takeaways

Top picks are larger towns and smaller hamlets. Whether young families prefer small communities or large suburbs, they can find the right size. Of the top 10, four cities have larger populations, while the number of residents in three places is among the smallest in the state.

Top towns are more expensive. Every city in the top 10 has a median home price above the state median of $150,600. Most communities have excellent schools and a high proportion of families with children, so those benefits can outweigh the costs of housing.

Greater Raleigh-Durham and Charlotte. Eight of the top 10 cities, one less than our last top 10 list, are in the Raleigh-Durham or Charlotte metropolitan areas.

What we analyzed

Home affordability. We looked at median home value and selected monthly homeowner costs to prioritize affordable communities.

Prosperity and growth. Looking at current and past family incomes, we calculated the income of residents, as well as the projected long-term growth of each city.

Quality of education. We looked at ratings from GreatSchools to find the best schools for young families.

Family friendliness. This year, we added a new component to our methodology — the percentage of families with school-age children and the poverty rate for young children. This measure helps determine if an area is not only affordable for families, but if it is also a healthy one for children.

Best cities for young families in North Carolina

1. Waxhaw

Waxhaw may be only 23 miles south of Charlotte, but this community of 10,244 wears its small-town badge proudly. Families are attracted by ongoing events around the town’s Main Street, including First Fridays, with its focus on local restaurants and retailers; the Jammin’ By The Tracks concert series, which takes place every Friday during the summer; and the Dickens of a Christmas event, which brings “A Christmas Carol” to life in suburban Charlotte. Aside from its lively social calendar, Waxhaw is relatively affordable, with a median home value of $231,000, which is below the top 10 average of $250,000. It also has excellent schools (it earned a GreatSchools rating of 9 out of 10) and nearly half of family households have children younger than 18.

2. Marvin

The Irish playwright Sean O’Casey once wrote: “Money does not make you happy, but it quiets the nerves.” While we aren’t claiming that residents of Marvin are unhappy (in fact, North Carolina is one of the happiest states in the country), this Charlotte suburb is actually the most expensive town not only in the top 10, but also in all of the places we analyzed. However, Marvin offers a nearly unmatched package for the price. Schools are top notch — it is one of three places in our top 10 with a perfect 10 score from GreatSchools, and Marvin’s three public high schools rank among the top 15 in the entire state. Additionally, family incomes have grown nearly 85% since 1999, the largest gain in the top 10. And 72% of family households in the village have at least one child under 18, the highest proportion in the entire state.

3. Holly Springs

Education is integral to understanding Holly Springs. This fast-growing town in Wake County, near the Research Triangle, gives residents direct access to North Carolina’s center for technology, medicine and biotech. In turn, 53.5% of Holly Springs residents hold a college degree or higher, which is more than 20 percentage points higher than the national average. Though the town is near some of the most important institutions in the state, Holly Springs still holds onto and continues to build its own identity. Events such as Hollyfest and the annual Christmas Parade are local favorites, and the Holly Springs Cultural Center, which is home to a performing arts center and outdoor stage, has become a regional destination.

4. Stallings

Stallings is something of a forgotten treasure for young families. Only 27% of family households have at least one child under 18, the lowest in the top 10, and that rate has fallen from 32% in 2000. The town has a GreatSchools rating of 10, and by far the lowest cost of living among cities with a perfect schools rating.

5. Indian Trail

Much like the balanced skillset that Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton has developed in recent years, Indian Trail has similarly developed a strategy for making it a magnet for young families. The number of households with young children has grown 10% since 2000, in a place with a median home value of $172,600. Indian Trail also holds many events throughout the year, including the Halloween Trunk or Treat and the Piedmont Cultural Arts Festival. After watching Newton pass and run his way through defenses, active young families might enjoy their post-game Sunday afternoons at Colonel Francis Beatty Park, which features biking trails and kayaking and fishing, too.


Splash pad at Stallings Park at night.


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