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Columbia, MO (Population: 96,700)

Columbia, Missouri, with a population of 96,700 (2007) has the nicknames "the Athens of Missouri" and "Collegetown USA." The city is a center of education with schools such as the University of Missouri-Columbia, Stephens College and Columbia College. Between their nationally recognized public school system and colleges, Columbia is considered one of the most well-educated cities in America. With over 33,000 students, Columbia is a young and active town with a wide variety of bars, restaurants, art galleries, live music and much more. This area is considered to be the cultural, entertainment and economic heart of the mid-Missouri area.

Columbia's economy is based on education, healthcare and the insurance industry. These can be traced back nearly as far as the town's incorporation in 1821; the modern-day University of Missouri's land was set aside in the original plans for the town, and was founded in 1833. Columbia has often been ranked as a top city to live in based on factors of economic growth, cultural opportunities, safety, educational facilities, cost of living and available high-quality health care. It is regularly ranked in Money magazine's annual lists.

Downtown Columbia is home to festivals and events such as Hot Summer Nights Music Festival, the True/False Film Festival, The Blind Boone Ragtime and Early Jazz Festival, the Twilight Festivals and Art in the Park. Other events in the city include First Night Columbia, Boone Country Heritage Festival and the Ninth Street Summerfest. Art enthusiasts will want to take advantage of some of the following arts groups in town: the Missouri Theatre Center for the Arts, the Columbia Chorale, the Columbia Art League, the Office of Cultural Affairs and the Columbia Entertainment Company Community Theatre.