Kiplinger's Jane Bennett Clark says vitality and livability come from having large numbers of people in creative fields.
"Creative class workers—scientists, engineers, educators, writers and artists—just gives a city a certain sizzle that adds that extra something that you wouldn't get. I mean, obviously a strong economy is great, a decent cost-of-living is great, but the creative buzz is why you want to be in a place, and that's why the creative class is important."
Research included traveling to cities and checking out prospects for continued prosperity.
"I found that Houston had a lot of energy and I just found that there seemed to be an excitement in Houston that was a sense of possibility, and I was able to park my car and walk around in Houston and take the light rail. I enjoyed, it was a fun way to get to know the city."
University of Houston economist Barton Smith says topping the list may change people's perceptions.
"I think it does have an effect. It's the fact that our unemployment rate is low right now. There are economies scattered all over the country that are struggling, big-time. You know, the word's gonna get out! Jobs are in Houston. Houston's the place to go look for employment."
Greg Ortale with the Greater Houston Convention & Visitors Bureau says that means the word is getting out.
"You know, we know from selling the city as a destination that when people come here and see it, they love it, and it's the lack of awareness that has been the problem."
Rice University sociology professor Stephen Klineberg is impressed.
"I don't think I've ever seen Houston at the top of any list of this sort. It's really surprising. Very interesting. Potentially a beautiful sign of a city doing the right kinds of things to position itself for success in this new economy."
The list relied on data about jobs and growth, but also on intangibles.
"Well, these are all arbitrary, strange kind of evaluations but what's striking for Houston is that Houston has been largely ignored and unknown by the rest of the country. And this may be a very positive first sign of growing recognition of what we Houstonians have always known, that this is a very special place. People outside of Houston have traditionally seen the city as an unattractive place—not where you'd want to go for anything of much interest. And maybe—just maybe—this is a first sign of a city coming into its own in the broader consciousness of Americans."
Ed Mayberry, KUHF Houston Public Radio News.