Tampa Best City to Call Home


Looking for that place your heart yearns for, that city of your dreams where jobs are available, housing is affordable, the streets are drivable, and the schools are great? That town where Hispanics are welcomed as honest, hard-working members of the human race and no one is ever going to say an unpleasant word or pass laws aimed at immigrants? Well, keep looking. That perfect town doesn't exist-but we've come up with cities that come close.

In our quest to find a near-perfect city, we took a holistic approach in our ranking. While some cities like Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, have the fastest growing Hispanic populations, other factors such as the strong presence of well-established Hispanic organizations in Kansas City, Missouri, outweighed simple statistical measures. Also considered were promising developments. Tampa, Florida-beyond its year-round tourism-is experiencing a financial vitality as it replaces other, more traditional, Hispanic markets; while Louisville, Kentucky, with its large increase in Hispanic population, provides a wealth of educational and religious services for the newly arrived, creating an admirable mix of old and new residents. The one factor, however, that all of our top picks share is excellent opportunities for a good quality of life.

 The 2000 U.S. Census startled many with data showing that Hispanics are searching for homes outside the big population centers of California, New York, and Texas. People are tired of spending much of their lives jammed into the most complex freeway systems in the world and not being able to afford a house closer than two hours from where they work.

Hispanics want what everyone wants, with the added factor of ethnic acceptance. Here are five cities you might want to consider: Kansas City, Missouri; Tampa, Florida; Louisville, Kentucky; Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina; and Orlando, Florida. All qualify as Hispanic-friendly places, and we will tell you why. Florida gets the nod twice-among its pluses is the weather. Although our selection process was informal and subjective, we think we've found some new and surprising hot spots you would be happy to call home.

Tampa/St. Petersburg/Clearwater, Florida, area, a group of cities clustered around Tampa Bay on Florida's western coast. This metropolitan area is not only a place to spend the winter, but a place to spend your life. It is one of the "new" Hispanic destinations, according to a study by the Pew Hispanic Center. Not that Hispanics have suddenly discovered it. Cuban cigar makers established their factories in Tampa almost 150 years ago.

Places Rated Almanac ranks the Tampa cluster number four out of 354 metro areas considered great places to live, and for good reasons. The weather's one, of course, but there's also a robust job market, a thriving port, two international airports, an air force base, and a relatively affluent Hispanic community that hosts a crowded social calendar of activities.

"Forget Hispanic Heritage Month," "here we have Hispanic Heritage season!" the season runs from September through most of December and includes everything from ethnic food festivals to networking events. Need more socializing, amigos? Head for Ybor City, a restored Hispanic historic district bustling with nightclubs, restaurants, and movie theaters. Try a stroll, run, or bicycle ride down Bayshore Boulevard and you will see why the tri-city area's Hispanic population increased 83 percent between 1990 and 2000. Median cost of a house: $150,200. For more information, visit the Tampa Bay Hispanic Chamber of Commerce website, www.tbhcc. com the Tampa Bay Convention and Visitors' Bureau website, ww.visittampabay. com or call 813-414-9411.

Orlando, Florida, is often thought of, and rightly so, as a place to play. With Walt Disney World, Sea World, and Universal Studios luring the crowds, it is hard to visualize Orlando beyond its thrill rides, frolicking dolphins, and movie magic. The flourishing business climate, however, makes this central Florida city one of America's fastest-growing Hispanic locales, one reason we placed it in the top five.

A booming Hispanic population makes Orlando a thriving new market for investment dollars flowing from Latin America. "Miami is such a mature market that Hispanic investors are looking for new markets, like central Tampa, Florida," says Ramón Ojeda, president of metro Orlando's Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. "It's a very attractive opportunity to get a new start."

Almost every city, no matter how ideal, has problems. In Orlando, they include a lack of full access to health care, social services, and transportation for new immigrants. However, change is in the wind. Area Hispanics are better educated than the national average and occupy more white- than blue-collar jobs. They are an important part of the change that could make Orlando that city of your dreams.

With its subtropical climate and more than 300,000 acres of lakes and rivers-not to mention being flanked by Daytona Beach and Tampa Beach-Orlando is not only a "new-start" city-it's also a fun city. Median cost of a house: $154,000. For more information, visit the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce website www. hispanicchamber .net for Greater Orlando, the Orlando Convention and Visitors' Bureau website,