100 Most Popular Small Cities To Relocate – 2020

Small cities offer the allure of big-city action while also being affordable and less crowded.

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Small cities were a magnet for movers in 2020. From Zoom Towns to Gig Cities, affordable, spacious, and livable spots are seeing sustained growth.

Remote work has been trending for some time, but with pandemic restrictions, the world began to speed full-throttle towards a near-universal work-from-home lifestyle. With less need to commute to work, a recent Gallup poll revealed 48% of Americans are now interested in moving to a small town or rural area.

Remote work requires only a high-speed internet connection and a place to plug in. This new flexibility opens up the possibility to relocate to far-off, middle-of-nowhere communities (natural social-distancing?) or scenic, seaside spots for some fresh and cleansing air.

Whatever the reason for the move, people headed to smaller cities can help revive, diversify, and bring new life to less populous communities throughout the nation. Plus, smaller cities offer affordability and lifestyle opportunities that crowded metropoles simply cannot.

We’ve collected and indexed a list of the most sought-out small cities among those who relocated in 2020.

Our list ranges from neighborly towns with populations of 5,000 to more robust cities of 50,000, both suburban and rural. Some sit on the edge of sprawling cities, such as Katy, Texas, just west of Houston. Others are peaceful, beachside paradises (Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and Naples, Florida). Remote workers may already be familiar with places like Burlington, Vermont, a long-time attraction for “the remotes.”  And with 23 small cities located in the Sunshine State, we don’t see the Florida-bound moving trend dying down anytime soon.

To see the full list of small cities most popular with movers, check out the full index below.

The Data: Where Movers are Looking to Relocate

Using proprietary data from our own moveBuddha Moving Cost Calculator, we could determine which small cities in the U.S. were most searched as moving destinations in 2020.

Our list is sorted by the most searched, so you can easily see which cities movers were interested in moving to in 2020.

We define small cities as those with a population ranging from 5,000 to 50,000. Some of these are small suburban areas, and others are rural towns.

Supporting & Contextual Census Data

Why might small cities be so attractive at the moment? Our list of growing small cities includes U.S. Census data points to contextualize the quality-of-life issues that are fueling their growth. It’s important to note that this information is a mix of data collected from 2010 to 2019.

There are many different reasons for Americans moving in 2020. A Pew Research survey found that as 2020 progressed, the reasoning shifted. In June 2020 a majority of 28% cited “Risk of COVID-19” as their most important reason for moving, whereas in November 33% of Americans stated “Financial Reasons” were their number one motivation..

Whatever your reason, these data points are here to serve as further insight into the popular small-town destinations for movers.

Population Density:

In 2018, the UN reported 55% of the world living in urban areas. Under normal circumstances, these dense cities are attractive for economic growth and job opportunities. Plus, they provide ample infrastructure for residents such as public transportation, socio-cultural activities, and healthcare services.

While population density and its relation to the spread of coronavirus is complicated, megacities in pandemic times can become vulnerable. Cases can spread more quickly due to crowded transportation services and shared living spaces. Surges in cases put U.S. medical systems under strain when the number of coronavirus patients outweighs the number of hospital beds.

It stands to reason that coronavirus and social distancing measures might have encouraged people to leave dense urban areas struggling with high coronavirus case counts.

The United States’ average population density is 90 people per square mile.

Population density typically decreases as we move away from urban centers or areas with high-rise apartment buildings. NYC is a good example of this, with an overall density value of almost 28,000 people per square mile. When you look closer, Manhattan has the highest population density (71,000), while Brooklyn (36,000), Queens (21,000), and the Bronx (34,000) have lower densities. (New York City, Population Density)

Does Population Density Impact Spread of Disease?

We are still living through the pandemic, so research on the role population density plays in the spread of COVID-19 cases is limited.

One recent data study conducted in November 2020 from the American Institute of Physics indicates that in a global pandemic, movement from big cities to smaller towns indicates a better overall outcome for a reduced spread of disease (vs. shutting down borders).

