Atlanta’s big tent: nerdy, smart, redneck and stressed

A real estate research firm has deduced something most of us who have stewed on I-285 already knew – we’re stressed out.

The Movoto blog, which devises “studies” of various attributes of cities and states, ranked Georgia second to our crazy neighbor, Florida, when it comes to stressed-out states. The culprits: long commutes, a lack of health insurance, higher-than-average unemployment yet longer-than-normal workweeks when employed.

Psychologist Becky Beaton, who runs The Anxiety and Stress Management Institute in Marietta, is not surprised. Her practice, she said, “is busier than ever before. There’s a lot of stressed out people trying to juggle work and 15 other things.”

Top 10 lists, best of lists, worst of lists, hot lists, not lists — if you can rank it, rate it or simply put it in order, you’ll find Atlanta near the top of whatever it is. Or near the bottom, if the topic is something like crime, education or poverty. Civic leaders often decry the methodology — unless, of course, the study suits their purposes.

For instance, Gov. Nathan Deal seized the moment last fall with a press release when Site Selection magazine rated Georgia’s business climate as Numero Uno.

Penske Truck Rental recently listed Atlanta as America’s top moving destination, the city’s fourth year in a row topping the poll. This coincides with Homes.com last month ranking Atlanta as the top city for new college grads.

Atlantans historically have desired to know how we stack up. Long ago, some railroad tracks connected here and the leaders of Terminus stood back, stroked their mustaches and then asked, “How do we rate?”

Atlanta’s motto, “The City Too Busy to Hate,” later morphed into “Man, Ain’t Our Airport Busy?”

“It’s always been a city with ambition; we’ve always wanted to tell our story to create economic development,” said Kenneth Bernhardt, a retired Georgia State University marketing professor who has served on just about every civic/business organization worth noting.

Atlanta has no snow-capped mountains or sun-swept beaches, so getting people to visit this business- and convention-oriented town has always been the trick. Once here, Bernhardt said, “those people are usually pleasantly surprised.”

Those already here might be surprised as to how often we land atop the data and lifestyle snapshots taken by the number crunchers at Movoto.

In the past year or so, the blog has named Atlanta as the eighth most exciting city, the fourth smartest city and No. 1 as the funniest, nerdiest and most redneck.

The last two poll results seem mutually exclusive, but maybe not, because some say it just shows Atlanta has a big tent.

The nerd quotient was an inexact science devised by a self-professed nerd who looked at the number of sci/fi fantasy conventions here and then did a lot of dividing: People per comic book store, per video game store, per computer store, per Renaissance Festival and so on.

Lawrenceville resident Jason Tufu represents Nerd Atlanta in several ways. The computer science major dropped out of college when he found he could make more selling comic books on eBay.

“There’s definitely a lot of nerds here,” the California native said. But it wasn’t necessarily the collection of video gamers and sci/fi aficionados within a short drive of Dragon Con that kept him here.

“This is really business friendly,” said Tufu, whose wife opened a costume jewelry store in Duluth. “Starting a business here is definitely more user-friendly than in California. Plus, I was surprised how cheap it was here.”

The redneck ranking seems a bit familiar. Atlanta shocked the world by pulling in the 1996 Olympics but was derided by some as the Bubba Games after featuring pickup trucks in the Opening Ceremonies.

The Movoto redneck formula divided cities’ populations by, among other things, gun shops, taxidermists, NASCAR race tracks and number of riding lawn mower/tractor repairs shops.

A call to Lawnmower Service and Repair found Dawn Cueller, wife of Tony, the repairman.

She laughed at the business being a factor in the redneck formula. “People think my husband would be an old man on the porch with suspenders,” she said.

Redneck? Tony’s a Chicago native who played hockey until fairly recently, and the couple is considering sending their son to a top-notch private high school.

Talk about stereotype busting.

Randy Nelson, who helps compile the polls, said there is an office joke at Movoto: “Is Atlanta going to come out on top again?”

Nelson said the wide range of rankings shows “Atlanta is very diverse in many senses of the word. Is it geographic, or economic or some special ingredient that brings together so many kinds of people.”

Late last year, Nelson compiled all the polls and data to come up with America’s 10 Best Cities for 2013.

“These are the nerdiest, smartest, hardest working, most exciting, and downright best cities in the country according to a year of studying what makes America’s metros so great,” he wrote.

Atlanta ranked third, just below Portland (1) and Seattle.

Our city fathers standing by those railroad tracks long ago would be so proud.

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