5. Brookings, SD
The 165-foot tall Coughlin Campanile in Brookings, SD, can be seen from miles away, marking this iconic prairie town, which continues to experience rapid growth.
The tower sits on the campus of South Dakota State University, which offers a variety of cultural programs and athletic events for both students and residents to enjoy. Downtown Brookings, considered the heart of the community, recently underwent a major renovation bringing in shops, restaurants and art galleries. Residents gather in the downtown area several times a year for festivals, concerts and a seasonal farmers market. Colorful flowers and well-groomed meadows lure people to the McCrory Gardens for walks, photo sessions and educational experiences.
Kids beg to be taken to the Children's Museum of South Dakota, home to a life-size animatronic Tyrannosaurus rex and dinosaur exhibit. The museum offers many programs throughout the year that introduce children to the wonders of science, history and exploration. Water slides, pools and a spray-pad at the Hillcrest Aquatic Center beckon families to come cool off on warm summer days. The Larson Ice Center hosts hockey leagues, figure skating and private parties. The city of Brookings maintains more than 500 acres of parkland, while the nearby Oakwood Lakes Recreation Area in Bruce offers camping, hiking, horseback riding and fishing.
The diverse economy in Brookings includes manufacturing, farming, education and tourism. Last year, Brookings welcomed more than 25 businesses, saw an expansion of manufacturing companies and lowered its unemployment rate by nearly a point.
Growth rate (2010-12): 2.4%
Size: 13 square miles
Median home value: $140,000
Average commute: 13 minutes
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