Two areas stand out in this respect -- the bucolic West and the sun-drenched state of Florida. The first group consists of largely western towns that have beautiful landscapes -- places like No. 2 St. George, Utah, No. 5 Cour d'Alene, Idaho (see The Buck Stopped Here); No. 13 Bremerton, Wash., and No. 17 Bend, Ore.

Many of the people making these economies go are refugees from larger places. Debbie Paeser and her husband left good jobs in Salt Lake City seven years ago to move down to fast-growing St. George. Located in the scenic southwest corner of Utah, the area has become a huge magnet for both retirees and young families.

Paeser claims she'd "sell pencils at the mall" to stay around, but that likely won't be necessary. She has founded three successful businesses in St. George already -- including a wedding-planning company and a tearoom. There seems to be lots of opportunity in a place which has experienced close to 30% job growth since 2002, running the gamut from information and business services to manufacturing and wholesale trade.

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