Best Places to Start a Business in Virginia

Small Business, Starting a Business
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Best Places to Start a Business in Virginia

With plenty of incentives for both startups and existing businesses and a state corporate income tax rate among the lowest in the nation at 6%, Virginia’s business-friendly policies appear to be paying off.

The state’s unemployment rate was 4.8% as of July, compared to the national average of 5.3%, and 193,000 jobs have been created in Virginia since the 2008 recession, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Meanwhile, average hourly earnings of private-sector workers have risen by 1.9% over the past year, outpacing a nationwide increase of 1.3%, according to the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee.

Business incentives include state tax credits for recycling old equipment; economic and infrastructure development grants; reimbursement for recruiting and training services; and economic development loan funds and grants.

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To pinpoint where small business are thriving in Virginia, NerdWallet examined 112 communities with populations of at least 5,000.

Entrepreneurs looking to start a small business in Virginia will find resources in NerdWallet’s Small Business Guide. For financing, take a look at NerdWallet’s comparison of small-business loans for a variety of needs.

Key takeaways

Strong local economy. The top 10 places have an average unemployment rate of 3.9%, well below the state and national average, and nine of the top 10 have median incomes above the national median income of $43,880, according to the most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Washington, D.C., suburbs dominate. Six communities in the top 10 list are located within 50 miles of the nation’s capital: Tysons Corner, Fairfax, Warrenton, Falls Church, Vienna and Merrifield. Of those six places, five are in or directly adjacent to Fairfax County.

Popular spot for corporate headquarters. Many large companies call Fairfax County home, including Booksfree.com, Capital One Financial, Freddie Mac and Northrop Grumman. Meanwhile, the town of Vienna is home to Navy Federal Credit Union.

NerdWallet’s rankings

In our analysis of 112 places in Virginia with populations of at least 5,000, we considered six metrics in two categories — business environment and the local economy — to assess each location. For more details, see the methodology section at the end of this article.

Best places to start a business in Virginia

1. Tysons Corner

The unincorporated Tysons Corner area serves as Fairfax County’s central business district; it’s home to 26.4 million square feet of office space. Tysons Corner’s businesses have an average annual revenue of $11.4 million, which is tops on our list and three times higher than any other place in our survey. Nearly 45% of Tysons Corner businesses have paid employees, and its 23.9 businesses per 100 people ranks second highest among all Virginia communities. Top employers include the Boeing Co., Booz Allen Hamilton and Hilton Worldwide. The area is also home to Tysons Corner Center, the largest shopping mall in Virginia.

2. Fairfax

The city of Fairfax has 25.3 businesses per 100 people, the highest number in the state, and its 4% unemployment rate is lower than both the state and national average. Among top employers are the city itself and Fairfax Nursing Center. Local businesses are served by the Central Fairfax Chamber of Commerce, which offers monthly networking events, educational workshops, marketing opportunities and leadership training.

3. Warrenton

The town of Warrenton, about an hour west of D.C. near Shenandoah National Park, has 21.2 businesses per 100 people, fourth highest among Virginia communities, and 40.1% of its businesses have paid employees. The Greater Warrenton Chamber of Commerce offers a business assistance team whose mission is to “support and educate local businesses towards sustained profitability and success.” The chamber provides free professional guidance, expertise and resources to its members.

4. Abingdon

The town of Abingdon has one of the lowest median monthly housing costs on our list, at $663, and has 19 businesses per 100 people. Nestled in the Blue Ridge Highlands region of southwestern Virginia, Abingdon is an outdoor lover’s dream. The town is home to or near several historic and recreational trails, including the 34-mile Virginia Creeper Trail and the Appalachian Trail. Local businesses are served by the Washington County Virginia Chamber of Commerce.

5. Falls Church

Falls Church, a 20-minute drive from downtown D.C., cracks our top 10 because of its high percentage of businesses with paid employees (44%), its 13.2 businesses per 100 people and its $91,932 median annual income. Although median monthly annual housing costs are high at $2,149, the city’s unemployment rate is a low 3.8%. Local businesses can turn to the Falls Church Chamber of Commerce for networking and promotional opportunities.

