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Report: Stress hard to find in Eau Claire

posted June 12, 2016 12:00 a.m. (CDT)
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by / Liam Marlaire
Assistant editor

It may not be fodder for bumper stickers, emblazoned on local T-shirts or highlighted in marketing efforts, but the city named for its clear water has earned yet another distinction on a national list.

Eau Claire, it seems, is among the least stressful cities in the United States. The city ranked fifth in a study by SmartAsset, a company that “provides transparent, automated and accurate advice on big personal finance decisions,” according to its website.

Boulder, Colo., was first on the list, followed by Iowa City, Iowa, Duluth, Minn., and Madison. For Eau Claire, it’s only the latest national recognition it has earned. The city has been lauded in rankings that determine the best cities in America, best places to live, best places for work-life balance, best cities for singles (who like being single) and best places to live on $100 a day.

This is not to belittle the latest report. SmartAsset considered nine factors for its rankings, and Eau Claire fared particularly well in number of hours in an average workweek (35.4) and average commute (14.7 minutes). It had a 10.5 percent divorce rate, 60.15 percent physical activity rate, 18.41 entertainment establishments per 1,000 businesses and its residents averaged 6.99 hours of sleep per night.

Linda John, executive director of Visit Eau Claire, welcomed the “Least-Stressed Cities in America” label.

“In addition to so many great things to do for fun, traffic jams in Eau Claire are virtually nonexistent and entertainment is a great value — and we watch out for each other here, making this a safe community — all factors to be considered when evaluating stress-free living,” she said. “At Visit Eau Claire we market all of these things because it is a fact that a city that is a good place to live/​work is guaranteed to be a good place to visit.”

Luke Hanson, Eau Claire Area Economic Development Corp. executive director, agreed.

“It’s true that rankings aren’t definitive proof; however, the factors that are identified and explored — such as our residents having high rates of being physically active, low commute times and a growing amount of entertainment establishments — are among the many factors that employers and residents look for in a place that they want to call home.”

Mike Schatz, economic development director for the city, added little pollution and a lower cost of living to its strengths.

“Eau Claire has much to offer that you would associate with having fun and enjoyment, like bike trails, riverfronts, outdoor recreation, music options, the beauty of the hills and trees and parks,” he said. “All of which you would associate with quality of life and stress relief.”

This is not to say that Eau Claire isn’t a vibrant, energetic city. Residents are not so free of stress that they’re nodding off at their desks, in their cars or on their walks. Schools are strong, the downtown is booming, the high-tech sector is bouncing back and millennials are being drawn to the city for its job opportunities and growing cultural scene.

A more accurate description for Eau Claire than stress-free may be that it has great options for managing stress, John said. Outlets include a myriad of outdoors opportunities, more choices in the performing arts and a growing number of dining/​imbibing establishments.

“We are a community that works hard to make this a better place to live, work and play — sometimes there is stress related to that hard work,” she said. “Collaborating as a community to determine the best initiatives for the future of our city, followed by the work of how those initiatives will be accomplished and paid for, are things that require dedication and commitment — and yes, sometimes involve stress.

“This ‘work hard/​play hard’ combination connects us as people in a community getting together to do great things and celebrating our accomplishments together with great pride.”

Normally, we might mention efforts in the next year to knock Boulder off its perch or trade places with the few cities deemed less stressful than Eau Claire in SmartAsset’s report.

Ironically, however, worrying about that development might have the opposite effect of knocking us further down the list.