NILES, Ill. (CBS) — Niles Chamber of Commerce Director Katie Schneider wasn’t surprised when Bloomberg Businessweek named Niles one of the best affordable places in the country to raise kids.

It was something local residents already knew, “but it’s wonderful we were nationally recognized,” Schneider said, referring to the magazine’s nationwide survey of 5,418 middle-income communities of fewer than 50,000 residents.

“There’s a strong quality of life here,” Schneider said. “We border the city of Chicago, but we’re also a corridor to the North Shore. It (Niles) has both an urban and suburban feel to it.”

In the Businessweek report released Dec. 14, Niles was named the most affordable town in Illinois to raise children. The near northern suburb perhaps best known for its half-size Leaning Tower of Pisa replica outside the eponymous YMCA on Touhy Avenue, but it also has 20 parks and numerous shopping centers, public and private schools that perform above the state average, the Businessweek survey pointed out.

In compiling its list, the survey considered factors such as crime rates, employment and job growth, schools, affordable housing, air quality, ethnic diversity, and access to jobs, parks, theaters and zoos.

Schneider, who lives in the city of Chicago but has friends who often go to Niles to shop at places like Jerry’s Fruit Market and Schmeisser’s Meats, added: “Niles is a little of both, which is nice.”

Schneider said Niles has a strong industrial base that includes a Coca-Cola bottling plant, as well as a vibrant community that includes several large shopping centers like Golf Mill. There’s also a growing number of Korean shops serving immigrants from that country.

Diversity is also growing in Niles. The Asian-American population in Niles is now 14 percent, according to Businessweek

Despite the recession, Niles’ unemployment rate went from 9.6 percent in October 2009 to 7.8 percent the past October, according to the Illinois Department of Employment Security.

Property taxes are also lower than many surrounding communities. Village Manager George Van Geem told Business Week the property-tax rate in Niles is $5.80 for every $100 of assessed value, while according to the Cook County Clerk’s office, the rate in nearby Mount Prospect was slightly more than $6.50.

The village of Niles provides free local bus service from 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., as well as the innovative Teen Center and Family Fitness Center.

According to Business Week, schools in Niles outperform the statewide average. During 2007, Niles Township High School’s fine-arts program was singled out for excellence by the Kennedy Center in Washington.

Other communities Business Week listed among the best medium-sized, middle-income communities were North College Hill, Ohio, 10 miles from downtown Cincinnati, and Rowland Heights, Calif., 25 miles from downtown Los Angeles.

“It’s a place where people are born, raised and come back to raise their own children,” Schneider said.

The Pioneer Press contributed to this report, via the Sun-Times Media Wire

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