Oklahoma has a reputation among entrepreneurs: The Sooner State is friendly, and its blend of economic pluses and perks make it a great place to start a business.
The state offers a range of incentives, as well as low operational costs, a low rate of unemployment and a low cost of living. Oklahoma ranked seventh in the nation for small-business friendliness in a survey of entrepreneurs by Thumbtack and the Kauffman Foundation.
Incentives for entrepreneurs to operate in Oklahoma include the Small Employer Quality Jobs Program, which is specifically aimed at companies with 90 or fewer employees. Small-business incubators throughout the state provide business owners with resources, services and professional advice. Along with local chambers of commerce, Oklahoma Small Business Development Centers offer entrepreneurs additional resources to get started and thrive.
Other resources to help entrepreneurs in Oklahoma include NerdWallet’s Small Business Guide. For financing, which is critical for all owners, take a look at NerdWallet’s comparison of small-business loans for a variety of needs.
NerdWallet analyzed 64 places in Oklahoma, each with a population of at least 5,000. We calculated the score for each location based on the city’s business climate and economic health using data from the U.S. Census Bureau. See details about our methodology below.
Agriculture and energy rule. Energy and agriculture are an important part of the economy for most of the communities in the top 10. In addition, Oklahoma’s main energy sector — oil and gas — is going strong, with wind power contributing to the energy boom, too. Agricultural manufacturing and related bioscience research and development also are bolstering local economies throughout the state.
Small, but mighty places. Tulsa is the only major metropolitan area in the top 10. Most places topping our list are small communities, each with less than 13,000 residents, but in this largely rural state, all are centers of regional commerce.
Best places to start a business in Oklahoma
Ardmore, a city in Carter County, is considered the business and tourism hub of south-central Oklahoma. Businesses here bring in average annual revenue of $1.88 million each, the highest on our top 10 list. The city has 2,936 businesses and is home to museums, theaters, a convention center, nature centers, the Lake Murray State Park, Gold Mountain Casino and other attractions. The Ardmore Chamber of Commerce promotes businesses in the city on Ardmore.org. The city initially expanded as an energy-rich oil town, and that legacy remains to this day — Valero operates a large facility in the city. Major employers in Ardmore include Michelin North America, Mercy Hospital Ardmore, Dollar General Distribution Center and Wal-Mart Supercenter.
Woodward is a trade hub in northwest Oklahoma for the tri-state area that includes Kansas and Texas. Woodward’s 1,574 businesses see average annual revenues of $805,580 each. The median annual income in Woodward is over $40,000 a year, which is the second highest on our top 10 list. The Woodward Chamber of Commerce promotes businesses in the area. Major employers are Woodward Public Schools, Woodward Regional Hospital and Northwestern Oklahoma State University. The largest attractions in Woodward include Crystal Beach Park and Aquatics Center, High Plains Technology Center, major golf courses, the Woodward Conference Center and Woodward Arts Theater, as well as its wind-powered turbine farms.
Clinton, which calls itself the “Hub City of Western Oklahoma,” is located in Custer County less than 100 miles west of Oklahoma City. In Clinton, the average annual revenue per business is $924,591. The Clinton Chamber of Commerce promotes city businesses on ClintonOK.org. The city is home to the headquarters of the auto manufacturer SportChassis LLC. Popular attractions in Clinton include Water-Zoo Indoor Water Park, Oklahoma Route 66 Museum, Cheyenne Cultural Center and Lucky Star Casino.
4. Elk City
Elk City is in Beckham County on historic U.S. Route 66, now Interstate 40, in western Oklahoma. Businesses in Elk City see average annual revenues of $719,809 each, and there are more than 14 businesses per 100 people. Local businesses are promoted by the Elk City Chamber of Commerce and on VisitElkCity.com. Gas and oil are the foundation of the city’s economy. It is the self-proclaimed “Natural Gas Capital of the World” due to its location on the shelf of Oklahoma’s Anadarko Basin. The city is undergoing an oil boom that is creating jobs and a need for housing, expanded infrastructure and businesses. In addition to oil companies, major employers in Elk City include the Great Plains Regional Medical Center and Superior Fabrication Inc., which has its corporate office and a steel fabrication plant in the city.
