Learn how jobs, affordability and real estate appeal extends across generations.
Best known as home to Iowa State University (ISU), Ames and Story County offer an excellent quality of life for not just students but also young families, professionals and retirees, including a more laid back, slower pace than nearby Des Moines, yet easy access just 30 miles away.
The population in Ames is over 66,000 (compared to more than 217,000 in Des Moines) and roughly half is made up of college students.
The community has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, and many recent grads easily transition to the local workforce. Industries and businesses in Ames provide enough opportunities for career starters to put their freshly acquired knowledge and skills to work.
Meanwhile, people who have ties to Iowa grew up knowing what a great place Ames/Story County is, and as they start families and settle down, this is a first choice.
Kelsey Carper is one example. She and her husband both attended Iowa State and returned after working in another state for a few years to settle permanently. The local economy has also allowed Carper to be an entrepreneur. She is the owner of a spin studio, a real estate agent and a mother of a 2-year-old.
Even though their daughter isn’t yet school age, the safety, convenience and great schools with opportunities for extracurricular activities are appealing to the Carpers.
“Ames has a very neighborly feel,â€ she says. “You feel very comfortable wherever you are here and see familiar faces everywhere.”
The Carpers live in the Campustown neighborhood just south of the university campus and love the proximity and convenience it offers their family.
The neighborhood is also home to student housing as well as almost 100 restaurants, shops and other small businesses that cater to a youthful clientele. Think: salons, nightclubs with patios and drink specials, a Mexican market, a bakery and cafeÌ, various ethnic restaurants, a shop for ISU sports gear, a hookah bar and more. Campustown also hosts events like Summerfest that draw people of all ages from throughout the community, and it’s also within walking distance of major off-campus apartment complexes, dorms and Greek Land, home to ISU’s sororities and fraternities.
So many college students and young families bring a youthful energy that attracts older residents, as well. Today’s retirement population is more active than any before it, so many of the amenities well suited to the young are just as important to the young at heart. Add to that excellent health care options plus a variety of quality real estate options, especially geared toward seniors, and this community makes a perfect fit.
For example, Northcrest Community offers both independent living options and assisted living options. It has been recognized locally and nationally as both a senior living community and an employer. It has a memory care division and is currently expanding with new facilities. Others include Green Hills and Northridge Village, both of which are 5-star CMS communities (Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services).
One especially unique option in senior living is The Crawford, a former elementary school that has been repurposed and redeveloped as independent living apartments.
It’s in the center of Campustown and is where Mary and Ron McFarland live. They relocated after living in Denver from 1979 to 2019, moving back to Mary’s hometown of Ames after retiring.
“Ames was the perfect place growing up and is still America’s best kept secret,â€ Mary McFarland says. One reason for choosing Ames (other than Mary’s Iowa roots) was Denver’s high cost of living.
McFarland cites a Denver friend’s story of having to re-enter the workforce after retirement after moving to Denver from Kansas City because of the high cost of living. She also noted the cost of car insurance, noting the cost for the same coverage in Ames is less than half of what she was paying in Denver. But most of all, McFarland says the way she is treated as an older person in Ames is a huge positive.
“I witnessed a disregard for older lives in Colorado and didn’t see it as a priority for politicians,â€ she says. “When we moved to Ames, I noticed immediately the respect I receive in grocery stores, when pumping gas or when attending concerts. I never felt appreciated as I got older in Denver by the community.”
McFarland describes living in Ames as how Lionel Richie sang, “easy like Sunday morning.â€ Endorsements don’t come much better than that.