Whereas others argue that there are not yet enough studies to support the conclusion that population density has an influence on the spread of viruses.

Commute time :

The average commute in the U.S. is 26 minutes for workers 16 years or older according to Census data collected from 2015-2019. This time to travel includes time spent waiting for public transportation, picking up passengers in carpools, and other activities related to getting to work.

33.3% of commuters in a 2020 OnePoll survey reported feeling “strongly” or “somewhat” anxious or agitated thanks to their commute. In a 2019 survey from Robert Half focused on 28 major U.S. cities, 50% of employees said traveling to and from work is stressful.

While many of those moving to smaller cities may work remotely, according to the U.S. Census Bureau the number of minutes it takes to travel to work can shed light on a city’s transportation infrastructure and provide researchers with tools to study how commute impacts population health and subjective well-being.

Median Household Income:

The Median Household Income is the combined gross income of all household members 15 and older. In 2019, the U.S. median household income was $68,703.

The median income is the middle point of the population’s household income, where half the people in the city earn more, and the other half earn less. Household income across the nation can vary dramatically. A one-person household will have a very different income profile than a household with four working-age individuals earning separate incomes. Often this number is used to measure how well people are living in an area and compare it with the poverty rate: the poverty threshold for a family of four in 2019 was $26,172.

Median household income can also help understand the cost-of-living in a particular community or city. For example, West Virginia has some of the lowest median household incomes in the country ($44,097) but a very low debt-to-income ratio. By comparison, pay rates are typically much higher in Washington, D.C., but so is the debt-to-income ratio. This typically is a reflection of the lower vs. higher cost-of-living in each respective area. Where a lower cost of living makes it possible to get by with lower wages in West Virginia, expensive cities like D.C. often have higher wages to match.

Percentage of 25+ with Higher Education:

Higher education data is collected by the U.S. Census to help understand generational changes in education and to evaluate the average education of the local workforce. Over time census data has indicated that individuals with degrees have higher lifetime earnings, lower unemployment, and better health outcomes.

About 36% of the U.S. population aged 25 and older have completed four or more years of college according to 2015-2019 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates.

According to the USDA Economic Research Service, adults aged 25-64 with lower education have a higher unemployment rate in rural areas (2010 to 2015).

In a review in 2006 from the Institute of Education at the University of London, researchers suggested that higher education may positively influence mental and physical health behavior.
While higher education is certainly not a necessary path for everyone, cities with higher percentages of 4+ more years of university education may indicate a competitive local labor market and a healthier community.

