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Moorhead is the 'Best Small City' in the US; 2 other MN towns in the top 5

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Three of the best small cities in the country can be found right here in Minnesota, and one in particular – Moorhead – is the best of them all, says Nerdwallet in a new ranking.

The financial site declared the northwestern border town No. 1 on its 2015 "Best Small Cities in America" list, which was released Monday.

The survey looked at more than 1,300 cities that have a population of 75,000 or less, and rated them based on three main factors: economic health, affordability and quality of life.

Nerdwallet notes two trends in its rankings:

*Midwest cities rate highly based on their relatively low cost of living, short commutes, and generally healthy economic conditions.

*College towns score better. Most of the top 10 cities have at least one college or university, and higher education institutions are a draw for employers and residents.

Why Minnesota cities rate highly

Nerdwallet says Moorhead is this year's winner because its residents have all the perks of small-town living but also enjoy big-city economic benefits from Fargo, just across the river.

Accordingly, workers enjoy a much lower unemployment rate than that of other small towns, but don't have to worry about outrageous work hours or grueling commutes.

But what do the locals say? There may be none better to ask than Mayor Del Rae Williams.

Williams told the Fargo Forum that Moorhead's win should come as no surprise to residents, saying their strong sense of community is the town's "secret" to dominating the ranking.

Coming in just behind Moorhead in the no. 2 spot is Winona, Minn.

In terms of geography, the two couldn't be farther apart – Winona is tucked away in the state's southeastern tip. But what is it about Winona that put it so high on the list?

Nerdwallet likes it not just for its scenic beauty (for which it may have to thank the nearby Mississippi) but also its highly affordable rent. The site says the city's median rent is less than half the average median rent of all the cities in the study.

And what about Mankato?

The southern Minnesota town came in at a respectable 5th place, which Nerdwallet attributes not only to its thriving arts and culture scene, but also a low jobless rate thanks partly to the local Minnesota State University campus.

In all, there are 100 cities on the last, with St. Cloud, Minn., ranking 47th and Austin at 70th.

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