‘Money’ names best places

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MIDDLETON, Wis. (AP) – This small town in the shadow of Madison has its own reason to boast.

Money magazine announced Monday that Middleton is the “Best Place to Live” in America for 2007, citing its tight-knit community and proximity to the cultural and economic benefits of Madison. That city, the state capital and roughly 14 times larger than Middleton, was named by Money as the best place to live in 1998.

With a population just over 17,000, Middleton was praised by Money for its small-town charm, booming economy and extensive parks and bike trails. Many of its residents commute the 7 miles to Madison for work, but enjoy the amenities that a smaller town brings, Money said.

Middleton is also home to Capital Brewery, which revels in Wisconsin’s beer heritage and boasts an expansive beer garden where patrons are encouraged to pack a picnic and stay to watch movies.

The American Girl dollmaker is one of Middleton’s largest employers.

Sarah Witter, 37, moved to Middleton from Madison four years ago. She lives in a 105-year-old house near the downtown center with her husband and two young children.

Witter said Middleton has a “comforting, happy feeling” that sets it apart from Madison.

“Everybody is extremely welcoming,” Witter said. “I’ve never lived anywhere in Madison where I’ve known all my neighbors within a couple months. I always feel like I’m in this ‘Leave it to Beaver’ world almost.”

Money’s focus this year in its annual best places to live issue looked at 2,876 places with populations between 7,500 and 50,000. Middleton was followed by Hanover, N.H., Louisville, Colo., Lake Mary, Fla., Claremont, Calif., Papillion, Neb., Milton, Mass., Chaska, Minn., Nether Providence, Pa., and Suwanee, Ga.

Three other Wisconsin towns also made the top 100: Germantown at No. 30, New Berlin at No. 41 and Franklin at No. 90. And Salem, N.H., made No. 85.

The rankings were based on a series of factors including economic vitality, job availability, safety, residents’ health, ethnic and racial diversity, cultural amenities, green space and other economic and quality of life measures.

The only negatives mentioned for Middleton were a lack of ethnic diversity and its long, cold winters. But even that doesn’t stop hardy Wisconsinites from having a good time. Capital Brewery hosts a beer festival each February. This year dedicated drinkers bundled up to brave the cold and carved out shelves in 10-foot high snow drifts to rest their beer mugs.

The “best places to live” feature has appeared in Money since 1987. Last year the list focused on communities with fewer than 300,000 residents that are not dependent on metropolitan areas and the year before that it looked at prime suburban areas.

The top spot last year was captured by Fort Collins, Colo.

Witter’s not concerned if the attention brought by the No. 1 ranking brings more people to Middleton.

“If we have a city where people want to be for the right reasons then the more people the better,” she said. “It’s nice to live in a community where everyone is nice to one another.”

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