6. Forest

Forest, near Lynchburg, has a high number of businesses per 100 people (11.1) and low median monthly housing costs of $943. More than 45% of its businesses have paid employees, the fifth-highest rate in our survey. Forest is home to Poplar Forest, which was Thomas Jefferson’s plantation house and now operates as a historic home and museum. Local businesses are supported by the Bedford Area Chamber of Commerce.

7. Vienna

Located 17 miles west of downtown D.C., the town of Vienna has 16.3 businesses per 100 people, a high median annual income of $83,125, and a 2.1% unemployment rate, the second lowest of all the communities in our survey. The town’s ranking is hampered a bit by high median monthly housing costs of $2,254. The top three employers in the area include Navy Federal Credit Union, Fairfax County Public Schools and Contemporary Electrical Services Inc. The Vienna Business Association offers networking and promotion for its members.

8. Merrifield

The Merrifield area of Fairfax County ranks in our top 10 thanks in part to its high percentage of businesses with paid employees (43.7%) and its $75,569 median annual income. The Mosaic District, a collection of boutiques, restaurants and a movie cineplex, has made Merrifield a retail and entertainment destination in Fairfax County.

9. Hollins

Hollins, a suburb of Roanoke, ranks high in part because its businesses bring in an average annual revenue of $2.3 million each, and 51.2% of its businesses have paid employees, which is tops in the state. Hollins also has an unemployment rate of 3.3%, well below the state and national average. Hollins is home to Hollins University, a private women’s college with undergraduate enrollment of 550.

10. Ashland

Ashland, 18 miles north of Richmond, is the smallest place in our top 10, with a population of 7,231. But the town benefits from a high average annual revenue of $2.25 million per business, an impressive 45.4% of businesses with paid employees and a low median monthly housing cost of $902. Ashland is home to Randolph-Macon College, a private liberal arts and sciences college with total enrollment of nearly 1,400 undergraduates. Popular restaurants include O’Bank’s Cafe & Grill, Virginia Barbeque, Homemades by Suzanne and Thai Gourmet Restaurant.

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Best places to start a business in Virginia

Scroll through the table below to see the data on 112 places in Virginia.