Full Table – Top 100 Small Towns for 2020-2021

# City State Population Land Area (Sq. Mi.) Density Median Household Income Commute Time (Minutes) Bachelor’s degree or higher
1 Naples Florida 22,088 12.61 0.06% $107,013 19.6 57%
2 Myrtle Beach South Carolina 34,695 23.32 0.07% $43,200 17.5 29%
3 Venice Florida 23,985 15.27 0.06% $60,086 22.2 41%
4 Burlington Vermont 42,819 10.31 0.02% $51,394 18.6 53%
5 Bozeman Montana 49,831 19.12 0.04% $55,569 14.4 59%
6 Hilton Head Island South Carolina 39,861 41.36 0.10% $84,575 18.5 54%
7 Avon Park Florida 10,689 7.15 0.07% $30,750 18.8 10%
8 Bluffton South Carolina 25,557 51.3 0.20% $82,481 25.8 46%
9 Prescott Arizona 44,299 41.34 0.09% $55,734 17.8 38%
10 Shelbyville Tennessee 22,101 18.61 0.08% $41,716 22.7 11%
11 Eagle Idaho 29,796 28.92 0.10% $92,807 21.5 47%
12 Estero Florida 33,871 25.37 0.07% $82,054 25.6 48%
13 Palm Springs California 48,518 94.12 0.19% $53,441 21.5 40%
14 Kalispell Montana 24,565 11.64 0.05% $50,294 15 30%
15 Sedona Arizona 10,339 19.14 0.19% $61,470 16.4 50%
16 Bangor Maine 32,262 34.26 0.11% $46,625 16.9 36%
17 Aiken South Carolina 30,869 20.7 0.07% $56,199 23.2 41%
18 Mooresville North Carolina 39,132 20.93 0.05% $69,188 25.4 40%
19 Panama City Florida 34,667 29.28 0.08% $43,953 20.3 24%
20 Davenport Florida 6,005 3.22 0.05% $48,182 35 23%
21 Helena Montana 33,124 16.35 0.05% $61,324 12.7 48%
22 Fernandina Beach Florida 13,169 11.13 0.08% $63,942 24.2 41%
23 Holly Springs North Carolina 37,812 15.01 0.04% $112,029 28.1 58%
24 Winter Garden Florida 46,051 15.41 0.03% $73,739 28.8 41%
25 Star Idaho 10,532 5.82 0.06% $65,282 28.4 30%
26 Zephyrhills Florida 16,456 8.88 0.05% $36,260 27 13%
27 Crossville Tennessee 11,779 19.97 0.17% $34,113 17.6 17%
28 Vero Beach Florida 17,503 11.44 0.07% $48,844 16.5 34%
29 Lexington South Carolina 22,157 8.87 0.04% $72,996 25.4 44%
30 Fairbanks Alaska 30,917 31.69 0.10% $62,602 13.5 27%
31 Punta Gorda Florida 20,369 15.01 0.07% $61,395 23.4 39%
32 Palm Beach Florida 8,816 4.18 0.05% $141,348 22.9 68%
33 Branson Missouri 11,630 20.63 0.18% $46,319 20.5 23%
34 Matthews North Carolina 33,138 17.11 0.05% $84,594 28.9 53%
35 Spartanburg South Carolina 37,399 19.77 0.05% $40,053 20.3 30%
36 Park City Utah 8,526 17.57 0.21% $111,000 20 61%
37 Katy Texas 21,729 11.26 0.05% $83,091 31.4 35%
38 Pullman Washington 34,506 9.88 0.03% $31,487 12.5 65%
39 Cody Wyoming 9,788 10.2 0.10% $60,404 13.4 38%
40 Brentwood Tennessee 42,783 41.18 0.10% $168,688 26.1 76%
41 Prosper Texas 24,579 22.58 0.09% $146,733 34.9 57%
42 Hardeeville South Carolina 7,278 45.16 0.62% $68,365 24.8 38%
43 Destin Florida 14,247 7.69 0.05% $79,000 20.3 42%
44 Lady Lake Florida 16,020 8.07 0.05% $42,483 22.1 23%
45 Maryville Tennessee 29,742 16.8 0.06% $61,384 20.7 35%
46 Foley Alabama 20,391 25.77 0.13% $43,614 21.4 24%
47 Post Falls Idaho 36,250 14.07 0.04% $54,021 21.2 20%
48 Greer South Carolina 33,373 20.64 0.06% $61,744 23.7 33%
49 Rockwall Texas 45,888 27.68 0.06% $95,653 33 43%
50 Enterprise Alabama 28,376 31.24 0.11% $62,695 20.4 30%
51 Duluth Georgia 29,609 9.99 0.03% $71,220 31.3 48%
52 Spring Hill Tennessee 43,769 27.07 0.06% $90,778 31.7 47%
53 Loudon Tennessee 5,890 13.82 0.23% $41,860 19.7 13%
54 Annapolis Maryland 39,223 7.18 0.02% $85,636 27.7 47%
55 Portsmouth New Hampshire 21,927 15.64 0.07% $83,923 22.8 59%
56 Brooksville Florida 8,564 10.83 0.13% $32,203 22 22%
57 New Port Richey Florida 16,737 4.53 0.03% $35,384 30.1 14%
58 Fort Mill South Carolina 22,284 16.34 0.07% $91,061 26.3 48%
59 Charlottesville Virginia 47,266 10.24 0.02% $59,471 17 55%
60 Golden Colorado 20,767 9.92 0.05% $72,349 25.2 56%
61 Whitefish Montana 8,295 6.43 0.08% $52,037 17.3 54%
62 Rocky River Ohio 19,986 4.74 0.02% $74,950 24.4 59%
63 Hayden Idaho 15,434 9.6 0.06% $56,930 20.9 26%
64 Jacksonville Beach Florida 23,628 7.33 0.03% $91,037 23.9 57%
65 New Bern North Carolina 29,994 28.23 0.09% $43,204 19.6 28%
66 Columbia Tennessee 40,335 31.54 0.08% $49,284 27.9 19%
67 Cookeville Tennessee 34,706 32.68 0.09% $38,256 19.4 34%
68 Addison Texas 16,263 4.38 0.03% $74,986 22.9 56%
69 Pinehurst North Carolina 16,620 13.97 0.08% $82,081 23.3 59%
70 Leland North Carolina 23,544 19.78 0.08% $68,924 22.9 38%
71 Clermont Florida 38,654 13.63 0.04% $64,736 33 34%
72 Moscow Idaho 25,702 6.85 0.03% $41,896 15 56%
73 Bainbridge Island Washington 25,298 27.61 0.11% $117,990 40.8 72%
74 Sequim Washington 7,640 6.31 0.08% $40,155 21.7 28%
75 Gig Harbor Washington 10,717 5.95 0.06% $84,335 26.8 47%
76 Northampton Massachusetts 28,451 34.24 0.12% $66,522 21.6 60%
77 Waxhaw North Carolina 17,147 11.54 0.07% $111,642 34.4 57%
78 Lancaster Pennsylvania 59,265 7.23 0.01% $45,514 21 23%
79 Sandpoint Idaho 8,931 3.98 0.04% $43,938 15.5 32%
80 Richmond Texas 12,578 3.93 0.03% $43,071 25.6 18%
81 Winter Park Florida 30,825 8.68 0.03% $77,899 24.3 63%
82 Leesburg Florida 23,671 30.8 0.13% $37,092 23.5 15%
83 Watertown South Dakota 22,174 17.45 0.08% $50,971 14 22%
84 Kerrville Texas 23,754 20.3 0.09% $48,446 15.1 29%
85 Coffeyville Kansas 9,275 7.43 0.08% $33,750 13.7 17%
86 Madison Wisconsin 259,680 76.79 0.03% $65,332 19.6 58%
87 Maumee Ohio 13,669 9.89 0.07% $71,419 19.4 36%
88 Newport Rhode Island 24,334 7.67 0.03% $67,102 18.3 53%
89 Gainesville Georgia 43,232 31.93 0.07% $51,520 22.9 27%
90 Mesquite Nevada 19,726 31.9 0.16% $55,542 15.4 23%
91 Titusville Florida 46,580 29.37 0.06% $46,609 23.3 22%
92 Buford Georgia 15,522 17.01 0.11% $59,855 30.9 25%
93 North Myrtle Beach South Carolina 16,819 17.09 0.10% $60,982 21.5 34%
94 Mount Dora Florida 14,516 8.02 0.06% $48,690 25.9 33%
95 Astoria Oregon 10,015 6.16 0.06% $48,813 16.9 32%
96 Brunswick Maine 20,535 46.73 0.23% $59,922 21.1 48%
97 Augusta Maine 18,697 55.13 0.29% $43,796 16.8 26%
98 Mountain Home Arkansas 12,569 11.73 0.09% $40,408 10 18%
99 Seminole Florida 18,838 5.1 0.03% $53,975 26.3 32%
100 Montpelier Vermont 7,372 10.06 0.14% $65,078 19 62%

Methodology

We used proprietary data from our own moveBuddha Moving Cost Calculator and pod moving companies comparison tool. Comparing YoY data, we determined which small cities in the U.S. were most searched as moving destinations in 2020.

We also used a collection of Census data from 2010-2019.

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