Whether you’re looking to relocate or expand your company, you should consider taking a closer look at municipalities that are doing a good job supporting their local small businesses. Here are eight entrepreneurial hot spots worth considering for your next move (especially if you like the South). Besides having lower costs of living, high numbers of college graduates, and hot industries, these cities go above and beyond in their efforts to get small businesses up and running for the long term.
Austin: We’ve written before about how small businesses get a big boost from Austin’s City Hall and multiple entrepreneurship groups. But the state capital, like the rest of Texas, is also known for its business-friendly tax structure — no state personal income or corporate income tax. Austin is often used as a test market by companies because its large minority population reflects the nation’s future demographic mix.
Baltimore: Its biggest selling point is location: a 30-minute train ride from Washington, D.C. and two hours from New York City puts Baltimore businesses close to both federal agencies and Wall Street. Proximity to Johns Hopkins University also makes it fertile ground for biotech startups. But Baltimore proper is home to the Emerging Tech Center, a business incubator for tech startups. For all types of small businesses, the Baltimore Development Corporation offers low-interest loans in the $50,000 to $100,000 range. It also runs the Main Streets program, which revitalizes older neighborhoods by updating infrastructure, sprucing up storefronts, and finding tenants to move in.
Memphis: With five railroads and 400 trucking companies stopping through, and as home to the world’s busiest cargo airport (FedEx has its global hub here), Memphis is known as America’s distribution center. Besides logistics and distribution, other hot industries include manufacturing, tourism, food processing, and biosciences. Here you’ll find a range of public and private organizations offering small businesses help with everything from favorable loan terms for setting up shop in downtown Memphis to legal and accounting assistance when applying for government contracts.
Nashville: The other big Tennessee town is famous for being a major music recording center and tourist destination, but its largest industry is healthcare. More than 250 medically-oriented companies are located here, many of them startups. The most notable is Hospital Corporation of America, the country’s largest private operator of hospitals. Also headquartered here is the National Federation of Independent Business, the largest small business association in the U.S.
Oklahoma City: It has one of the highest small business growth rates in the U.S., a diverse economy (medical research, energy, education, and government), and a high concentration of local investors. Many of them are oil and gas industry veterans with deep pockets and the patience to wait years for a business to flourish. Multiple business incubators offer affordable lease space, administrative services, and other aid. One of the biggest is the Presbyterian Health Foundation Research Park, a mega-complex for life-science startups. Oklahoma state also offers cash rebates for job creation and to companies that are subcontractors to federal prime contractors, the only incentive of its kind in the country.
Phoenix: Arizona’s capital offers low commercial rents and plenty of available land to expand. Because the state is doing a good job of wooing talented young workers from higher-tax California, there’s a good employee base to choose from. Due to this population growth, real estate, food service, and tourism are joining the traditional high-tech and aerospace sectors as hot industries. Among Phoenix’s programs for small business growth is its notable Expansion Assistance and Development (EXPAND) program, which helps with financing by providing additional collateral, often up to 50 percent of the loan amount.
Raleigh: The “Research Triangle” of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill in North Carolina is a hotbed of technology and life science startups, thanks to a plethora of graduates from the three nearby universities. And the place to lease office space is Centennial Campus, a tech community that blends public, academic, and private-sector research, the only public-private partnership of its kind in the U.S. Any type of business can take advantage of the Raleigh Business & Technology Center, home to the Pacesetters Program, a 10-month program to assist with such things as strategic planning and financial forecasting. The Raleigh area also offers grants, incentives, and loans for job creation, worker training, research and development, and investing in business property and equipment. Another business plus: no local income taxes.
San Antonio: Businesses with a Latin American focus will do well in this Texas city, which has a two-thirds Hispanic population. Free Trade Alliance San Antonio helps firms that want to develop and expand international business ties, and the Minority Business Enterprise Center offers comprehensive services to startups. The city also offers tax credits to businesses in its Empowerment Zones. Besides being a major military town, San Antonio is also strong in aerospace, telecom, and manufacturing. It also aims to grow its technology sector through Startech, a private- and publicly-funded incubator for high-tech startups.