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When Alex and Kristen Lanio, 52 and 43, decided to relocate their chocolate-making company from Newport, R.I., to the Dallas–Fort Worth area in 2011, they had plenty of business-friendly, affordable towns to choose from. Once they walked through downtown McKinney, with its brick buildings and cobblestone streets, they knew they’d found the place. “Around here, everyone says hello and stops to chat,” says Alex. “It’s a truly hometown feeling.”
Underlying McKinney’s homey Southern charm is a thoroughly modern city. The area is a hotbed for growth-industry jobs. Raytheon recently brought a 3,600-employee division to town, and companies in green energy, aviation, and medical services have also moved to the region. Next up: a Sheraton hotel and conference center opening in February. Other Fortune 500 companies are a 15- to 45-minute commute away.
Career and college prep are big in McKinney’s schools. AP courses start in middle school, and high schoolers can get internships in a range of industries. Technology is central; grade schoolers get lessons on wired smartboards, and starting in January, every high school freshman will be issued a MacBook Air laptop.
The historic downtown houses a mix of art galleries, boutiques, and farm-to-table restaurants, as well as basics like a butcher, shoe repair, and farm-supplies stores. Mark Strange, 41, who relocated from California two years ago for his job at Fossil, an accessories manufacturer, says that living downtown was a no-brainer for him, his wife, Patrizia Montanari, and their two young children. “It’s a mix of European, East Coast, and West Coast here,” adds Montanari, 36, a photographer. “You get culture and more country charm for less money than what you’d find in Dallas.”
Housing options range from restored Victorians to Texas-style mansions. With three-bedrooms averaging in the low $200,000s, the price is still right, though the market is heating up. For Americo and Silvana Galdos, 37 and 34, who moved back to McKinney last year after a stint in Mississippi, that meant getting outbid a few times before they clinched the deal. They ultimately landed a great house, right across from a park, where they and their three kids walk the dog or go for bike rides. “There’s so much nature around us,” says Americo, a manager for a car manufacturer, “it’s easy to forget you’re in a city.”
Want to live large in our #1 Best Place? This Italian villa, complete with a wine cellar and a swim-up poolside bar, is the most expensive home on the market in McKinney: