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I must say, this was a fun thread to read through. It got a little (okay a lot) off-topic at times, but it was all entertaining nonetheless.
To answer the question, where did I move and how do I like it in comparison..
My mom and I moved from Rice Lake, WI to Great Falls, Montana in December 1993. My mom's lived here ever since. I moved back to Wisconsin briefly from 1998-2000. But then came back to Montana. (Let's just call it young adult irresponsibility... I needed my mommy again.)
Anyway, Montana has many beautiful parts to it, but those are mostly in the southern part of the state where Yellowstone National Park is, the northwestern part where Glacier National Park is, and the very western part where the mountain ranges are.
Starting at about my town, Great Falls, and eastward - mostly rock. Dryness. For anyone who has never driven through the eastern part of Montana, it's scary the first time. Back in 1993, my mom and I were in our little U-Haul, with the full silent realization between us that if we were to break down it could be hours before anyone found us. And this was a few years before cell phones. I remember my mom saying as we were driving through, "There's noooo civilization..." in a semi-slow, fascinated/freaked-out kind of voice.
As you know, that's a far cry from what it's like to drive through Wisconsin. Cut to 14 years later, 2007, I'm driving from Montana to Wisconsin to see my uncle in the hospital. My mom already drove there ahead of me. I'm driving alone through eastern Montana. It doesn't even phase me. The rocky desolateness has it's own weird beauty. It still doesn't hold a candle to the lush greenery of the midwest, but it's all right. On the contrary, when I got to Minnesota, starting around the middle of the state and onward to Wisconsin, after getting off the freeway, I laughed at how I kept turning cruise control on and off. I would no sooner than put that cruise button back on, I would be in another small town. lol I finally just kept it off.
We also get what are called chinook winds. They come in from the southwest and can melt away half the snow in one day. You know them when you feel them. They're cool but not cold. We're in the middle of it right now, in fact. This week, we're looking at 30s and 40s. But then, I'm sure we'll go through more cold spells and more snow. Guaranteed. Winter is hardly over for us. But... the chinooks give us breaks. I have to admit, I'll WILL miss the chinooks when I move. (I'm moving back to Wisconsin late this year.)
Summers are dry heats. There's no humidity like the midwest. I apply lotion daily. That's a must. I can't imagine if I didn't. A lady I talked to a while back - who is also not from around here originally - said to me that this is the dryest place she's ever lived. When I was in Wisconsin in 2007, particularly when we were up in Duluth, MN.... I kept bragging like a dork how it felt like I had just stepped out of the shower all day long. I couldn't believe how soft my skin was from the humidity. That'll take some getting used to again.
And then there's the people. People are friendlier in Wisconsin/Minnesota. There's a standoffish-ness about people here in the town I live in. I won't speak for the whole state of Montana. But if you look at a map, Great Falls (where I live), is kind of isolated by itself. It's a military town. There's a closed-off/cool attitude from people. It almost seems to me to match the town. The town is a little isolated and closed-off, and so are the people. It seems to make sense. They are almost a little skeptical of you at first.
If you read through these City Data forums, a lot of people who live in places where people aren't as open to newcomers often talk about a "sense of entitlement" that we feel.... and maybe that's true. I was shocked when I first came here. I felt like people at school were rude to me. But I was just used to more open people. Anyway, you get used to it as you live here longer, but you really notice it again when you leave for a vacation to see family in Wisconsin and then come back.
A lot of people love Montana. And it has it's strong points. The chinooks, the lack of humidity, the sunsets, the mountains. But..... I'll trade that for lakes, trees, the beautiful Fall colors, friendly people. There's no Fall here, persay. It always freezes before the leaves can fully turn. When I visited Wisconsin in late 2007, I snapped a ton of pics. I didn't know when I'd see a real Fall again.
That's really all the comparisons I can think of. I think education may be a little better in Wisconsin too. I can't compare high school or elementary school. I never experienced elementary school in Montana, and I never experienced high school in Wisconsin. But I know my middle school in Wisconsin was quite a bit better than the middle school I transferred to in Montana.
Freetohope, you probably have lost hope by now of getting people to stay on topic and getting the information that fits your likes and dislikes. There is a book with the title something like Places Rated in the title that will give you more unbiased information than you will find here. You can find it at Barnes and Noble, Borders, and also probably the Public Library. I suggest you check that out. It will give you data on cost of living, crime levels, temperatures, etc. I could detail may situation here in the south, but no need to. It might not suit you. I lived in Wisconsin for over 55 years and enjoyed it. I just can not take cold weather, and do not even think it is warm until it is 95 degrees, even with humidity. So, figure out your wants and needs, check out places in that book that fit them, and I think you will find a place that suits you.
Here is the information from the Barnes and Noble website. I am not promoting them, just telling you that is where the information came from. This book should give you basis information, but not things like the coyote to feral cat ratio. I have seem one for small towns, but it appears you are more interested in more metropolitan areas.
Places Rated Almanac : The Classic Guide for Finding Your Best Places to Live in America by David Savageau, ISBN-13: 9780979319907, March 2007.
In this unique reference, every one of America s 379 metropolitan areas is rated by factors that are important to anyone considering a move.
I made it back home, and here are the areas that the Places Rated guide evaluates: Costs of Living, Transportation, Jobs, Education, Climate, Crime, The Arts, Health Care, Recreation, and a combined score of all of those areas. My copy is ten years old, so I won't give you any info from it because things have changed a lot in a decade.
There is another great place right here on the computer where you can get lots of valuable info. I'll just say google Sperlings Best Places & go from there. I've been doing research for years now trying to find the perfect place for us. That site is the next best thing to visiting.
I have friends in NC. The job market is VERY weak, but the climate is very nice. There are jobs, of course, just like there are jobs everywhere, but the competition is VERY stiff and you really need something special on your resume to make yourself stand out down there.
BacktoNE: I've heard that same thing from others down there. It's nice to have a great climate but if you still have to work, a job of course has to come first.
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