If you focus only on the averages, life in the typical American town frankly doesn't seem so hot right now. The median home continues to lose value. Cash-strapped state and local governments are cutting services. And unemployment, at 9.3%, is still high
But those bummer statistics obscure one important-and encouraging-fact: There are plenty of outliers. MONEY found them through its annual search for the best places in America, which this year focused on the nation's small cities (those with populations of 50,000 to 300,000). Reporters crunched reams of data to find the optimal combo of job opportunities, fiscal strength, top-notch schools, low crime, good health care, lots to do, and many other factors that help make a town great for raising a family.
And because numbers don't tell you anything about charm and community spirit, reporters visited 30 of the highest-ranked towns in person. Those that made the cut landed on MONEY's top 10 list. As you'll see, these places are anything but average.