Earlier this week, I was asked that question by a family member who currently resides in California. Rather than be offended or insulted, I took it as an opportunity to reflect. This family member originally grew up here in Missouri, but during the tumultuous 50s & 60s, when racism & sexism were rampant. I acknowledge that experiencing something like that in your youth no doubt scars & biases a person. And I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a time in my own life when I wasn’t such a huge fan of Missouri. As a teen & 20-something, my friends and I all referred to it as “Misery”. We all dreamed of “escaping” to some place more exotic. My chance came in 2004, when I moved to New Orleans for grad school.
It took moving away to Louisiana and being gone for 6 years to find an appreciation for my home state. And while I will always love and miss things about Louisiana, I missed being close to my immediate family more. And as someone who has lived in multiple places, I thought I might be just the person to tackle this question.
(FYI: I decided to limit myself to a list of ten items, but could have continued with sections like Food, Cost of Education, Music & Theatre, Local Business, etc.)
1. Low Cost of Living: Missouri ranks #14 as far as cheap cost of living based on this CNBC article. I also did a comparison of Springfield, MO (my current location) to San Francisco, CA on Salary.com, and if I was to move out to Cali, my salary would likely only increase by 30%…but the cost of living would increase by 79%. I also compared Springfield to Lafayette, LA, just to get an “official” number for two places I’ve actually lived. Cost of living in Laffy is about 10% higher, but the average salary is 9% LOWER. Ergo, we would have to adjust our current lifestyle in order to live within our means. And that’s not really in the cards for us. By maintaining a low cost of living, we’re able to squirrel away more into our savings, which we typically use to travel. It’s much more ideal for us to have a cheap home base, and then travel frequently with the extra dough. This year alone, we’ve visited British Columbia, the Bahamas, and have a trip to New England scheduled for November.
2. Low Tax Rates: Missourians pay on average $96 per $1000 in sales & property taxes, placing them at #39 (in a ranking of highest to lowest) on this CNN poll. The highest tax rates in the US? New York, Maine, Wyoming, Hawaii, and Wisconsin take the Top five spots. In a ranking of “Cost of Doing Business” from low to high, Missouri places #19. And in CNN’s 2013 “Top States” poll, which considers multiple factors like education, cost of living, quality of life, business friendliness, and economy, Missouri ranks squarely in the middle at #26. Not impressive, perhaps, but its overall ranking places it well ahead of states like Hawaii (#50), California (#47), Louisiana (#43), New York (#35) & Florida (#30).
3. The Ozark Mountains: There is beauty in nearly every state. In Louisiana, you have majestic plantations and mysterious cypress swamps. In Cali there’s the towering redwoods and coastal highways. Colorado & Tennessee get impressive mountain scenery. Some people even find Kansas beautiful; I am not one of those people, but a friend from Louisiana was awestruck and told me, “THESE are the ‘amber waves of grain’ they talk about in ‘America the Beautiful’”. Here in Missouri, we have the rolling hills and diverse forests of the Ozark Mountains. In the autumn, the beauty of driving through this area is awe-inspiring. And for a geologist like me, the outcrops of rock along the roads and riverways make me swoon.
4. Comparatively low risk of environmental hazards: Sure, it’s part of “Tornado Alley”. But I’ve lived here for 27 of my 33 years, and have never once been affected by a tornado *knocks on wood*. Yes, many people have, but major tornadic events are few & far between, and typically only impact a small area at a time. In my 6 years in Louisiana, I was hit by 5 hurricanes (Ivan, Katrina, Rita, Gustav, and Ike). Every state has risks, though. Cali gets earthquakes, landslides, wildfires & the occasional tsunami. East & Gulf coasts have flooding, erosion, & tropical storms. Deserts have heat, drought, & periodic deluges in the valleys. Northern states get snowbound. Oklahoma & Kansas have death by utter boredom (just kidding). It’s all about what risks you can handle. This article from NBC News shows Missouri reporting 53 “major disasters” since 1953, with Louisiana reporting 60, Florida reporting 65, New York reporting 67, and California with 78 in the same time frame.
Missouri’s major cities also have significantly better air quality than some other major cities across the country. KC & STL score 3.85 and 4.5 respectively in the ALA’s “State of the Air” Report: for comparison, San Diego has 16.2, Baton Rouge has 9.3, Chicago gets a 8.5, and L.A. is terrifying with its 81.8. For reference, Springfield (where I live) scores 0.7.
5. The Cave State! Missouri is home to over 6,400 caves, with more being discovered and registered monthly. There are about 20 “show caves” scattered across the state that provide tours for a small admission fee. Missouri’s caves are the reason I fell in love with geology and went into the career that I chose. I get to explore “wild” caves with my caving grotto and am in charge of sampling water from cave springs in this area to track changes over time.
