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The area around Bloomington, including Normal, is the fastest-growing metropolitan area in Illinois. Originally an agricultural center because of the rich soil, the city is still surrounded by farms, but has evolved into a prosperous community with a balance of jobs in various sectors, especially insurance and financial, and education. However, some large industrial enterprises remain, including a Mitsubishi Motors plant that assembles vehicles for shipment around the world. Bloomington is the headquarters for several billion-dollar corporations, including State Farm Insurance, Country Insurance & Financial, Growmark, and Electrolux of America (Eureka vacuum cleaners). Two other large corporations, Caterpillar and ADM, are headquartered nearby, and employ many Bloomington residents. The familar Beer Nuts brand is owned by a smaller Bloomington company, and the product is produced there.
The community is remarkably distinctive from the surrounding area of Central Illinois. Bloomington was named by Money Magazine as one of the 80 best places to live in the United States. In November, 2007, The IT publication Computerworld named Bloomington-Normal as one of the top ten (ranked as #6) techiest communities in the USA; the Silicon Valley was #1 and Seattle was #10. In February, 2008, Forbes named Bloomington-Normal as #20 on its list of the 25 smartest communities in the United States. Golf Digest named the community as one of the five best places to play golf in the USA.
Although Bloomington's base is midwestern conservative, the city's rapid growth is instilling global attitudes and cultures. There has been a large increase in several nationalities, including Asian Indian, Japanese, Latin, and some Chinese and European. Local organizations such as the McLean County India Association and the Chinese Association sponsor events of significance for international populations. The universities and the large companies here have made a significant portion of their employees mobile, and there is considerable influx and outflux of residents.
Family income in the Bloomington area stands out as significantly higher than surrounding cities, although the cost of living is 94% of the national average. The city is often included on national lists of the highest educational attainment (college and graduate). Unemployment is usually among the lowest in Illinois, around 3%. The crime rate in the Bloomington-Normal area is among the lowest in the nation for cities 100,000 - 500,000 population. Bloomington-Normal's culture is primarily professional/educational, and white-collar or technical manufacturing in nature, and cultural activities and lifestyle reflect that demographic.
The city has been noted primarily for its excellent quality of life for families, although recently, there is increased interest from younger ages. Already supported by almost 30,000 college students, activities and nightlife for singles and young couples have been expanding rapidly. However, the city still has a conservative tinge, and those seeking more liberal entertainment will have to travel to nearby large cities, such as Chicago, St. Louis, and Indianapolis. For example, there are no strip clubs in Bloomington, and there is an abundance of events centered around the universities. Children's sports and activities are especially prevalant.
Bloomington is easy to reach. The city is served by three Interstate highways, Amtrak, and Central Illinois Regional Airport, the largest in central and southern Illinois. The outer limits of Chicago are are 105 minutes away by car, and the city center is about 120 minutes, except in extreme traffic or weather conditions. Both St. Louis and Indianapolis are less than three hours' drive. Bloomington residents often travel to these cities for a weekend, or even a day in the case of Chicago, making alternative experiences and cultures readily available.
The city is the center of the Central Illinois region, which is home to 1.1 million people. Regional themes of international interest are centered around Abraham Lincoln, who lived in nearby Springfield but was very active in Bloomington, and America's "mother road", U.S. 66, which passed right through Bloomington. Bloomington has preserved much of its downtown and some notable residences elsewhere around the city, and there are a number of organizations dedicated to history and the arts.