OP Alton, IL is almost like a suburb of St. Louis, MO. The local news in Alton is St. Louis. Nice area, It is about 50 min from me. It is a river town, it is a very nice town, lots to do and about 15 min from St Louis.
Very much cheaper than California. Whoever said gas prices were higher in MO than IL was spot on, about 30 cents a gallon cheaper. Alton is a nice area to live and work. I can't think of anywhere I would like to live year round more than here.
The people are nice, the horseflies are horrible.
Don't buy or rent a house in a flood plane, because in the 4 years you are here it will flood at least once, most likely twice.
The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the second best time is today.