Onondaga Cave, Leasburg, MO
6. The Great Outdoors: Whether you’re into paddling, cycling, hiking, running, or horseback riding, Missouri has more than enough space for you. The Ozark Trail alone covers 300 miles of Missouri; plus hundreds more miles of trails in the state’s 83 state parks. Missouri has been named “Best Trail State” by the nonprofit organization American Trails. Add in 58 paddle-ready streams & rivers (over 110,000 miles of waterways in the state), hundreds of miles of equestrian trails, and even urban Greenways like here in Springfield, and there’s no excuse to stay inside.
7. Sports: Having two major cities like Kansas City & St. Louis offers us double the opportunity to pick sides and root for our favorite teams. KC has the Chiefs and the Royals, STL has the Rams, the Cardinals, and a bonus hockey team (Go Blues!) Throw in a major college player like Mizzou and a minor league baseball team like the Springfield Cardinals, and there’s no shortage of options.
Photo by me during newspaper days…you may be Missouri State now, but in my heart, you’ll always be SMS.
8. Wine Country: When German settlers began moving west with their land grants, many of them settled in Missouri because the climate and gently rolling hills reminded them of their home country. I myself am 10th generation German-Dutch heritage. And sooner or later, these fine farmers realized that because of the similar climate and soil, their German grapes grew well here, and they developed the Missouri “Rhineland”. In 1880, Missouri produced more wine than any other state; the state currently has over 100 wineries with a wide variety of wine styles. While many wine aficionados may turn up their noses at the sweet “fruit wines” that are popular in this state, special attention should be paid to the amazing vintages that are created with Norton (the state grape), Chambourcin, Vignoles, and Cayuga grapes, which grow extremely well in this area. Another nice thing? No inflated price tags. Stone Hill’s 2011 Norton took top prize at this year’s Missouri Wine Competition: Price per bottle for the best wine in Missouri? Only $18.99. Blumenhof Winery took multiple silver & bronze awards at the 2013 US Wine Competition with wines that range in price from $14-18.
9. Beer Country, Too: And we’re not just talking about Annheiser-Busch. Missouri is home to over 50 breweries, many of which are concentrated in St. Louis (about 25). Springfield has three (Springfield Brewing Company, Mother’s Brewing, and White River Brewing). While Euro and German style beers rule the palates of this land, the nice part of micro-brewing is the “micro” portion of that, meaning small test batches. My favorite, Mother’s Brewing, has a lot of fun experimenting with flavors: they have three flagship brews, 4 seasonals, 8 “Mother’s Others”, plus their “Thing 1 & Thing 2” which change nearly every time I visit their Tasting Room. So far, there’ve been 7 different versions of Thing 1 & 2… the cranberry-hibiscus wit (Thing 2 7.0) has been one of my favorites, though Thing 2 5.0 (featuring Bergamot Tea in the brewing process) was pretty darn wonderful, too.
10. Job Diversity & Pay Gaps: This one may be specific to me, but it bears mentioning. In Louisiana, I was subject to a lot of gender discrimination, because down there, the “environmental” field is dominated by men, and the predominant clients are oil & gas (also a male-dominated field). Not surprising, given that the oil & gas industry employs over 17% of Louisiana’s work force, with another 5-10% working in fields that are indirectly related to that industry (like professional consulting, my career field). And according to the AAUW’s Gender Pay Gap research, Louisiana women only make 69% the salary that men do. In Missouri, that gap is only 78%—still not equal, but significantly better. And according to this study by MU & the Women’s Policy Alliance, for women who have graduated college, that ratio jumps up to 90%. Gender diversity amongst employees is also much more evident in Missouri over Louisiana; at my company in LA, there were fewer than 10 women in professional non-administrative roles…in a company of over 300 employees (<3%). My company now? 14 out of about 60 employees (23%) are female professionals, with another 12 percent in administrative roles. I also have more job satisfaction because my work load is not directly correlated with oil’s price per barrel. My clients range from transport, to retail fuel, to manufacturing, to general retail, and the type of projects I deal with vary greatly.
Now, I’m not saying Missouri doesn’t have down sides. But the same can be said for any state. And this isn’t some egotistical pitch voting Missouri the best state on the planet. Humans are very subjective in their preferences, and for me, these are the things that make this state a perfectly wonderful place to live. Am I saying I’ll live here forever? Who knows. Hopefully I’ll win the lottery eventually and retire to a small island (that still has WiFi) where the dollar is worth a thousand of the local currency and I can hire a personal chef to make me fresh ceviche for every meal. But for the time being, I’m very happy here.
So, if you’re from Missouri, hold your head high, and if someone asks you “what’s so great about it”, feel free to rattle off any of these items. If you’re not from Missouri, we hope you visit some time! As the Show-Me state, we’ll be more than happy to show you exactly why we’re happy to hang our hats here.