Maybe geography should be part of your transition strategy.

Leaving the military for a civilian career presents a set of questions unique to cleared job seekers.  There’s always the first tier: Which job title best suits your skills?  And which companies present the most and best opportunities?  But there’s a second tier – the big picture questions that revolve around zip codes and issues like the economy, the unemployment rate for veterans and the available social support.

Forbes, CNN and USAA annually rank cities for professional and personal quality of life.  But for cleared candidates, some cities stand out.  Take a look at these five metropolitan areas where the economy is healthy, opportunities are vast and having a clearance matters.

Hampton Roads, Va. (Virginia Beach, Newport News, Norfolk)

This region reads like a story book for cleared veterans.   Hampton Roads is essentially the east coast’s military hub.  Civilian jobs requiring clearances extend across major naval installations, three Army bases, Defense Department agencies and seven of the top 10 defense contractors. Its’ no wonder the veteran unemployment rate is only five percent.

As of March, 2013, housing prices averaged $188,000.  That’s affordable, considering cleared IT professionals in cybersecurity earn $100,000, and those in software and engineering earn more.  The state reports that Hampton Roads now has the fastest growing per capita personal income among peer metropolitan areas.  In addition, the region has a strong VA health care presence.

San Diego-Carlsbad-San Marcos, Calif.

Already home to the largest population of veterans in America, San Diego released a report in January, claiming the city is now number one for veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.  The bulk of cleared jobs within the military community are spread across seven major Navy and Marine Corps bases in an area housing the largest naval fleet in the world.

It doesn’t end there.  San Diego is a leader in the biotechnology industry, where demand for security clearances continues to grow. More than 100 biotech and pharmaceutical companies increasingly rely on IT security professionals.  While Kiplinger ranked San Diego ninth in the nation for cost of living, most of that due to housing prices.  Still, salaries average in the $90,000 to $100,000 range for cleared professionals.

Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, Texas

While this part of Texas is not military heavy, what’s heavy is the amount of federal contract dollars flowing into the region.  Despite defense cuts that may negatively affect the defense industry, major contractors like Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and Bell Helicopter continue to hire cleared veterans.

More than 10,000 corporations are headquartered in the DFW Metroplex, representing oil, gas, manufacturing, aviation and energy, all of which value a clearance.  The unemployment rate for veterans is low, and the same is true for cost of living.  Salaries for cleared workers in IT are comparable to those along the east coast.  But housing prices remain drastically lower, averaging about $63 per square foot.

Tucson, Ariz.

Two major military installations offer opportunities for cleared job seekers; Davis-Monthan Air Force Base and Fort Huachuca.  But you may want to also consider a high tech industry that’s only getting bigger.  Close to 100 defense contractors operate here.  Raytheon tops the list, followed by Boeing, Honeywell and General Dynamics.

Tucson’s unemployment rate for veterans is low, 6.5 percent.  So are housing prices, which averaged $148,000 in March.  Salaries for cleared logistics managers average $75,000 to $89,000, with software engineers earning a little more. The number of veteran owned businesses is more than 17 percent in a town now boasting a veteran population of 13 percent.

Huntsville, Ala.

They don’t call it Rocket City for nothing. Huntsville continues to be a haven for all things aerospaceRedstone Arsenal has more than 60 federal agencies and organizations providing technology development for defense, space, missile and aviation programs.  Support businesses related to these industries also abound.  In short, if you’ve got a clearance and IT skills, you can get a job in Huntsville.

The cost of living remains low, with housing prices averaging $133,000.  While the average household income is $74,000, cleared IT professionals generally earn higher incomes.  A veteran friendly town, Huntsville’s Chamber of Commerce claims it is the fourth most optimistic city in America.

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Tranette Ledford is a writer and owner of Ledford, LLC, which provides writing, editorial and public relations consulting for defense, military and private sector businesses. You can contact her at: