Gwinnett's Treasure
Magazine names Suwanee one of the country's best places to live

SUWANEE - Green spaces, good jobs and great schools were all factors in Money Magazine naming Suwanee as one of America's best places to live.

The magazine's 2007 annual rankings of America's most livable towns was announced on Monday and Suwanee came in at No. 10.

"Money magazine has let the whole country in on our not-so-well-kept 'secret,'" said Suwanee Mayor Nick Masino. "Our residents have known for a long time that Suwanee is an incredible place to live."

Masino said he knew the magazine had been researching the area for this list, but did not know where his town ranked until it was announced on the "Today Show" Monday morning. The town is featured on the magazine's Web site, money.cnn.com, and will be in the August issue.

Suwanee was chosen from an initial list of 2,876 places with populations between 7,500 and 50,000. The list was then narrowed several times based on factors such as economic vitality, job availability, safety, residents' health, ethnic and racial diversity, cultural amenities and greenspace.

When Money had narrowed the list to the top 25, it sent reporters out to talk to people and experience what each of those towns had to offer.

Jennifer Merritt, special projects manager, said the reporter who visited Suwanee gave it glowing praise despite bad memories of living below the Mason Dixon line.

"The reporter came back and said, 'I would never want to go back and live in the South, but I'd love to live there,'" Merritt recalled.

Merritt said the city's greenspace was a big factor in ranking Suwanee so high.

Suwanee residents voted in 2001 to increase property taxes by nearly 140 percent in order to keep the area from being overbuilt, Masino said.

The result has been 28 acres of greenspace growing to more than 270 acres. Suwanee Town Center Park, which opened in December 2003, is one of the most popular additions with its fountain and amphitheater.

"If we wanted park land, we knew we had to buy it ourselves," Masino said, adding that those who opposed the property tax increase at the time have since changed their tune.

"You can't find that 42 percent who voted against it now," he said.

The magazine's staff was also impressed with the city's diversity, Merritt said. Statistics on Suwanee's Web site indicate the city is 71 percent white, 12 percent black, 11 percent Asian and six percent other.

While the article on money.cnn.com did cite congestion as a problem around the Interstate 85 area, Merritt said traffic woes were aided by Suwanee having some big employers that reduced the number of people dealing with a rough commute to Atlanta.

Suwanee has several companies, including the Dish Network/Echostar Corporation and Southeastern Freight Lines Inc., that have more than 300 employees, according to Suwanee's 2006 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report.

But while all the tangible measures helped get Suwanee into the top 25, it was the pride and connection residents had with the city that vaulted it into the top 10.

"To get into the top 10 was a mix of statistics plus looking at that sense of community," Merritt said. "Do people feel like they're a part of something? Suwanee really had that."

Two other Georgia towns - Peachtree City (No. 64) and Martinez (No. 76) - made it into the top 100.

SideBar: The Top 10

A look at Money magazine's 2007 list of America's best places to live:

1) Middleton, Wisc.

2) Hanover, New Hampshire

3) Louisville, Colo.

4) Lake Mary, Fla.

5) Claremont, Calif.

6) Papillion, Neb.

7) Milton, Mass.

8) Chaska, Minn.

9) Nether Providence (Wallingford), Penn.

10) Suwanee