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No. 73County makes list of best rural places to live

DeKalb County was ranked one of the Top 100 Best Places to Live in Rural America in a national survey by Progressive Farmer magazine. The magazine, which has a national circulation of more than 80,000, rated DeKalb County No. 73 in the country and No. 49 in the Midwest. The annual survey ranks 600 rural counties across the nation on a variety of issues. "We look at things like quality of life, scenery, how close a country place is to a large city," Jamie Cole, creative editor at Progressive Farmer, said. "We want it close enough for access to top-quality health care and fun things to do, but not too close." In addition to subjective quality-of-life measures, the magazine also looked at hard data, including taxes, crime rates, pollution, and access to education and healthcare. Of the counties surrounding DeKalb, only LaSalle County made the list, ranking 29th overall and 17th in the Midwest. There were no Illinois counties in the overall top 10. Roger Hopkins, executive director of the DeKalb County Economic Development Corp., said a closer look at DeKalb County would have moved it up even higher on the list. "I'm pleased with the ranking, I just wish it were higher," he said. "I think we've got a better quality of life here." County board Chairwoman Ruth Anne Tobias said while inclusion on the list is exciting, residents have to be careful to maintain the area's character. "DeKalb County is still 85 percent farmland, but if we don't manage the growth, it won't be a rural county for very long," she said. "I hope this doesn't open the floodgates. We want people to know that DeKalb County is a great place to live, but if you live here you have to take care of it to keep it a great place to live." Nancy Hayes of rural Leland said the county definitely belongs on the list. "I think it's some of the best farmland around," she said. "And it has a wonderful county fair in Sandwich." Hayes said she also appreciates the commercial development in the DeKalb area. "I think all of this has gained a lot of popularity," she said of the shopping district on Sycamore Road. "Now people don't have to go all the way to Naperville or someplace." Hopkins said the county is in a unique position, because it is a farming area, yet has close proximity to the city. "We want to retain our rural flavor, but we're also a part of a major metropolitan area," he said. "That's important to some industries from a labor standpoint, but from a quality-of-life standpoint, people want that rural feel. They want to be close enough to the metropolitan area to take advantage of all it has to offer without having to deal with issues like traffic congestion, pollution and crime." Statistics cited by Progressive Farmer show DeKalb County has a lower crime rate and less air pollution than national averages. "I think we've got the best of both worlds," Hopkins said. "We're on the fringe of a major metropolitan area, but we're on a list of the best rural counties." Details about Progressive Farmer's Top 100 list, including the list and county profiles, can be viewed at www. progressivefarmer.com. Dana Herra can be reached at dherra@pulitzer.net.

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