Guymon, the largest city in the Oklahoma Panhandle, is in a place that was once known as “No Man’s Land.” Guymon businesses have average annual revenues of over $1.59 million each. The Guymon Chamber of Commerce promotes local businesses on GuymonOKChamber.com. The economy is based primarily on oil and gas, agricultural and livestock trade and processing, and wind energy production. The city’s largest employer is Seaboard Foods, a pork processing plant.
In Weatherford, a city in Custer County, the average annual revenue per business is $539,376. The city has more than 14 businesses per 100 people, and residents enjoy a median annual income of over $42,000, the highest on our top 10 list. The Weatherford Chamber of Commerce promotes local businesses. The city is home to an Eastman Kodak manufacturing plant and the Weatherford Wind Energy Center operated by NextEra Energy Resources. Major employers include Southwestern Oklahoma State University, Weatherford Public Schools, ASAP Energy Inc., Wal-Mart Supercenter, Weatherford Regional Medical Center and Casedhole Solutions. The Stafford Air & Space Museum and the Heartland of America Museum bring visitors to the area.
Catoosa is part of the Tulsa metropolitan area. Businesses in Catoosa see average annual revenues upward of $1.43 million each. The city has 14.6 businesses per 100 people, the second-highest ratio on the top 10 list. The Catoosa Chamber of Commerce promotes local businesses. The Tulsa Port of Catoosa has a powerful, $300 million economic impact on the state, according to the port, providing jobs for almost 4,000 residents. Other major employers are in manufacturing and include Harsco Industrial Air-X-Changers, Carlisle Brake & Friction and GEA Rainey Corp. The city’s major attractions are the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Tulsa, golf courses and the Route 66 landmark the Blue Whale.
8. Pryor Creek
Pryor Creek, also known as Pryor, is in Mayes County, 45 miles from Tulsa in northeast Oklahoma. Pryor Creek businesses see average annual revenues over $1.06 million each. The city is home to the state’s largest industrial park — the MidAmerica Industrial Park — which houses small entrepreneurial and Fortune 500 companies, including a Google data center. The Pryor Area Chamber of Commerce promotes local businesses. Major attractions in Pryor Creek are its downtown, the Pryor Creek Golf Club, the annual Rocklahoma music event and its proximity to lakes, parks and recreation areas.
Tulsa, the largest city on the top 10 list, also has the highest number of businesses in the top 10 — a whopping 41,140. The average annual revenue per business in the city is over $1.7 million, the second-highest total among our top 10. Tulsa, the second-largest city in the state, is home to an economy based on aerospace, energy, health care, technology, manufacturing and transportation. The city was once known as “The Oil Capital of the World” and it is still a leading producer of oil and gas. The Tulsa Chamber of Commerce promotes city businesses and over 85% of its members are small businesses. Tulsa’s downtown is revitalizing with sports and other events at the Bank of Oklahoma Center, a baseball park, performing arts center, retailers, housing, hotels and a range of both large and small companies.
Grove may be the smallest city on our top 10 list, but it has over 1,000 businesses. That means there are more than 15.5 businesses per 100 people, the highest ratio in the top 10. Grove businesses see average annual revenues of $484,873. Grove is located in Delaware County on Grand Lake o’ the Cherokees. In addition to the lake, some of the biggest attractions in Grove are Lendonwood Gardens, Cayuga Mission Church and Har-Ber Village Museum. The Grove Area Chamber of Commerce promotes local businesses. Major employers in Grove include Integris Grove Hospital, Grove Public Schools and Grand Lake Casino.
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Best places to start a business in Oklahoma
Scroll through the table below to see the data on the 64 places analyzed in Oklahoma.
|Rank||City||Population||Number of businesses||Average revenue per business||Businesses with paid employees||Businesses per 100 people||Unemployment rate||Score|
NerdWallet analyzed 64 places in Oklahoma with populations of 5,000 or more. We excluded three places with fewer than 500 businesses and seven locations with missing or incorrect business survey data.
The overall score for each community was calculated using these 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 is 15% of the score. A lower rate contributed to a higher score.
For more related information, visit NerdWallet’s resources on how to start a business. For free, personalized answers to questions about starting and financing your business, visit the Small Business section of NerdWallet’s Ask an Advisor page.
NerdWallet staff writer Anna Helhoski contributed to this article.
Tulsa, Oklahoma, image via iStock.