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Surprise! Stay put for top retirement spots

The "best cities for successful aging"

Hill Street Studios | Blend Images | Getty Images

Think "retirement," and images of moving day—along with palm trees, golf courses and other signs of warmer climes—may spring to mind. But the fact is, 90 percent of Americans intend to age, and therefore retire, in place. That's according to research outfit the Milken Institute, which attributes the finding to AARP its Best Cities for Successful Aging 2014 report.

We take a look at the top five smaller and larger U.S. metropolitan areas pinpointed in the study as the best in which to grow old. None are Sun Belt cities, per se. If you already live there, lucky you. If you don't, there's likely still plenty of room, but beware: Coconut palms are in short supply.

Rankings of the 100 largest and 252 smaller U.S. cities were determined with a methodology that weighed eight indicator catergories: health care (16 percent), wellness (16 percent), financial factors (21 percent), living arrangements (9 percent), employment/education (10 percent), transportation/convenience (8 percent), community engagement (5 percent) and "general" (15 percent), which incorporated cost of living, crime rate, percentage of binge drinkers, employment growth, unemploymnet rate, income distribution, weather and number of fatal car crashes.

By CNBC's Kenneth Kiesnoski
Posted 24 December 2014

No. 5 (Small Metro): Rapid City, SD

Rapid City, South Dakota
Walter Bibikow | Getty Images

Rapid City, South Dakota—home to just under 71,000 people—kicks off our roundup of the Milken Institute list. The city came in first among its peers for community engagement and scored well in financials (No. 6) and education and employment (11). Weak areas included wellness (108), transportation/convenience (141) and living arrangements (147). The report's "takeaway":

"Recreational and cultural lures—don't miss the downtown City of Presidents—combine with a strong economy to boost Rapid City's appeal. Concerns include unhealthy eating, meager access to conveniences and a lack of home health-care providers, caregivers and nursing beds."

Source: "Best Cities for Successful Aging 2014," Milken Institute

No. 5 (Large Metro): Salt Lake City

Downtown Salt Lake City and mountains
Source: Douglas Pulsipher

Utah's scenic seat of government is the first of the 100 largest U.S. metro areas in our roundup. This burgeoning city of just over 191,000 earned its No. 5 spot thanks to strong showings in the financial (2), employment/education (7) and health-care (12) arenas. Less auspicious: the general (39) and living arrangements (55) categories.

"Although Utah's capital is economically solid, with adequate financial infrastructure and a well-educated citizenry, older adults are not strangers to financial distress. Fast food is too prevalent, but healthy lifestyles and smart eating choices help thwart diet-related disease."

Source: "Best Cities for Successful Aging 2014," Milken Institute

No. 4 (Small Metro): Bismarck, ND

Bismark, North Dakota
North Dakota Tourism Division

Next up among smaller metro areas is Bismarck, North Dakota, population 67,034 or so. The state capital placed best in the employment/education category, coming in fifth among peers. It also did well in health care (No. 10) and financial and general (ranking 11th in both). Lower placements were achieved in living arrangements (127) and transportation/convenience (140).

"Enjoying North Dakota's oil boom, the capital region has seen service-sector growth. Low unemployment and robust economic opportunity bode well for encore careers. Lack of specialty-care hospitals dents the appeal."

Source: "Best Cities for Successful Aging 2014," Milken Institute

No. 4 (Large Metro): Boston

Boston, Massachusetts
Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau

Greater Boston—defined in the report as comprising the state capital proper along with Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Newton, New Hampshire—is the only truly "large" U.S. urban area at the very top of the report's rankings. (Nearby New York places at 14.) Beantown, with a metro population topping 4.5 million, came in second among peers for transportation/convenience, fourth for health care and sixth for wellness. Its biggest soft spots were financial (No. 60) and living arrangements (92).

"Few can match the Greater Boston area's cachet when it comes to innovation, education and endless choices for culture vultures. Still, rising costs tarnish this home to more than 100 colleges and universities."

Source: "Best Cities for Successful Aging 2014," Milken Institute

No. 3 (Small Metro): Columbia, MO

Missouri Division of Tourism

Midway through the list, we find Columbia, Missouri, with a population of just over 115,000. The cozy college town did best in health care, ranking third among its peers, but its employment/education showing was—unsurprisingly—also good, at No.12. Financial factors (13) were strong, too. Columbia ranked worst in "general" indicators (135th) and community engagement (150).

