Georgia checks a lot of boxes for business owners.
Low tax rates? Check. Ample technology infrastructure? Check. An abundance of well-educated workers? Check. Affordable cost of living? Check. Readily available support services? Check.
It’s no wonder the Peach State is consistently rated as one of the best states to start a business.
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But deciding where to set up shop in Georgia, though, can be difficult. NerdWallet crunched the numbers to find the best places to start a business in the state.
NerdWallet analyzed 126 places in Georgia, each with a population of at least 5,000. Cities with fewer than 500 businesses were excluded, regardless of population. We calculated the overall score for each location based on the city’s business climate and economic health using data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
To determine a community’s business climate, we looked at average revenue, percentage of businesses with paid employees and the number of businesses per 100 people. Most small businesses in the U.S. are sole proprietorships without paid employees.
To determine a community’s economic health, we looked at median annual income, median annual housing costs and the unemployment rate.
Suburbs turning a profit. Some of Georgia’s biggest cities — Atlanta, Columbus, Augusta and Savannah — have the largest number of businesses in the state, but the most profitable businesses are in the suburbs and smaller cities. Six places in the top 10, each with a population under 60,000, boast higher average revenue per business than the state’s most populous cities.
Location, location, location. All of the top 10 cities are along major transportation routes, a plus for businesses shipping products around the region or the country. Proximity to Atlanta doesn’t hurt, either. Four of the 10 best places are within 30 miles of Georgia’s largest city.
Best places to start a business in Georgia
With almost 60,000 residents, Alpharetta is the largest city in the top 10. It has nearly 9,000 businesses, which average over $6.9 million in revenue per business each year, more than any city on this list. Alpharetta is part of the Georgia 400 corridor, a road that stretches along state Route 400 from north Georgia to the Atlanta metro area. The corridor is a major transit route, has a strong fiber optic network and has given Alpharetta and Cumming, also in the top 10, a major economic boost.
Doraville’s average revenue per business ($5,361,780) is second only to Alpharetta. The city’s proximity to Atlanta, major transportation routes and two of the state’s largest airports make it a prime location for businesses. Doraville is redeveloping a former General Motors plant, which closed in 2009, to serve as a business and community center dubbed “Assembly.” A movie studio, Third Rail Studios, is set to anchor part of the development, which also has ample space for retail, dining and other businesses.
Home to over 1,700 business, Vinings is in a favorable location between two major interstates and 10 minutes from downtown Atlanta. More than 35% of the city’s businesses have paid employees, contributing to Vinings’ unemployment rate of 2.5%, which is far below the national average of 5.5%. Area businesses include Home Depot, which is headquartered nearby, as well as smaller establishments such as Social Vinings, a restaurant named business of the year in 2014 by the Vinings Business Association.
4. Garden City
Garden City is the industrial hub of Chatham County, part of the state’s coastal region. Georgia Ports Authority is based in Garden City, and the city’s shipping terminal is one of the busiest container ports in the U.S. The average revenue for businesses in Garden City is over $2.16 million, and roughly 43% of businesses have paid employees, helping keep the city’s unemployment rate below the national average.
Downtown Dalton is one of the largest downtown districts in the state. The city invested $7 million to develop its city center, which is home to about 300 businesses. In total, Dalton boasts nearly 3,500 businesses, and over 40% of those have paid employees. The average revenue per business is $3,277,773, which is among the highest of the cities NerdWallet analyzed.
Cumming is one of the smallest cities on this list, but it has more business per 100 people than anyplace in this study. In fact, Cumming has almost as many businesses (5,251) as it does residents (5,504). Located along the bustling Georgia 400 corridor, businesses in Cumming benefit from the area’s transportation and technology infrastructure. The city’s Small Business Services Center offers coaching and roundtable discussions to help local business owners start and grow their enterprises.
Entrepreneurs eyeing Norcross for their business ventures can take advantage of free mentoring and workshops through Score Atlanta, a nonprofit resource center for small businesses in the Atlanta metro area. Incentives offered for businesses in the state-designated opportunity zone, such as a $3,500 per job tax credit, are also a bonus for business owners. These perks may contribute to the high concentration of businesses in Norcross, which has about 30 businesses per 100 residents.
Jesup is the county seat of Wayne County, which was deemed an “Entrepreneur Friendly Community” by the state of Georgia. Nearly 45% of businesses in Jesup have employees on their payroll, the highest percentage of cities in this study. Companies in Jesup can take advantage of state and county programs to start and expand their businesses.
The Small Business Development Center at the University of West Georgia in Carrollton offers free consulting services to area companies, and the Burson Center, a business incubator in Carrollton, helps startups get off the ground. These services are a vital resource to the roughly 2,550 businesses in the city, and the help is paying dividends. The average revenue per business in Carrollton is over $3.6 million, making it one of the more profitable cities in the state for business owners.
Three highways and railways from six directions converge in Waycross, so it’s no surprise that transportation plays a major role in the city’s economy. CSX Rice Yard, which inspects, classifies, refuels and repairs locomotives, is one of the city’s largest employers with over 1,200 employees. It’s not the only shop in town, though. Waycross is home to over 1,300 businesses, and nearly 40% of them have paid employees.
Best places to start a business in Georgia data
NerdWallet analyzed 126 places in Georgia with populations of at least 5,000. Cities with fewer than 500 businesses were excluded, regardless of population. We calculated the overall score for each location using the following criteria:
Business climate, 65% of the overall score, is based on three metrics from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Survey of Business Owners.
- Average revenue of businesses is 20% of the score. A higher average contributed to a higher score.
- Percentage of businesses with paid employees is 25% of the score. A higher percentage contributed to a higher score.
- Businesses per 100 people is 20% of the score. A higher number contributed to a higher score.
Local economic health, 35% of the overall score, is based on three metrics from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.
- Median annual income is 10% of the score. A higher median income contributed to a higher score.
- Median annual housing costs are 10% of the score. Lower median costs contributed to a higher score.
- Unemployment rate for residents over 16 years old is 15% of the score. A lower rate contributed to a higher score.
What the experts have to say
Kennesaw State University
Georgia Southern University
NerdWallet staff writer Kelsey Sheehy contributed to this article.
Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta, Georgia, image via iStock.