Forbes names Manchester-Nashua as cheapest place to live

It’s hard to say just what it is about southern New Hampshire that lands our cities and towns on so many national “best of” lists.

At an office in New York City, there must be a complex formula measuring median income against the unemployment rate and the average temperature in July – or something equally as confusing – that produces one heck of an impressive number.

Nevertheless, last week, Forbes ranked the Manchester-Nashua area No. 1 on its list of America’s 100 Cheapest Places to live.

Yes, cheapest.

It topped a list filled mostly with mid-sized southern or midwestern cities; Tulsa, Minneapolis and Knoxville, Tenn. made the cut. It was one of only three metros in New England to get the distinction.

Forbes came up with the list by combing through federal data for all of the country’s 380 metropolitan areas. It whittled them down to 100 cheapest by looking at cost of living data and home affordability figures.

The tricky part is, affordability wasn’t really the only factor. The 100 cheapest metro areas were then rated across four quality of life measurements: violent crime rate, unemployment, average salary for college graduates and cultural opportunities.

That makes it a little easier to understand why the Nashua-Manchester region overcame a median home price well above the current national average of $169,000 to win the top prize.

At first, Nashua Mayor Donnalee Lozeau chuckled when she heard about the distinction. Then she got a little more serious.

“I always define Nashua as a very unique place,” she said. “The people that live here think of us as a big town that happens to be a city. Other people think of us a suburb of Boston. We have a great business community, a mix of high-tech, small business and retail. There are great restaurants and shops, and a downtown that’s welcoming and vibrant.

“It’s kind of this great mix of things happening here.”

Granted, it’s tough to complain about any sort of national nod. Nashua still claims bragging rights over being twice crowned the Best Place to Live in America – in 1987 and 1997. The city has been named among the safest cities and the best for raising kids.

But the Forbes writer that described why the Manchester-Nashua region took the top spot seemed, well, just a little confused about the area. To start, there was little distinction between the state’s two largest cities.

To locals, the idea of a combined Manchester-Nashua metro area may seem a little strange. But that’s a genuine government designation, used by the Office of Management and Budget for statistical purposes.

The writer, however, focused only on Manchester when explaining the distinction, leaving out Nashua like a forgotten kid sister.

“Among the U.S. cities with the most affordable housing and lowest cost of living, the Queen City offers the best combination of safety, employment opportunity and general quality of life,” the article, published Tuesday, said.

Surely, Nashua had something to do with it.

The piece also makes the mistake of boosting Manchester’s population nearly four times over to 400,000. In actuality, that figure is accurate for the entire Manchester-Nashua metro region.

And then there was BEA Systems, one of the companies lured to set up “back-office operations” in New Hampshire because of the state’s low taxes.

Wait, you mean BAE Systems, the sixth-largest defense contractor in the nation? The one that has some 4,000 employees in Nashua, Merrimack and Hudson?

Still, even though the No. 1 spot may have more to do with computer-aided statistical analysis from afar than intimate knowledge of southern New Hampshire, it never hurts to be recognized for something good.

“For Nashua, it’s terrific for us that we get attention,” Lozeau said. “When a business is looking at whether it wants to come over the border . . . I think its great for them to see that this is a place their employees can afford to live.”

Ashley Smith can be reached at 594-6446 or