1. Apex, N.C.

Population 42,150
Median Income $88,558
Job Growth 15.5%
Median Home Price $243,125
Property Tax $2,448

Apex has all the things you’d expect in the No. 1 place to live: a charming downtown, top-notch schools, and the kind of community spirit that draws 15,000 people, or more than a third of the population, to the annual PeakFest street fair. It also has something else: high-paying tech-industry jobs that help make the quality of life here second to none. And unlike that other technology hub on the West Coast, Apex is still affordable. A three-bedroom home costs an average of $265,000, vs. more than $1 million for a comparable house in Silicon Valley.

The engine powering the local job market is the 7,000-acre Research Triangle Park, 18 miles away. More than 200 companies, including IBM, Cisco, and pharma giant GlaxoSmithKline, have offices there and employ upwards of 50,000 workers.

So strong is the pull of area jobs that Stan and Portia Wilson, 52 and 48, relocated their family of five here from Tyler, Texas, in 2010 without work lined up. “We moved on a leap of faith,” says Stan, who is now a salesman at Johnson & Johnson; Portia is an elementary school teacher.

Proximity to the tech hub also gives a boost to the local schools, already among the state’s best. Apex High School offers the Academy of Information Technology, a four-year program that exposes students to the IT field through coursework and internships. When she took part, the Wilsons’ oldest daughter, Paris, now 18, learned coding and software management.

With so many attractive qualities, Apex has seen its population double since 2000. The town has taken steps to address the rapid growth, including a new toll road that cut the commute time to Research Triangle in half, to 20 minutes. And the just-opened Apex Friendship High School, with cutting-edge technology like 70-inch monitors in every classroom and 3-D printers, relieves overcrowding at Apex High.

The community has also managed to retain its close-knit vibe, even as the population has grown, with events like a weekly farmers’ market and an annual jazz festival. “We do a lot with our neighbors,” says Jeisa Pelet, 31, who moved from Boston in 2013 with husband Alex Torres, 34. “It makes for a nice environment to raise a family.”—Daniel Bortz

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