Traditionally known as the “Athens of Missouri” for its classic ambiance, Columbia, MO, has managed the rare feat of retaining its college-town feel while transitioning into a highly desirable small city. Dubbed the cooler-sounding “CoMo” by locals, Columbia is growing in appeal because of a hybrid culture that captures the essence of life at the University of Missouri, also known as“Mizzou,” campus, Stephens College and Columbia College, along with the economic promise of a booming high-tech sector. It's these factors that helped Columbia earn a spot on our 2019 Top 100 Best Places to Live list.
Why Columbia, MO Is a Best Place to Live
Excellent educational opportunities, strong business climate make Columbia an attractive city to young families
Education is Columbia’s strongest suit. The excellent public school system benefits from a pool of teachers trained by nearby higher education institutions. The city also has a vocational school with an offering that extends beyond business and manufacturing courses to arts and sciences and culinary programs. Opportunities for lifelong learning at the university and two private colleges are another plus for the increasing number of alums returning to work or choosing to retire because they love the lifestyle.
“The primary catalyst enabling us to transform Columbia from a college town into a livable small city is a strong and diverse business climate where individuals can move from being a place to attend college to a place to live, work and play,” says Matt McCormick, president of the Columbia Chamber of Commerce.
Sports enthusiasts can get their fix of athletic competition by rooting for the MU Tiger football team, as well as the school’s basketball and baseball teams. Women’s athletic endeavors also lure local spectators, while residents seeking to stay fit can head to one of the city’s 42 parks and athletic fields.
Outdoor enthusiasts also find plenty to do in and around Columbia. Situated in rolling terrain along the Missouri River, the city lies in proximity to Rock Bridge State Park, Mark Twain National Forest, and Big Muddy National Fish and Wildlife Refuse, a greenbelt trifecta.
Columbia is also popular with runners and cyclists for its top-notch multi-use trails, including Bear Creek Trail, Hinkson Creek Trail, and the MKT Nature and Fitness Trail that hooks into Katy Trail State Park, the longest rails-to-trails conversion project in America, traversing 185 miles across the state.
Premium Health Care
Residents enjoy access to the University of Missouri health-care system of more than 50 primary and specialty clinics, along with University Hospital, where the School of Medicine is ranked 29th in the nation for best primary care by U.S. News & World Report. Columbia is also home to Ellis Fischel Cancer Center, Missouri Orthopaedic Institute, Women’s and Children’s Hospital, and the Missouri Psychiatric Center, as well as rehabilitation services, comprehensive care nursing homes and a Ronald McDonald House.
Long a fount of progressive thinking, the city enjoys a high level of civic engagement.
“Columbia is a very diverse community in many ways,” McCormick says. “With the diversity, it brings all the different perspectives and the willingness to become involved.”
That doesn’t mean Columbia is resting on its laurels, however.
“The chamber is always working on different initiatives to continue to move Columbia forward,” he says. “One of the many current initiatives is the expansion of air service to our region.”