Evans, Georgia

For an extended look at why Evans topped our list, click here.

When Bershawn and Cheena Bunch decided to return to the South in 2016 after nearly two decades in the Midwest, they looked for a home where they could find new jobs, affordable rent, and top-rated schools for their three kids.

They settled on Evans, Georgia, just 10 minutes northwest of Augusta. While the Bunches weren’t sure what to expect, almost immediately Cheena landed a position at a payment processing company. A year later they owned a five-bedroom house in a neighborhood with a community pool, basketball and tennis courts.

“I don’t think it could possibly have worked out any better,” says Bershawn, who became a realtor in 2018.

A city of 36,000 perched on the Savannah River (which also forms Georgia’s border with South Carolina), Evans has been fast attracting new arrivals with plenty of good-paying jobs in healthcare, administration and the military nearby.

Of all the U.S. towns and cities we looked at this year, Evans had the lowest cost of living of any place with similarly high income levels.

One reason is nearby Augusta, which has 11 hospitals and the only public medical school in Georgia. But the biggest employer in the area is the U.S. Army’s Fort Gordon, which employs about 30,000 and growing: The U.S. Army Cyber Command relocated here from Washington D.C. earlier this year.

The upshot is that, in the past five years, Evans enjoyed a 17% increase in its employed population, according to Moody’s Analytics. And that number is expected to jump another 9% in the next five years. Despite the pandemic, unemployment in the area was just 5.2% in June, less than half the national average of 11.1%.

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Evans also scored extremely high on Money’s diversity scale — another advantage local residents attribute in part to the strong military presence. Of the nearly 2,000 places Money assessed, Evans ranked second overall. Our diversity score doesn’t just look at demographics, but is also designed to measure segregation, by looking at race and income data block-by-block.

When George Floyd’s death led to nationwide protests this past summer, Demetric Hillman — a longtime resident and an active member of Evans High School’s parent-teacher-student association — didn’t know what to expect. But the county held a protest in the park, and she was pleasantly surprised by local leaders’ willingness to listen and further the conversation.

“I just saw a level of community involvement I’ve never seen before,” says Hillman, who’s Black and a mother of two. “Those are the things that draw more diversity and great families [who] just want that place for their kids to grow up.”

That family friendliness — also reflected in Evans’s top schools and affordable homes — is a big draw. And it’s a key reason it rises to the top in our rankings.

“I have people who come from out of state, and they do their research, and they’re like ‘find me a house in the Columbia County School District,’” says real estate agent Venus Morris Griffin. “Which is Evans, of course.”

With so many new arrivals, residential construction in Evans is barely keeping up with demand. Still homes remain attainable for most middle-class families, with a median price of $241,000 in the first quarter – well below the national median $266,000.

In addition to Augusta (many Evans residents earn extra money renting out their homes for its famous golf tournament), Atlanta is about two hours to the west. Classic southern weekend getaway spots like the historic cities of Savannah and Charleston are about three hours in the other direction.

— Prachi Bhardwaj

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