Simply the Best

Making the case for Madison

“Madison cannot be number one!”

I was looking at a draft of the Next Cities list that our research team had spent more than two thousand hours compiling. The Next Cities list, or NCL, is a ranking of U.S. cities that are the best places to live and work for young, talented people. The list includes more than eight thousand data points. The equations that produce the rankings would make most PCs go up in smoke.

Cities want to be on this list for the same reason that Brad Pitt wants to be one of People’s “Sexiest Men Alive”—it’s good for morale and good for business.

We’re not paid to do this list. It’s not commissioned by a magazine, or manipulated to make some cities look good. It’s a labor of love—one way we can take all we know about the next gen, and help cities size themselves up in the same way that young, smart, mobile workers do.

For all these reasons, the moment I saw the first draft should have been a moment of triumph. Instead—seeing Madison listed number one in the “mid-sized metro” category—I winced.

I mean, think about it. If Madison Magazine listed itself as the Best Place to Work in this issue, you’d be a little suspect. Same thing with the Next Cities List; we couldn’t rank our hometown as the best place to live.

I then committed an unloving act toward Madison. I told my team, “We have to find a way to knock Madison off the list.”

Two weeks later, Marty and Margaret (the research team) were back, with a new list and new metrics. Madison was listed safely in third place.

“How’d you do it?” I beamed at my super-genius team.

Margaret ticked off the new measures they added: average January temperature, snowfall/precipitation and humidity.


“Those metrics don’t matter!” I protested. If we factored in “average January temperature,” then Chicago and Minneapolis wouldn’t be talent magnets (but they are). Snowfall also doesn’t matter—Hello, Denver and Boston! And don’t even get me started on humidity; have you been to Austin between March and November?

“Try again,” I ordered, pulling out the boss card.

Marty broke it down for me. “Those are the only metrics we can gather for all U.S. cities that are even close to making a city cool for the next gen.”Here was the moment of truth: Did we want to add phony measures to make sure Madison wasn’t number one, or did we want to use the best metrics and deal with the public fallout?

I chose the latter. Madison was ranked the number one “Mid-sized Magnet” city in the U.S. for young professionals on our Next Cities List.

And no one’s even asked.

But if they do, I’ll hand them this article and tell them, “It’s all here.”

Rebecca Ryan is a Madison-based entrepreneur who loves her city, despite her attempts to sabotage its ranking on the Next Cities List. Madison’s overall Next Cities scores place it in the 95th percentile of all similar-sized cities. Editor Brennan Nardi talked with Rebecca about Madison’s number-one ranking in a web exclusive interview here.

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