This year's third annual Strongest Town Contest has been an absolute blast. We've gotten to know a little tourist town in New York state, a thriving city in South Carolina, a walking paradise in Mexico and so many other inspiring communities. We've spoken with residents who care deeply about their cities and we've seen images that showcased their natural beauty, exciting downtowns and unique features. Throughout this contest, we've been asking how these towns are working to be financially strong and resilient — how they're developing healthy local economies and how they're planning for successful, fiscally sound futures. It was an honor to get to know all of them through our third annual Strongest Town Contest.

Today, we're ready to announce the winner. The final match-up between Kent, Ohio and Muskegon, Michigan proved to be one of our closest races yet. In the end, the winner took the lead by just four percentage points.

We're pleased to announce the winner of this year's Contest: Muskegon, Michigan!

 Muskegon residents build a garden in a vacant lot.

Muskegon residents build a garden in a vacant lot.

Muskegon shone from the beginning with an initial application that touted the community's enthusiastic strong citizen spirit, its wildly successful and creatively former farmers market, its commitment to rebuilding its downtown, and the many ways in which the town makes good use of its active Lake Michigan waterfront.

In Round Two, Muskegon highlighted new residential developments that are creating greater housing options for people of all ages and family sizes. They also talked about the cruise ships that recently began stopping in Muskegon and their economic engagement with those visitors. Muskegon applicants also discussed the work they're doing to fill vacant lots and increase small business opportunities.

Round Three gave Muskegon the chance to dive in further on some of its challenges and successes, and we loved chatting with representatives from this town in our Championship Webcast.

Here's what residents of Muskegon had to say about why theirs is a strong town:

  • "We LOVE Muskegon because it is an eclectic mix of new and old, large and small, inclusive and friendly. The quality of life is second to none while still being affordable."
  • "Memories are made every night as we watch the colorful sunset over Lake Michigan."
  • "This new farmer’s market is the pride and joy of our community."
  • "Now Muskegon is known as one of the most popular ports on the Great Lakes because of the flower lined streets, local museums and friendly volunteers."
  • "We're so excited to share our town with visitors."

Muskegon, Michigan is home to 38,000 people — a diversity of ages, incomes and races. Its economy is based on many different tourism- and manufacturing-related businesses, and it boasts dozens of schools including several small colleges. Its lively festivals and beautiful waterfront attract residents and visitors alike.

Muskegon follows in the footsteps of last year's Michigan winner, Traverse City. This Midwestern state is shaping up to be quite a leader in building strong towns!

We congratulate Muskegon on its win and thank all of the towns for their participation in this contest.

We'll be back next year for a fourth run of this contest so please join us then and stick around to see all the work that we do throughout the year. If you've got feedback about this year's contest, we'd love to hear it. Please email quednau@strongtowns.org with your comments.

(Top graphic by Matthias Leyrer)