Ever heard of Summit Park, Utah, or Edwards, Colorado? Maybe not, especially if you're not an avid skier or snowboarder. Ski resorts, however, aren't the only thing these places have in common—they're also among the wealthiest small towns in the U.S.
The map below shows the 20 micropolitan areas (about 10,000 to 50,000 in population) that ranked the highest in Bloomberg's index of small town wealth, which combines measures of household income and home values. The home of Park City Mountain Resort in Utah ranked first with a median household income of $83,336 and median home value of $485,700. Edwards ranked second, with Jackson, Wyoming close behind.
What is it that draws wealthy people to these areas? Natalie Gochnour, the associate dean of the business school at the University of Utah, said it's the nicely powdered slopes in the winter and crisp mountain air in the summer. Most of these areas encompass ski resorts or are close to one. In the off-season, these towns offer all sorts of outdoor activities such as hiking, biking, fishing and camping that attract the adventurous year-round.
There's an interesting difference between the towns in Utah and those in Colorado that dominated the top ranks. While Utah has companies like Adobe and Goldman Sachs settling in and creating job opportunities in cities within commuting distance of its mountain towns, Colorado's big cities are too far from these resorts for people to drive back and forth on a daily basis.
That probably means a good portion of residents in these Colorado towns would need to be living on income they earned in the past or on the return from their investments. (An increasingly important exception would be people who telecommute.) Wealthy people who buy second (or third or fourth) homes in the area also drive up the cost of living there.
"Colorado isn't benefiting from the location advantages that Utah has," Gochnour said.
Several of the top non-ski towns on the list also have something in common - they're all on islands. Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts, a small pocket on President Obama's favorite vacation spot, Martha's Vineyard, ranked fourth. Kapaa, Hawaii, on the east coast of Kauai, ranked 10th and Key West, Florida ranked 13th. All three places are touted for their beaches, golf courses and affluent lifestyles.
The Bloomberg Small Town Wealth Index:
Methodology: Bloomberg ranked more than 500 U.S. micropolitan areas (geographic entities that contain an urban core of about 10,000 and 50,000 in population) based on median household income, the share of households making $200,000 or more each year, median home value and the share of homes worth at least $1,000,000. Each metric was weighed equally and scored on a scale of 0-100 to derive the total index. All data were sourced from the U.S. Census Bureau's 2013 five-year American Community Survey.