Social factors and cultural amenities, be they outdoor activities like hiking or skiing or indoor trips to museums and theaters, can also have an indirect impact on a city's business climate. In Provo and Omaha, the feeling CEOs and local leaders get is that people who move there for work are also looking for the type of place where they can plant roots and raise families.
"We have spent lots of time and money to make sure we have most of the amenities that people want for a good quality of life," Brown of the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce said. "We find that people arrive thinking they'll spend a short time here and they end up staying here for decades."
Omaha's local business owners have an easy time ticking off the cultural attractions: the Joslyn Art Museum, the main fine-arts museum in the state; the Holland Performing Arts Center, where musicians like Elvis Costello perform; and Big Omaha, an annual springtime entrepreneurship conference.
Both cities benefit from large pools of younger workers that graduate from local universities each year. Elkington estimates that companies in Provo have around 12,000 college graduates to pick from each year, including those who are already in town because they attend Brigham Young University. A little more than 14,000 students attend the University of Nebraska Omaha.
While both Provo and Omaha receive help at the state level in attracting employers, Omaha has also found ways to overcome state-level weaknesses in Nebraska.
The Tax Foundation ranks Nebraska in the bottom half of U.S. states in its Business Tax Climate Index, a listing that compares states based on taxes that have the most impact on businesses, such as individual income and sales taxes. But a recent KPMG report that ranked cities based on their business competitiveness noted that, among 27 midsize Midwest cities, Omaha ranked fourth overall after assessing a variety of categories that might affect a small business, including electricity costs, effective corporate income-tax rates and overall labor costs.
Tax incentives and microloans also support small businesses and drive job growth. At the local level in Omaha, that task falls to the Omaha Small Business Network, which has doled out $1.8 million in microloans to small businesses over the last decade. Most of the loans are $50,000, with interest rates around 8 percent, and have gone to small accounting firms, restaurants and similar businesses.
The money comes from banks and private donors, according to executive director Julia Parker, and is reserved for businesses that haven't been able to secure a loan from a traditional financial institution, something not necessarily the fault of a business itself.
"There can be a variety of reasons why you can't access capital," said Parker. "But the ability to obtain a small-business loan is really the indicator of whether a business will be successful."
For James Overton, an Omaha transplant and founder of real estate development company Lantex, a $50,000 loan from the Omaha Small Business Network ensured he could keep payroll going for his 11 full-time employees while taking on new real estate projects.
"You have a lot of things that'll help catapult your business off the ground," he said. "In major cities, before you even open your doors, your overhead is so high that you can't actually flourish in the first few years. In Omaha you should start being able to turn a profit in the first 24 months."