Best Cities to Start a Business


For most entrepreneurs, there are countless dynamics that factor into the decision to start a new business. Funding, economic trends, hiring pools, affordability and other variables can strongly influence the growth and success of a startup business. A recent report from SCORE—a nonprofit association dedicated to helping small businesses—shows that 50% of all workers in the U.S. are employed by small businesses and 63% of new jobs from mid-2009 to 2012 were created by small businesses.

May is Small Business Month, and to analyze the importance of location for aspiring entrepreneurs, we at NerdWallet compiled our annual list of the best cities to start a business in. We examined the following factors in our analysis of the 50 largest cities in the country:

1.    Access to funding: we calculated what we defined as small business loans—the dollar value of commercial and industrial (C&I) loans under $250,000 lent per capita in 2013 by banks with under $10 billion in total assets in each city.

2.    Human capital: access to quality human capital and ease of hiring are important factors for businesses, so we measured recent population growth and the percentage of residents in each city with a bachelor’s degree or higher.

3.    Local economy: we evaluated the strength of the local economy through per capita income and unemployment rate.

4.    Business-friendliness: we measured the number of businesses per 100 residents and included the small business friendliness rating from Thumbtack’s 2013 Survey of Small Business Owners by assigning numerical values to letter grades (an “A+” is equivalent to a score of 12, “A” is 11…”F” is 0).

5.    Affordability: since affordability is vital for startup businesses, we included the 2013 cost of living index in our analysis.

For more information, check out NerdWallet’s Cost of Living Calculator.

Best Cities to Start a Business

1.    Oklahoma City, Okla.

Oklahoma City offers a low cost of living and unemployment rate and its banks lent the highest per capita monetary amount of small business loans of the 50 largest cities in the nation. Oklahoma City’s major industries include aviation, healthcare and biotechnology. The city is home to several small business incubators, such as i2E, Inc., a private not-for-profit that aids tech-based entrepreneurs and early stage businesses. The University of Central Oklahoma Small Business Development Center is another resource that provides training and support to local entrepreneurs.

2.    Miami, Fla.

Miami is home to more businesses per 100 residents than any other large city in the U.S. Furthermore, it is one of the fastest-growing major cities in the country, with population increasing nearly 19 percent between 2007 and 2012. Aspiring businesspersons can find several resources here, such as the Miami Entrepreneurship Center (MEC261), a non-profit incubator and free coworking center for startups, and Miami Dade College’s Minority & Small Business Enterprise Office, which focuses on the development of minority, small and female-owned businesses.

3.    Omaha, Neb.

The unemployment rate in Greater Omaha is the lowest of the 50 largest cities in the U.S., and the cost of living is also lower here than in most other places, making it an affordable location for new businesses. Omaha-based entrepreneurs have access to business support in organizations like the Omaha Small Business Network and the Nebraska Business Development Center at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Meanwhile, new technology businesses can receive mentorship and sponsorship assistance from Straight Shot, a local startup accelerator.

4.    Raleigh, N.C.

Raleigh has the highest population growth rate of all top ten cities along with a relatively low cost of living, and business owners are positive about the city as a home for small businesses—Raleigh received an “A” on Thumbtack’s Survey of Small Business Friendliness. The Small Business and Technology Development Center (SBTDC) in Raleigh provides free services to help North Carolina businesses grow and prosper, while the NC State University Technology Incubator collaborates with technology startups to offer resources and partnerships.

5.    Nashville, Tenn.

Nashville is a hub for the healthcare, automotive and finance industries and small business owners appreciate what the city has to offer, as evidenced by its “A” grade on the Survey of Small Business Friendliness. The Tennessee Small Business Development Center network, which provides counseling, training and other resources to new or hopeful entrepreneurs, operates a center in Nashville. Another local resource is the Nashville Business Incubation Center, which offers guidance in strategic business growth to small businesses.

6.    Atlanta, Ga.

Atlanta offers businesses a well-educated human capital market—over 47 percent of residents 25 years and older hold a bachelor’s degree or higher. Incidentally, Atlanta is also among NerdWallet’s best cities for recent college graduates, with universities such as the Georgia Institute of Technology supplying talent to local businesses. Georgia Tech also has a startup incubator—the Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC)—that provides education, mentorship, facilities and more to high-potential technology startups.

7.    Austin, Texas

Austin is attractive to small business owners in a variety of aspects—it is home to a rapidly growing and well-educated population, has a low unemployment rate and cost of living and received an “A+” on the Survey of Small Business Friendliness. The lack of a corporate tax is another benefit to Texas businesses. Austin’s Small Business Development Program fosters the growth of local business through various tools and resources aimed to help small businesses at various levels. Another organizational resource is the Austin Technology Incubator at the University of Texas at Austin, which has helped local startups for 25 years.

8.    Seattle, Wash.

Seattle has a strong hiring pool to attract businesses looking for human capital—almost 58 percent of residents 25 years and older hold at least a bachelor’s degree, the highest mark of all 50 cities. The city’s per capita income of $42,280 is the highest of the top ten places. Aspiring entrepreneurs and current business owners can learn and network at events hosted by Seattle Entrepreneurs, while training and other resources can be found at the Seattle location of the Washington Small Business Development Center Network.

9.    Denver, Colo.

Denver’s top industries are aerospace and aviation, broadcasting and telecommunications, energy and healthcare. Some of the business-friendly characteristics of the city include a high proportion of well-educated people and a moderate cost of living. People hoping to start a business here can find resources at the Denver Metro Small Business Development Center, while early stage startups might be eligible to receive support from the Jake Jabs Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Colorado Denver.

10. Memphis, Tenn.

Memphis has one of the highest amounts of C&I loans lent per capita as well as the lowest cost of living index of the 50 largest cities. Institutional resources include Emerge Memphis, an organization that provides strategic support to startups and entrepreneurs in the Mid-South.


The overall score for each city was calculated from the following measures (with each variable’s weightage in the final score included in parentheses):

  1. C&I loans under $250,000 per capita from banks with total assets under $10 billion via the FDIC (20%)
  2. Population growth between 2007 and 2012 from the U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey (10%)
  3. Percentage of population 25 years and older with a bachelor’s degree or higher from the U.S. Census Bureau ACS (10%)
  4. Per capita income from the U.S. Census Bureau ACS (10%)
  5. February 2014 metropolitan area unemployment rate from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (10%)
  6. Number of businesses per 100 residents from the U.S. Census Bureau ACS (10%)
  7. Small business friendliness rating from Thumbtack’s Survey of Small Business Owners (10%)
  8. 2013 Annual Average Cost of Living Index from the Council for Community and Economic Research (20%)

We included the 50 largest cities in the U.S. in the analysis.

Business owner image from Shutterstock

  • JG

    It’s so cool to see so many different cities promoting/championing small business and entrepreneurship. That’s exactly what our country needs to grow, come up out of the economic downturn, and be an economic powerhouse. We have the resources…sometimes people just need a boost of confidence and help–i.e. a friendly state business climate thanks to business development centers, business-friendly taxes, etc. (another helpful resource for those hoping to start a business is Starting A Business, which lays out the process in a step-by-step format for each state, )

    Here’s to a growing population of business owners in all of these locations and hopefully others.

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