There are 28 million small businesses in the United States, and the majority are optimistic about the direction their business will go in the next 12 months, according to a recent CNBC/SurveyMonkey Small Business survey of 2,030 business owners.
Where's the best place to start one?
The financial website WalletHub wanted to know, so it looked at the relative start-up opportunities that exist in the 150 most populated U.S. cities. It compared them across 18 key metrics, ranging from five-year business survival rate to office-space affordability. It then grouped these metrics into three main categories to come up with their ranking:
Business Environment: i.e., average length of the workweek, start-ups per capita.
Access to Resources: ease of obtaining a loan; number of college-educated men and women living in the area.
Business Costs: living expenses, office-space affordability.
Read on to see which cities made the top 15 in America.
Located on the north bank of the Rio Grande River in south Texas, this city was founded in 1755. It grew from a villa to the capital of the brief Republic of the Rio Grande, to the largest inland port on the U.S.–Mexican border. Given its proximity to Mexico, it has a large bilingual workforce that focuses predominately in trade, transportation, utilities, education and health care.
More than $283 billion worth of goods pass through Laredo's port, and last year the region handled more than 50 percent of the trade between Mexico and the United States. With so much activity — Laredo leads the nation in the export of vehicle parts to the rest of the world — there's ample room for entrepreneurs to get started. The city's cost of living is 8 percent lower than the nation's average, and home prices, though rising, are still affordable. At the state level, the Texas Enterprise Fund helps small businesses with incentives tied to job creation and capital investment in the area. Texas A&M International University, part of the Texas A&M University system, is located in Laredo.
Unemployment rate: 4.6%
Median housing cost: $179,945
Per capita income: $16,673
Port St. Lucie is south Florida's third-largest city and, of course, home to the New York Mets spring training. But the city, located halfway between Miami and Orlando on Florida's east coast, is also becoming known as a smart and affordable place to start a business. It has a low cost of living, good schools and a low unemployment rate.
The Florida Virtual Entrepreneur Center helps start-ups across multiple industries connect with each other and resources, such as training and investors. The city's cost of living is 3 percent below the national average, and housing prices are lower than in nearby cities such as Miami. Financial services and health care are two of the area's biggest sectors, so not surprisingly, there are a fair number of start-ups in these markets. In addition to having deep roots in baseball, the city is also home to the Professional Golf Association Learning Center, PGA Historical Center and the PGA Golf Professional Hall of Fame.
Unemployment rate: 4.3%
Median housing cost: $229,500
Per capita income: $27,300
Lubbock, located in the heart of western Texas, is known as the Hub City because of its central role in the economic health of the region, especially in its education and health-care sectors. The city consistently ranks high for small-business start-ups, thanks mainly to its low cost of living, affordable housing market and its low unemployment rate.
Among the city's offerings: affordable rent for office and retail space, plentiful data and high-tech services and lower gasoline and transportation costs than on the coasts. The area has a growing medical sector, a robust agriculture industry — Lubbock is the state's top cotton producer — and a pipeline of talent coming from Texas Tech University. It and other colleges offer new businesses research and funding resources. And, of course, Lubbock is a fun place to live as well. It hosts the National Cowboy Festival every year and is home to the National Ranching Heritage Center.
Unemployment rate: 3.2%
Median housing cost: $213,625
Per capita income: $23,982
This bustling North Carolina capital is known as the "City of Oaks" for the numerous Oak trees that line the streets and sidewalks of downtown. The bucolic scene is just one of the reasons folks flock to Raleigh to start their own businesses. Along with its neighbors Durham and Chapel Hill, the city makes up what's known as Research Triangle Park — or the Triangle, as it's known — the tri-city region that's become a hub for technology start-ups and robust hiring.
Entrepreneurs can draw from the pool of talented graduates coming out of North Carolina State University with degrees in engineering, biology and agriculture, as well as Duke University in Durham. Nearby Chapel Hill is home to the University of North Carolina, known for its programs in business, government, law and public health. Looking ahead, economists predict an estimated 12,000 new jobs will be created in the Triangle in the coming year, with the IT sector outpacing the rest of the country in job creation by 1 percent.
