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Best deals*
for tech pros

U.S. Region
Affordability Index
Salt Lake City
Mid-South U.S.
Central Florida
Portland, Ore.
N. Carolina
South Florida
St. Louis
Great Plains
Kansas City
Upstate N.Y.
Hartford, Conn.

Worst deals*
for tech pros
U.S. Region Affordability Index
N.Y./N.J. 52
Bay Area 77
Los Angeles 83
Alaska 86
San Diego 89
Philadelphia 91
Boston 92
Pittsburgh 93
Wisconsin 94
Las Vegas 94
Cleveland 95
Mountain States 96
Sacramento 97
Minnesota 98
Columbus, Ohio 98

* Calculation based on Sept. 2001 salary data from more than 100,000 tech professionals working in 38 different U.S. metro areas, and on cost of living info from ACCRA.

Index is based on an average of 100 [Detroit]. Indices higher than 100 indicate ares where relative value of salary is higher than average.

Which market has the best deal?
Our latest affordability index shows Texas has the best salary-living costs mix.

By Nick Doty

Texas offers the best mix of top tech salaries and low cost-of-living, making it a prime location for job-seeking techies to consider, according to the latest Affordability Index.

The Index weighs ACCRA's Cost of Living Index [COLI] against average IT salary in the 38 most popular US job markets. The study pegs the national average salary and COLI at 100. Job markets ranked from a high of 118 – meaning your salary will go 18 percent farther in that market than the national average, to a low of 52.

'Dallas doesn't see a lot of the side effects that other big cities experience after growth.'
– Marya Morris, American Planning Association

Tech layoffs – and an employer's market – have given thousands of techies new incentives to find a better place to live and work. Unemployed folks accustomed to the high cost-high pay lifestyle in Silicon Valley and Silicon Alley, for example, say they're searching for alternatives to the high cost/no pay realities they now face.

The three largest cities in the president's old Texas stomping ground rank one, two and three on the affordability scale. Dallas (118), Houston (115), Austin (114), and their surrounding metro areas scored between 14 and 18 percent higher than the national average in relating average salaries to living costs. Salt Lake City and Atlanta round out the top five, while New York/New Jersey (52) and the Bay Area (77) score the lowest and second lowest, respectively.

Topography and growth's effects
Marya Morris, senior research associate for the American Planning Association, says Dallas' affordability ranking is true to form. "Dallas has very few limits or regulations on its growth." A lot of what makes a city's affordability is people's adaptation to its growth, says Morris. "Dallas doesn't see a lot of the side effects that other big cities experience after growth."

Long commutes, terrible traffic and sky-high housing costs, commonly associated with cities like New York, L.A. and Boston, are not nearly the norm in Texas, explains Morris. She adds that a city's physical location and its speed of growth can make a huge difference in affordability.

But the high marks for the sixth-best, D.C. market and follower Seattle (110) are more difficult to qualify, says Morris. The Affordability Index for Seattle "is somewhat surprising because the city is surrounded by water and mountains, has traffic problems and limited growth potential." Despite this, rising costs that most often tag on to great commercial, housing and job growth have been slower to neutralize pay increases.

For non-residents, D.C. might surprise some to be included among the top 10 on the Affordability Index, considering its high concentration of government jobs, which typically pay much less than the private sector, and its grossly expensive housing within city limits. But with the sixth highest average salary ($70,400) and the convenient commuting ability from more affordable ring areas, such as Arlington, Va., D.C. offers perks most big cities can't match.

The variable Midwest
With the exception of Chicago – not far behind D.C. in affordability – a lot of those markets further down the stick hail from the Midwest.

Techies who've never lived through a north Midwest winter might wonder how life in the twin cities of Minneapolis-St. Paul or Madison, Wisc., could be less affordable than the Windy City. But when winter comes earlier and stays later, those winter jackets and heating costs add up.

Don't confuse affordability with livability, however. While the Twin Cities has a below-average Affordability Index of 98, it, like Madison, are consistently ranked by various publications, such as Fortune and Money magazines, as two of the most livable cities in America.

Although they might better Chicago in children's education, health care and low crime rates, their Midwestern neighbor offers higher average salaries and better, cheaper forms of public transportation. Hence, the best tech location for you might center on what you think is more important: affordability or livability.

'Pockets of affordability'
While you might agree with the popular opinion that the best jobs are found in the least affordable places, keep in mind that some very expensive cities offer "many pockets of affordability," says Morris. She adds that where the Bay Area falls short as a "sphere of unaffordability", D.C. and other regions succeed.

David Cardwell, vice president of finance and technology for the National Multi-Housing Council, points out that affordability was a major concern when major corporations decided to move their headquarters south over the last decade. This differs from a previous tradition of relocating companies specifically to where the most techies are [i.e. the Bay Area.] He says that this trend is intertwined with the creation of more affordable places to live and that a great byproduct of both is more jobs.

Affordability might not be your first concern when pondering where to live and work in IT. The job itself, a region's overall quality of life, and proximity to family all come into play. But before you up and move to a new job in a different part of the country, consider that your potential $85,000 salary in Manhattan, N.Y., will buy you a lot less in the New York City area than a $65,000 salary in D.C.

Notes: Costs of living from ACCRA include everything from housing costs to typical grocery expenses. ACCRA is a nonprofit organization that specializes in research for economic and community development.

The APA is a public interest and research organization for urban and rural development.

– former analytics director Shuman Lee contributed to this report.

Nick Doty is the editorial director at with a background in writing, editing, newspaper management, and project management.

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