Best Cities to Start a Career

Finally, we took into account cost-of-living based on data from the Census and the Council for Community and Economic Research, an Arlington, Va., research group affiliated with George Mason University. After all, it's no good to bring home a hefty salary if all of it goes to paying the bills. And salary alone doesn't always dictate where one lands. After all, being a waiter or barista can be more lucrative than an entry-level job in some fields. When talented, recent college grades take their first job, they're often picking a place or industry based on where they see the best long-term growth potential, not what they'll immediately earn.

Top Spots

University and college towns are attractive to young professionals. Home to Elon College, and halfway between Greensboro and Durham, Burlington, N.C., (140,000 population) finished 33rd overall for its attractiveness to young professionals. A low cost of living--even a shade lower than North Carolina's bigger cities--certainly helps. A big company to follow here: Laboratory Corp America, a heath care equipment and services firm.

Yet another university town, Boulder, Colo., (280,000 population) has cultivated a reputation as a good place for entrepreneurial start-ups. One company that's made out well is Dynamic Materials, a construction materials producer. Lower cost of living than coastal cities and the 12th highest rating of top alumni help Boulder reach this position.

Washington, D.C., and San Francisco landed in the top five among the large cities measured.

While most Washington, D.C., jobs are government paid or government related, there are still top companies like Danaher conglomerates and software firm CACI International. D.C. ranks sixth for its number of young professionals, 24th for small businesses and 37th for big companies.

Last year, San Francisco ranked first overall largely due to its No. 1 overall ranking in the number of young professionals, a score that it maintains. The City by the Bay ranked 33rd for small companies and sixth for large companies. Two strong large ones are PG&E and Wells Fargo.

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