Unemployment rate: 3.7%
Median housing cost: $314,900
Per capita income: $32,362
One of the biggest draws of this city, located in the southwest corner of Missouri, is that it makes life easy. The workforce in Springfield has grown nearly 9 percent over the past four years, with men and women attracted by a variety of companies, big and small, that have either relocated or started here. The cost of housing is nearly 22 percent lower than the national average, and the overall cost of living is 10 percent cheaper, making it easier for millennials to start their careers and families here. And did we mention that the average commute time to work is a speedy 20 minutes? (Take note, New York City and San Francisco.)
The city is also nurturing its burgeoning start-up scene. Missouri State University's Small Business & Technology Development Center, with offices located in Springfield, provides small businesses with training, products and solutions designed to help them become part of Missouri's thriving small-business sector.
Unemployment rate: 3.3%
Median housing cost: $134,900
Per capita income: $23,691
There's a reason why Sioux Falls's motto is "The Heart of America." The city sits in the southeastern corner of South Dakota, where four states converge. The biggest industry in Sioux Falls is health care, but there is also a substantial financial sector, with Citibank and Wells Fargo leading the way. In fact, South Dakota has nearly $3 trillion in bank assets, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. — more than any other state.
Several big agribusiness, grocery and telecom companies call the city home, and it's no surprise. The state has no individual or corporate income tax, and business costs are more than 20 percent below the national average. As one of the fastest-growing areas in the country, Sioux City has a rate of population growth that's nearly four times the national average.
Unemployment rate: 2.9%
Median housing cost: $152,104
Per capita income: $29,926
This largest city in the Texas Panhandle can thank small-business incubators for growing the economy over the past several years. According to figures from the West Texas A&M University Small Business Development Center, Amarillo had more than 58 start-ups open their doors last year, creating more than 200 new jobs. That injected nearly $7 billion into the local economy, the center says.
A rosier jobs picture is perking up the housing market as well. Last year housing starts were up 21 percent, driven in large part to lower mortgage rates and job growth. The cost of living here is nearly 6 percent less than the national average. The city has also been ranked as the third windiest city in the nation, which is actually a good thing. Wind turbines dot the landscape in Amarillo, producing renewable energy — and jobs. Studies at Texas A&M show that for every 100 megawatts of power generated, more than 400 new construction jobs are created.
Unemployment rate: 3%
Median housing cost: $179,000
Per capita income: $26,859
More than 100,000 new residents are expected to arrive in this Texas capital city over the next two years, ranking it ninth for all U.S. metro areas for population growth. Folks are attracted by the job opportunities being created by a growing number of start-ups. In fact, Softmatch, a local firm that matches companies with potential start-ups for investments and strategic partnerships, says Austin leads the nation in start-ups per capita. The deal numbers are smaller than in Silicon Valley but still totaled more than $600 million last year.
The sectors that are especially robust include education, technology, data science and health care. However, some challenges come with this kind of white-hot growth: The cost of housing is well above the national average, making homebuying more difficult for millennials — the men and women attracted to all those start-ups. This is offset a bit by the fact that Austin has no personal or corporate income tax and has a low state and local tax rate.
Unemployment rate: 3.2%
Median housing cost: $409,000
Per capita income: $34,959
Not that long ago, the Arch City was home to a few big, sluggish corporations and the former headquarters of the iconic brewer Anheuser-Busch. That was then. Today this city is becoming known as a start-up hub that's creating new jobs at a healthy clip and drawing more families with its affordable housing, central U.S. location and lower cost of living. The state's public and private sectors have been aggressively promoting entrepreneurship. In fact, the state's Missouri Technology Corp., which invests in local small businesses, is helping St. Louis and other cities in the state stand out as leaders in start-up funding. A report released late last year by the Census Bureau, along with the Kauffman Foundation — a nonprofit that researches and promotes entrepreneurship — showed that health-care firms made up the biggest share of new businesses in the state and that women started more businesses in Missouri than in any other state.
Unemployment rate: 3.8%
Median housing cost: $149,600
Per capita income: $31,529
As the home of Duke University, Durham has emerged as a family friendly, affordable North Carolina city that offers the best of urban living combined with small-town friendliness. It's often mentioned with neighbors Raleigh and Chapel Hill when referring to the area's Research Triangle, the tri-city region known as a hotbed for technology start-ups and innovative research. Job growth in the tech sector is strong, led by start-ups in clean tech, pharmaceuticals and advanced medical care. The strong jobs outlook has kept unemployment low but has driven housing prices up over the past few years. Still, Durham remains far less expensive than other tech-centric cities, such as San Francisco and Boston. Small-business owners benefit from a growing talent pool — 30,000 people move to the region each year — attracted to the city because of its economic strength, quality of life and famed university system. Entrepreneurs can also tap into tax credits for job creation, investment in the region and research and development.
