Enalee E. Bounds, a longtime resident and merchant in Ellicott City, knew she had stumbled on a good thing when she moved to the old mill town more than 40 years ago.
"I knew it was a great place all along - it just so happens that now the rest of the country knows," Bounds said as she sat in her antiques shop on Main Street, happy to hear that the Ellicott City-Columbia area has been ranked No. 4 on Money magazine's list of "Best Places to Live in America."
The annual listing, which appears in the magazine's August issue, ranks the best small cities around the country based on such things as good schools, low crime, good jobs and things to do.
"We were looking for places that have a sense of themselves and are not just a bedroom community for a big city," said Craig Matters, executive editor of Money magazine.
This year's list ranks Fort Collins, Colo., in the foothills of the Rockies, as No. 1. In second place is Naperville, Ill., a suburb of Chicago, and in third place is Sugar Land, Texas, south of Houston. Rockville (No. 26) is the only other place in Maryland to appear.
Matters said it is not uncommon for two places to share a single ranking. In this case, unincorporated Columbia and Ellicott City share a school district and other county resources.
"Howard County schools are very good," he said. "For Columbia, if you like a planned community, you can't find a better version."
Howard officials were ready to consider the ranking a broader endorsement.
"This is really a county award," said Howard County Executive James N. Robey. "We're providing the same opportunities and same services around the county as we do in Ellicott City and Columbia."
Last year, the Money magazine listing ranked Ellicott City, with a population of about 72,000, at No. 20. That year, Columbia did not make the list, but the magazine said it was a contender.
Frommer's, the travel guide company, recently ranked Columbia No. 9 on a list of "Best Places to Raise Your Family." The authors reviewed and ranked 100 communities around the country based on affordability, schools, public safety and quality of life. Louisville, Colo., a suburb of Denver, was ranked No. 1.
As news of the Money magazine ranking spread through the Columbia-Ellicott City area yesterday, residents and local officials echoed the magazine's opinion.
"I've always enjoyed Columbia, and I knew it was a great place," said Bob Russell, 62, a longtime resident. "I also heard that some people like to make fun of it as being this hoity-toity kind of place. But, it's been convenient. It's got good property values, good schools and good ambience."
Rachelina Bonacci, executive director of Howard County Tourism Inc., said a national publication's praise could bring more visitors.
"We're just very excited and proud to get that recognition, and it's good news for residents and businesses," she said. "Now people that wanted to visit attractions will come."
Katie Grove, a Realtor with Coldwell Banker in Owings Mills and president of the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors, said the rankings could mean increased home sales in the area.
"If I was selling in Howard County, I'm certainly going to show that title, and it's going to have an impact," she said.