Midwest is Best – Indiana & Kentucky’s Small Towns with Big City Scenes

By Ashley Eising • Feb 5, 2024
Muncie, Indiana Artswalk

Many of us began our adult lives eager for the big city experience but never really finding our place within it. With the rise of remote work opportunities, more and more people are discovering the right balance of small town comfort and big city excitement in communities dotting the Midwest. With lower cost of living and ample options for co-working space, Middle America is winning over city folks in droves. These small towns are rolling out the welcome mat for a whole new population of Americans, ones who have tired of the metropolitan costs and coldness and are hoping to find someplace a little smaller without losing the big city scene.

Community-Minded Cities in Indiana

With a population just under 70,000, college town Muncie is a Midwestern mix of hospitality and higher education. Its beloved Ball State University sits near the center of town and drives the spirit of growth that exists here. With a heightened focus on continuing to reimagine their city, community members rally around collective dreams like the Common Market, a mix of neighborhood hangout, bodega, art collective, and food bank, as well as the G.R.O.W. organization which empowers area female entrepreneurs.

For residents needing to travel for business or pleasure, two major airports are within an hour’s drive as Muncie sits between Fort Wayne Airport and Indianapolis International. The area also boasts plenty of public parks and greenspaces where people of all ages can enjoy the milder Midwestern weather year-round. Outdoor recreation is alive and well here, and folks dedicated to bicycling, running, or golfing will find no shortage of opportunity.

Venture into the city, and you will discover a vibe that highlights creativity and culture. The infamous Bob Ross filmed his painting show in Muncie while David Letterman, a Ball State graduate, began his career in this surprising small town. It is also home to the Minnetrista Museum and Grounds, the Muncie Civic Theatre, Children’s Museum, and a planetarium, providing educational outlets within a stone’s throw. Residents hungry for a taste of the world can find delicious international cuisine, as well, and always welcoming Muncie also boasts Indiana’s oldest gay bar. Like River Lin, G.R.O.W. Chief Logistics Officer says, Muncie is a place where “You belong, and we really believe it!”

River Lin and Brittany Scott, founders of G.R.O.W, love Muncie and are happy to welcome new folks!

Right across the river from Louisville, sits New Albany, Indiana, a mid-sized town with quick access to the city. With close proximity to an international airport and the vibrant nightlife that exists throughout Louisville, New Albany allows its resident a break from the commotion of that big town on the opposing banks without losing sight of it.

Celebrating its community-centered feel, New Albany is a welcoming and friendly city with an apparent love and passion for its charming downtown. Restaurants and coffee shops abound, and The Root co-working space provides an inspirational hub for both newcomers and long-time residents. Additionally, with a wide range of public and private school options, families can find education opportunities that best fit their needs, while Indiana University Southeast, a regional campus of IU, offers undergraduate and graduate courses across a variety of fields.

The Root Co-Working Space in downtown New Albany is a cozy, art-filled space, made for collaboration.

Life along the Ohio River is as beautiful as it is bustling, and this Indiana town affords its residents the chance to dip in and out of the big city scene whenever they want to cross the bridge. Offering $15,000 in incentives, a relocation to New Albany might be the exact escape you are hoping to find with a blend of big city lights and a feeling of connection that only a smaller community can provide.

Embracing Downtown Development in Kentucky

The capital city of Kentucky, Frankfort is as lovely a town as it is lively. Nestled along the banks of the Kentucky River, the aesthetics of this Middle American city beckons its visitors to stay just a little longer. With Blue Grass Airport a mere half hour away in neighboring Lexington, this is a real possibility as Frankfort easily connects its residents and tourists to the rest of the country. Additionally, despite its smaller population which sits just under 30,000, Frankfort offers a robust healthcare sector which provides the community with local high-quality medical care, an advantage not always found outside of large metropolitan areas.

Frankfort is also home to Kentucky State University, the state’s oldest HBCU, elevating the community’s emphasis on education and cultural diversity. But there is still plenty of room for play after all that school work is done, as this city is a popular stop along Kentucky’s world-renowned Bourbon Trail. With distilleries like Buffalo Trace and Castle and Key, the people of Frankfort reap the benefits of living next door to some of the world’s best bourbon. With a relocation package just over $6,000, it could be time to explore how this town earned its slogan “the best of Kentucky distilled.”

Bourbon on the Banks Parade (photo courtesy of Gene Burch)

Along the riverbanks of the Ohio, lies the town of Owensboro, Kentucky. Under a two-hour drive from Louisville International Airport and with a regional airport ready to whisk you off to Florida, St. Louis, or Nashville, Owensboro offers big city access in small town form.

Home to the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame and Museum, the Museum of Fine Art, and the Museum of Science and History, Owensboro is much more than a dot on the map. Music lessons through the storied Bluegrass Museum along with the Owensboro Symphony Orchestra and the Friday After 5 free summer concert series foster a love of the arts throughout the community. Centered in both commerce and community, Owensboro’s busy riverfront melds into the city’s thriving downtown lined with small businesses and notable restaurants (including some life-changing BBQ).

Convention Center in downtown Owensboro

Western Kentucky Botanical Gardens encourages visitors and residents alike to connect with nature as does the Adkisson Greenbelt Park, a 16.5 mile long asphalt walking and biking trail that circles the city. This popular path links schools, neighborhoods, business areas, and the community’s countless parks, encouraging folks to stretch their legs and leave that car at home – which actually feels pretty big city. Relocation packages reaching almost $7,000 are currently available to Owensboro newcomers. Might you be one of them?

As work-from-home opportunities continue to grow, people all over the U.S. are reevaluating where they want to settle down. Yes, many of us envisioned ourselves living that big city lifestyle forever, but the reality isn’t always as pretty as our dreams. Thankfully, it is possible to land in a location that appeals to both the desire to grow and the call to put down roots – and you don’t have to compromise your love for a busy social scene, decadent dining, and a trendy town center to do it. You can actually find that happy medium right here in the Midwest, especially when you know where to look.

About MakeMyMove

Remote work has freed millions of Americans to live where they want, and many are making the move to places that better match their lifestyle. In turn, cities and towns across the country are offering incentives like cash, perks and programming to remote workers who move and work from their communities. At MakeMyMove, you can explore all the places, get personalized help to find the one that’s right for you, connect with locals, and access support to make your move a piece of cake.