"Columbia, home to the University of Missouri, offers educational opportunities and a strong health-care system. Consumer-driven industries are propelling economic growth and unemployment. Downside: long waits in the ER."

Source: "Best Cities for Successful Aging 2014," Milken Institute

No. 3 (Large Metro): Provo-Orem, UT

Utah Valley Convention & Visitors Bureau

Hometown of famed Brigham Young University, Provo and its neighbor Orem come in at No. 3 for affordable retirement. The cities' best ranking is in the "general" category, where they placed first among all cities. Wellness was another winner, at No. 2, followed by transporation/convenience (9), living arrangements (10) and, at No. 16, both employment/education and community engagement.

"Provo has drawn many older residents in recent years. Slowed economic growth bumped it from its top spot in our 2012 ranking. But its healthy, engaged lifestyles and safe environment shine."

Source: "Best Cities for Successful Aging 2014," Milken Institute

No. 2 (Small Metro): Sioux Falls, SD

South Dakota
Rich Murphy | Sioux Falls Convention & Visitors Bureau

Fastest-growing metro area in South Dakota, Sioux Falls—population circa 165,000—comes in second among smaller urban regions for affordable aging. It placed first in the financial category, fourth in community engagement and fifth in health care. Less stellar was its performance in transportation/convenience, at 95th, and living arrangements (107).

"Continued expansion of its health-care system positions Sioux Falls to meet its growing population's demand for services. Cultural attractions are a draw, but housing may not be affordable for older residents."

Source: "Best Cities for Successful Aging 2014," Milken Institute

No. 2 (Large Metro): Omaha, NE

Davel5957 | iStock | Getty Images Plus

The Omaha-Council Bluffs urban conglomeration, with a regional population of nearly 900,000, is the No. 2 large metro area in the Milken Institute rankings. An abundance of activities helped Nebraska's largest city place first for community engagement among its peers. The city also came in second for employment/education opportunities and fifth for health care. Weaker was transportation/convenience, at an average No. 64 ranking.

"With five Fortune 500 companies calling it home, Greater Omaha generally enjoys financial well-being, low-cost living, and abundant professional opportunities. An emerging health-care hub, the area still suffers from unhealthy lifestyles, and safety is an issue."

Source: "Best Cities for Successful Aging 2014," Milken Institute

No. 1 (Small Metro): Iowa City, IA

Iowa City/Coralville Area Convention & Visitors Bureau

With just under 68,000 inhabitants, Iowa City may be low in population but it's big in appeal, at least for retirees. The city scored first among its peers in the all-important health-care category and fifth in transportation/convenience. The only category in which it did not place among the top 50 is living arrangements, where it came in at No. 106.

"With a top-notch health-care system, a strong economy and low unemployment, Iowa City, home to the University of Iowa, is an attractive option for encore careers and those seeking good health services. Chronic disease rates are low, with residents making healthy lifestyle choices. A caveat to the upbeat economic picture: The area may be pricing itself beyond the reach of many older people."

Source: "Best Cities for Successful Aging 2014," Milken Institute

No. 1 (Large Metro): Madison, WI

Madison, Wisconsin
Greater Madison Convention & Visitors Bureau

What a capital idea. The best large U.S. city for successful aging is ... Madison. The seat of Wisconsin's state government and home to nearly 250,000, the 166-year-old city scored in the top 50 in all indicator categories save living arrangements (No.70). Madison—one of only two U.S. cities built on an isthmus (pictured)—came in second among peers for health care, fourth for community engagement and ninth for employment/education. Interested? Madison scored 11th in transportation, and local air hub Dane Country Regional Airport boasts nonstop flight links to 12 major U.S. gateways, including Atlanta, Chicago, New York, Denver and Minneapolis-St.Paul.

"Home to the respected University of Wisconsin, Madison is a hub of innovation and intellectual stimulation. Economic growth gets a boost from UW's research needs, and quality health care is a big plus. Cultural amenities attract highbrows and regular folk alike, and Madisonians also enjoy the amenities of Chicago, just 150 miles away. Cost of living, high for the Midwest, remains an issue."

Source: "Best Cities for Successful Aging 2014," Milken Institute