Unemployment rate: 3.7%
Median housing cost: $260,000
Per capita income: $32,362
This city, perched on the Grand River — the longest waterway in Michigan — has transformed from a hub of furniture production into a robust center for small-business start-ups, thanks to a low cost of doing business and access to a sizable talent pool. Grand Rapids grew its economy more than 3 percent last year. Similar growth is expected this year.
The Michigan Small Business Development Center helps entrepreneurs get whatever they need to start and grow their companies, from business-plan development and market research to the best ways to raise capital. The city's central location and affordable housing has been especially attractive to millennials who are moving into the area to work and start families. And if a healthy local economy wasn't enough of a draw, just consider that the metro Grand Rapids area is also home to a pretty significant craft beer scene. In fact, the Beer City Ale Trail leads to more than 40 breweries in the area offering tastings and tours.
Unemployment rate: 2.4%
Median housing cost: $374,900
Per capita income: $28,029
A diverse small-business ecosystem is finding root in Oklahoma's second-largest city. Tulsa's low-cost operating environment and affordable housing market mean that start-ups are in an ideal position to attract and keep workers and offer them competitive wages. There's a robust pipeline of talent coming out of Oklahoma State University–Tulsa, the University of Tulsa and Oral Roberts University. State-sponsored small-business incubators, such as i2E, are providing Tulsa small-business owners with the capital, networking capabilities and advising they need to grow their companies. Oil and gas and aerospace are the major small-business hubs, but there is also growth in advanced manufacturing, distribution and logistics, software and IT.
Unemployment rate: 4.2%
Median housing cost: $179,000
Per capita income: $27,313
Does it take more than 200 days of sunshine to be considered a good place to start a small business? No, but it sure doesn't hurt. Abundant sunshine isn't the only thing that makes Charlotte attractive to entrepreneurs. The Queen City is growing at a healthy clip, with all age groups contributing to its population. In fact, the city is expected to double in size by 2030. A host of corporate headquarters (Bank of America, Duke Energy, among them) make Charlotte a great place to start a new business. Housing is affordable, and the cost of living is 1.2 percent below the national average. The city also offers a good quality of life, making it easier to attract and keep workers. Aside from being home to the NFL's Panthers and the NBA's Hornets, Charlotte also boasts the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Unemployment rate: 4%
Median housing cost: $284,900
Per capita income: $31,844
There's a reason why Salt Lake City is part of the area in Utah with the nickname Silicon Slopes. This capital city — located between Ogden to the north and Provo to the south — has emerged as a hot spot for tech entrepreneurs and other tech-related start-ups. That's because the picturesque city offers small-business owners low taxes, affordable real estate and an educated pool of potential workers from Brigham Young University, the University of Utah and Utah State. Those qualities are what attracted eBay several years ago to open a 241,000-square-foot facility in the suburbs of Salt Lake City that now employs more than 1,500 workers. The city is benefiting from ongoing investments at the state level in technology. In fact, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently ranked Utah the No. 1 state in innovation and entrepreneurship. Small businesses will also benefit from the more than $20 million going to the state's universities to help them fund programs to promote tech outreach and innovation.
Unemployment rate: 3.1%
Median housing cost: $369,900
Per capita income: $28,192
This capital city of the Sooner State ranks tops for entrepreneurs looking to start a business. Oklahoma City offers a host of attractive features to small-business owners. The city ranks in the top five across the nation in terms of low cost of doing business (nearly 5 percent below the national average), low energy costs and reasonable local and state taxes. Its cost of living is 15.4 percent below the national average, making it particularly attractive for young people. In fact, Oklahoma City ranks in the top 10 U.S. cities as the best place to start a career. The state offers a number of incentives to small-business employers that start or expand here. For instance, companies with 90 or fewer employees can receive up to 5 percent cash back on payroll for up to seven years to locate or expand in Oklahoma. They can also earn cash back for creating jobs that pay better than the county's average. A business accelerator — i2e — is also helping start-ups based in the capital city get funding of up to $250,0000 to expand and grow.
Unemployment rate: 3.5%
Median housing cost: $184,900
Per capita income: $26,275