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America’s Sister Cities


America's Sister Cities

It’s a common practice for U.S. cities to have sister cities in foreign countries. New York City’s official sister cities include Beijing, Cairo and Budapest. But there are sister cities within the U.S., too. SmartAsset took a look at Census Bureau data on unemployment, income, education and housing costs to find pairs of sister cities here on America’s fair shores.

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To find the 7 pairs of sister cities on this list, SmartAsset looked at Census Bureau data for 550 cities. Each city’s unemployment percentage, median income, percentage of the population with a Bachelor’s degree or higher and median housing costs were then compared to the average of all 550 cities using the standard deviation method.

Our analysis matched cities based on the closeness of their standard deviations, and whether the cities were above or below average in each factor. (Read the full methodology below).

Key Findings

  • Size doesn’t matter. Some of our pairings are sister cities that have vastly different population sizes. When it comes to the key factors of unemployment, education, income and housing, it’s not about size. Small suburbs and big metropolises can match up on these four data points.
  • Education and income aren’t a guaranteed match. All of the cities on our list have higher-education levels that are at least 2 standard deviations above the mean for the 550 cities we studied. They also all have below-average unemployment. But while Newton and Arlington both have above-average median income, the other cities on our list have median income levels that are slightly below average, with below-average housing costs to match.

1. Irving, Texas and St. Petersburg, Florida

America's Sister Cities

What do Irving, Texas and St. Petersburg, Florida have in common? A lot, actually. Both have above-average education levels and below-average unemployment rates. The two cities share below-average median incomes and below-average median housing costs. Their populations are similar, too. Irving’s population comes in at 232,406 with St. Petersburg’s at 253,693.

The top employers in both Irving and St. Petersburg are financial services companies. In Irving, Citigroup is the top employer, while in St. Petersburg top honors go to Raymond James, which also owns the naming rights to the city’s NFL stadium. Overall, however, St. Petersburg’s economy skews more toward healthcare, with 3 of the top 10 employers in the healthcare sector.

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2. Champaign, Illinois and Columbia, Missouri

America's Sister Cities

Champaign, Illinois and Columbia, Missouri are both university towns. But that’s not all they have in common. As you might expect for cities with so many institutes of higher learning, both Champaign and Columbia score above average for the percentage of their populations that boast a Bachelor’s degree or higher. The two cities both have below-average unemployment rates. And while the median income in Champaign and Columbia is below average, so are the median housing costs.

Educational institutions are top employers in both cities, but in Champaign Kraft Foods is the third-biggest employer. Columbia follows more of an “eds and meds” model. University of Missouri Health Care is the city’s second-largest employer, after the University of Missouri itself.

Related Article: The Best Cities for Beer Drinkers

3. Jackson, Tennessee and Louisville, Kentucky

America's Sister Cities

Jackson, Tennessee and Louisville, Kentucky are 300 miles apart, but they’re close in several factors. Both cities have slightly below-average unemployment, median income and median housing costs but education levels that are well above average.

When it comes to other factors, the cities are pretty different. Louisville is the largest city in Kentucky, while Jackson is only the eighth-largest city in Tennessee. Louisville boasts the Kentucky Derby while Jackson doesn’t draw as many out-of-state visitors. Both cities are well located along major interstate highways and have thriving live music scenes.

4. Houston, Texas and Reno, Nevada

America's Sister Cities

Houston and Reno may seem pretty different. For one thing, Houston’s population is almost 10 times that of Reno. But both cities boast below-average unemployment rates and above-average education levels. They’re also relatively affordable. Though median income in both cities is below average, so are housing costs.

Reno attracts visitors with its casinos, but is also home to the Nevada Museum of Art and a thriving Riverwalk District. Houston, as a bigger city, boasts professional football, baseball, basketball and soccer teams. Houston is more diverse demographically than Reno. Reno is a whiter city than its home state of Nevada, whereas Houston is less white than Texas as a whole.

5. Newton, Massachusetts and Arlington, Virginia

America's Sister Cities

Newton and Arlington are both prosperous locales. The two cities have below-average unemployment rates, but are above average in their education levels, median income and housing costs.

Arlington’s population is about three times that of Newton. Arlington has appeared on three other SmartAsset data-driven lists:  The Top 10 Cities for Big Data and The Best Cities for Holiday Shopping.

Newton is technically a group of 13 small villages. At 7 miles from Boston, it’s more of a commuter suburb than Arlington is. Newton’s highly-rated public schools and many public transit options make it a popular destination for well-to-do families in the Boston area.

6. Chico, California and St. Paul, Minnesota

America's Sister Cities

St. Paul, Minnesota is about three times the size of Chico, California. St. Paul is also significantly more diverse than Chico. But while Minneapolis and St. Paul are referred to as the Twin Cities, Chico and St. Paul are sister cities when it comes our 4 metrics. Both cities have well-educated populations and below-average unemployment and housing costs. Median income is below average in both cities, too, but not by much.

While neither city made our list of the Top 10 Cities for Beer Drinkers, they’re both brewery towns. Chico is home to Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, one of the nation’s largest craft breweries. St. Paul has a number of smaller craft breweries, including Summit Brewing Company.

7. Tempe, Arizona and Little Rock, Arkansas

America's Sister Cities

What do Tempe and Little Rock have in common? Well, for one thing they’re both university towns. Tempe is home to Arizona State University, while Little Rock is home to the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.

The two cities ranked as sister cities in our study because of their closeness across the four factors we studied. Both cities have below-average unemployment, median income and housing costs, but with highly educated populations. Of the two cities, Little Rock is more diverse demographically and is also home to a range of both corporate and philanthropic headquarters. When it comes to revelry, though, Tempe may have Little Rock beat. Tempe’s annual Fiesta Bowl Block Party is one of the country’s largest New Year’s Eve celebrations.

Data and Methodology

To find the seven pairs of sister cities on this, SmartAsset looked at Census Bureau data on 550 cities. The four metrics we considered were: unemployed people as a percentage of the city’s population, median income, percentage of the city’s population with a Bachelor’s degree or higher and median housing costs.

For each city we calculated the number of standard deviations above or below the mean on each of the four factors. In order to be considered possible sister cities, each city in a pair had to be above or below average in the same factors. So, two cities, one with above-average median income and one with below-average income, were not considered as sister cities.

After narrowing down the possible matches on that basis, we then took the absolute value of the difference between the standard deviations on each factor for possible pairs, e.g. the absolute value of (City A’s Median Income – City B’s Median Income).

A pair of cities received a score based on the sum of the absolute value of the difference in standard deviations for each of the four factors. The closer that score is to zero, the closer the match in the two cities. The seven pairs of cities on our list all have scores under 0.6.

Data on all four factors came from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

Questions about our study? Contact us at

Photo credit: © Szabolcs