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County rated No. 1 for middle class

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Forget Carmel or Zionsville — if you consider yourself part of the middle class, you should live here.

Johnson County ranked No. 1 out of eight counties in a list by CNNMoney. The “Where the Middle Class Does Best” ranking considered numerous factors, such as jobs, schools and proximity to grocery stores.

And with that ranking, Johnson County has gone viral locally. The story was posted on Yahoo! and has been shared more than 2,000 times on Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets.

“This is great exposure for the county; but more importantly, it demonstrates what we’ve been saying for a long time: Johnson County is a great place to live,” Johnson County Commissioner Ron West said.

West said he wasn’t shocked by the ranking, saving that reaction for people he knows in Hamilton County.

Traffic problems were not one of the factors considered in the rankings, but the topic was highlighted by local officials. West occasionally has to travel north of Indianapolis for business, driving up Interstate 69 near communities in Hamilton County, including Fishers and Noblesville.

“It’s just bumper to bumper,” he said. “I don’t know how people deal with that every day.”

Johnson County’s closeness to Indianapolis landed it on the short list of counties. A county had to be within 20 miles of a large city and have a population of 10,000 or more to be considered for the rankings. The median household income had to be close to the national average, and the county had to be below the national average in unemployment, poverty and inequality levels.

Johnson County’s 5.3 percent unemployment rate is below the 6.7 percent national level. The local household median income is $60,835, which is nearly $12,000 more than the national average.

CNN highlighted the county’s diverse economy as a reason for its selection. Greenwood’s retail and dining options and Franklin’s manufacturing industry were noted in the story.

“I think we do have diversity and a number of vibrant communities that play off the benefits of one another,” said Cheryl Morphew, president of the Johnson County Development Corp. “You may look at other counties and see the strong presence of one city, and that’s it.”

Stable housing prices, low crime rates and good schools are the three main drawing points for Johnson County, West said.

“When people are looking for a place to live, those are the things they will consider the most,” he added.

Low property taxes, minimal crime and numerous retail options make Greenwood an attractive place to live, Mayor Mark Myers said.

“You have affordable housing, but it’s also nice housing,” he said.

Franklin Mayor Joe McGuinness highlighted the entertainment options in the county, such as events hosted at Franklin College. But if someone wants to attend an Indiana Pacers or Indianapolis Colts game, it’s only about a 30-minute drive to Indianapolis.

“I think we have small-town charm in a thriving community that continues to grow,” he said.

The ranking can be used in marketing materials to businesses considering relocating to the area, officials said.

“The best thing we can do is not convince the rest of the world this is the best place to live but improve on those things, and people will notice,” West said. “Just like CNN did.”

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