Whether you’re actively looking to move or just experiencing some fantasy wanderlust, there’s no shortage of lists on the interwebs to tell you all about our country’s greatest cities and towns. Some are ranked for having the cheapest houses, some for the best schools, and some for best barbeque (priorities). Regardless, you can be sure that you will quickly be overwhelmed by the options available to you in this great nation.
For curious small-business owners, though, there are more particular questions that need to be answered. How welcoming is the city to newcomers? Are there financing options available? And very importantly, will you go broke trying to rent an apartment or office space there? (Related Q: should I move to a cheaper state?)
We did some digging to find out which cities are routinely making the lists these days, and which of those are most small-business-friendly. Looking at things like local investment into new business, cost of living, and business growth, we narrowed it down to our own personal top five.
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
The capital of the Sooner State is tearing up the “best of” lists this year. WalletHub ranked it number one in its best large cities to start a small business list, handily beating out Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York City. The city has invested in helping small businesses through its Greater Oklahoma City Chamber’s Business Retention and Expansion Team, which offers advice on financing, training, and workforce development programs, and information about infrastructure to help entrepreneurs figure out where to locate their business. The Oklahoma Small Business Development Center offers similar services, and has offices in and around Oklahoma City.
Plus, according to a 2015 report by the state’s employee security commission, Oklahoma had the fifth-lowest cost of living in any state in the U.S., with the current median home value in Oklahoma City hovering at $136,500.
You’d think that Austin would have long outstayed its welcome on lists like this. Between SXSW, Austin City Limits, and James Beard Award-winning Franklin Barbeque, it’s long been known that the liberal Texas enclave is a fantastic place to make a home and make a go of it as an entrepreneur. But the appeal, it seems, refuses to dissipate.
The city’s small business program offers coaching and assistance to entrepreneurs, including workshops geared specifically towards women and minority groups. The program also runs LocallyAustin.org, a website designed to help visitors and locals find great small businesses to support.
Raleigh, North Carolina
This charming North Carolina city has seen steady growth among small businesses over the past few years, and not without reason. Along with Durham and Chapel Hill, Raleigh is part of what’s known as Research Triangle Park, which is becoming a hub for tech start-ups. But unlike places like Silicon Valley, where tech is by far the leading industry, Raleigh offers an abundance of opportunities in biotech, industrial, R&D, and retail. It also ranked among WalletHub’s best cities to raise a family, scoring high points on “Family Fun” and “Health & Safety.” If you’re looking to keep both your loved ones and your entrepreneurial spirit, Raleigh is worth investigating.
This coastal city might be the biggest place on this list population-wise, but that doesn’t mean it should be discounted as a good place to launch a start-up. Sure, places like Oklahoma City and Raleigh might seem more quaint, but consider all that this sunny eastern-Florida beach town has going for it — beaches, nightlife, sandwiches. The area is also packed with business incubators and accelerators offering instruction for entrepreneurs at various stages of their careers, and in FY 2015-2016, about 1,559 companies were certified by the city’s Small Business Enterprise Programs. The diversity of the area means that there’s an opportunity for businesses of all stripes to succeed. Plus, events like Startup Weekend Miami encourage community and collaboration, as well as creating a small-business-friendly atmosphere. And of course, you can’t argue with the weather.
Watch out Austin, Laredo is coming for you! Sort of. Located on the southern border to Mexico, it’s a long ways away from the more-centralized Austin. But it’s growing quickly as a great place to start a small business. LiftFund, a nonprofit organization dedicated to funding entrepreneurs, has a location in Laredo that offers loans to start-ups of up to $50,000, and small business loans of up to $1 million. The area is also home to Texas A&M International University, and a large bilingual workforce, thanks to its proximity to Mexico. If you’re in the food business, a local developer recently announced his plans to open a food truck lot in the town’s North Central Park. And of course, where there are food trucks, development will soon follow.