Published: October 2009
Q: Need a Shot of Stimulus?
A: Go straight to the source...
Text by Greg Melville + Sarah Tuff
Washington, D.C.
Pop. 591,833

While the capital’s double-digit unemployment reflects the state of the union, salaries here have risen nearly 9 percent since 2004, and the Obama Administration has added 3,000 jobs in the past year alone. Those new positions mean even more work for the countless lobbyists, lawyers, and dentists who depend on the Beltway’s business. “People are more optimistic here, compared to other cities,” says Mark Jackson, 28, a video producer who moved with his girlfriend last March from Jackson Hole, Wyoming, looking for better career opportunities. He was hired within five weeks. “We wanted a place that allowed us to do the things we love, where the city didn’t feel confining.”

The major release valve for all the political pressure is the 383-mile Potomac River: West of Georgetown, smallmouth bass and rainbow trout share the current with kayakers like resident Mike Gauthier, 40, a former climbing ranger in Olympic, Denali, and Mount Rainier National Parks. “The Potomac is the real deal,” says Gauthier, who now works for the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. “And I can hop on my bicycle and be cragging in Seneca Rocks in less than an hour.” Within an easy drive of the city, you can also hike more than 500 miles of trails (including parts of the AT) in Shenandoah National Park and paddle the Chesapeake Bay. Nevertheless, D.C. adventurers aren’t elbowing each other for space. “There may not be a lot of people walking around in fleece,” says Gauthier. “But there are a lot of people eager to pass good legislation that will protect our parks and lead to better use of our energy resources.”

$325,000 buys: A one-bedroom apartment, two miles from Georgetown-area nightlife.
Job market: Cozy up with Uncle Sam. The city’s next best employers: George Washington and Georgetown Universities.
Know before you go: Bleed blue? Ninety-three percent of D.C. residents voted for President Obama.

9%:Increase in citywide salaries from 2004 to 2008
1,800: Acres of park within city limits

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Manchester, New Hampshire
Pop. 108,586

In Manchester, old mills have been refurbished into small businesses, while big players such as TD Banknorth, Citizens Bank, and Elliot Hospital employ thousands. The river town claims one of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation: This summer it stood at 6.8 percent, compared to the 9.7 percent national average. And the state has zero income or sales tax. You can polish your ski and board skills right in town on McIntyre Ski Area’s 170 feet of vertical before taking on the steeper White Mountain runs an hour north. In summer, canoeists recoup from paddling trips on Massabesic Lake with fresh Buds at the nearby Anheuser-Busch Brewery.

Pop. 115,000

Last year, Provo-Orem—a gateway to Alta, Snowbird, and the rest of the Wasatch Mountains’ featherweight powder—added 3 percent to its employment base. Home to Brigham Young University and software giant Novell, the compact city on Utah Lake is becoming a hotbed for techies. Save up sick days for world-class trout fishing on the Provo River, a few fly-casts away.