Rank City Population Number of businesses Average annual revenue per business Businesses with paid employees Businesses per 100 people Unemployment rate Score
1 Tysons Corner 20,617 4,333 $11,428,897 44.59% 23.93 5.0% 79.32
2 Fairfax 23,027 5,919 $1,116,228 36.59% 25.33 4.0% 58.24
3 Warrenton 9,690 1,871 $847,530 40.14% 21.18 4.5% 55.68
4 Abingdon 8,186 1,504 $978,970 40.16% 18.99 4.3% 55.08
5 Falls Church 12,731 1,479 $1,661,140 43.95% 13.17 3.8% 53.22
6 Forest 9,793 951 $1,199,250 45.43% 11.11 2.8% 53.05
7 Vienna 15,958 2,423 $1,077,990 34.34% 16.27 2.1% 51.55
8 Merrifield 15,434 1,632 $1,933,100 43.69% 12.04 4.1% 51.27
9 Hollins 14,738 758 $2,304,373 51.19% 5.16 3.3% 51.09
10 Ashland 7,231 866 $2,246,073 45.38% 12.22 5.5% 50.94
11 Farmville 8,519 990 $816,504 47.68% 12.83 5.0% 50.92
12 Lexington 7,026 532 $615,088 47.18% 7.7 1.2% 50.87
13 McLean 48,426 6,011 $2,551,459 27.58% 15.02 2.7% 49.9
14 Bon Air 16,104 1,695 $1,193,118 42.24% 10.98 3.9% 48.74
15 Winchester 26,587 2,973 $1,454,351 43.42% 11.44 4.6% 48.72
16 Fredericksburg 25,931 2,765 $1,401,305 47.23% 12.39 7.1% 47.8
17 Charlottesville 43,663 4,915 $914,725 36.95% 11.87 3.4% 46.92
18 Herndon 23,791 3,216 $2,283,605 31.84% 14.62 3.7% 46.81
19 Reston 59,388 6,840 $3,463,379 28.87% 12.72 4.4% 46.58
20 Salem 24,950 2,121 $1,723,502 41.35% 8.44 4.4% 46.2
21 Great Falls 16,290 1,956 $241,697 16.16% 22.23 2.4% 46.17
22 Bluefield 5,424 691 $995,035 37.34% 13.39 5.9% 45.7
23 Wytheville 8,225 1,143 $1,186,554 35.35% 14.14 6.4% 44.83
24 Bedford 6,052 589 $917,406 37.35% 9.36 3.7% 44.71
25 Harrisonburg 49,926 3,693 $1,778,354 39.32% 8.4 4.2% 44.58
26 Christiansburg 21,170 1,818 $895,655 34.21% 9.54 2.6% 44.41
27 Glen Allen 15,586 1,714 $2,229,019 28.06% 11.78 3.1% 44.08
28 Colonial Heights 17,481 1,419 $852,204 43.34% 8.01 5.1% 44.04
29 Smithfield 8,126 713 $1,430,827 35.76% 10.28 5.0% 42.72
30 Martinsville 13,808 1,357 $1,054,856 42.82% 9.26 7.3% 42.12
31 Manassas 39,317 3,549 $1,246,261 38.07% 9.98 5.3% 41.93
32 Galax 6,977 589 $1,107,002 34.13% 8.65 4.0% 41.91
33 Culpeper 16,720 1,481 $1,053,824 32.14% 11.16 4.2% 41.79
34 Marion 5,933 601 $691,930 35.61% 10.01 5.0% 41.74
35 South Boston 8,104 829 $882,335 39.32% 10.52 7.4% 41.27
36 Mechanicsville 36,897 3,510 $1,112,190 30.06% 9.81 3.5% 40.91
37 Newington 13,672 2,331 $1,588,508 29.17% 10.83 4.2% 40.84
38 Timberlake 13,285 809 $521,664 41.41% 6.47 5.2% 40.44
39 Williamsburg 14,579 1,437 $763,809 29.44% 11.65 4.2% 40.3
40 Staunton 23,989 2,566 $529,337 29.46% 10.85 4.2% 39.99
41 Gloucester Point 10,147 571 $214,713 37.13% 5.69 3.0% 39.88
42 Cave Spring 25,647 2,749 $1,147,443 25.90% 10.65 4.1% 39.52
43 Springfield 31,025 3,932 $1,599,931 31.05% 11.2 5.0% 39.48
44 Roanoke 97,355 7,102 $1,691,397 33.98% 7.61 5.3% 39.43
45 Bristol 17,713 1,304 $1,762,639 38.73% 7.44 7.1% 39.4
46 Franklin 8,539 597 $753,868 43.38% 6.84 6.8% 39.39
47 Belle Haven 6,738 602 $399,573 27.24% 9.45 3.3% 39.1
48 Chantilly 23,009 4,666 $1,904,639 28.18% 10.05 4.6% 39.03
49 Lynchburg 76,467 4,794 $1,911,052 38.15% 6.72 6.8% 38.93
50 Vinton 8,102 747 $562,216 27.58% 9.61 3.9% 38.72
51 Waynesboro 21,099 1,833 $1,072,218 32.73% 8.45 5.2% 38.63
52 Richmond 207,878 15,141 $3,317,369 32.83% 7.53 7.2% 38.48
53 Madison Heights 10,936 836 $544,906 32.66% 7.51 4.4% 38.41
54 Alexandria 143,684 15,161 $961,974 24.46% 10.67 3.8% 38.24
55 Leesburg 44,612 4,450 $752,348 27.44% 11.59 4.6% 38.03
56 Front Royal 14,589 1,575 $480,074 32.25% 10.85 6.5% 37.5
57 Arlington 214,861 19,422 $1,602,641 20.72% 9.41 3.0% 37.38
58 Annandale 42,008 6,722 $584,163 25.87% 12.52 4.9% 37.18
59 Lake Barcroft 9,363 1,156 $111,130 16.87% 12.88 3.0% 36.67
60 Emporia 5,773 596 $1,184,540 40.27% 10.63 10.7% 36.67
61 Bull Run 14,471 1,120 $627,859 30.18% 8.64 4.7% 36.47
62 Dumbarton 7,612 606 $2,882,058 35.81% 9.42 10.0% 36.21
63 Poquoson 12,117 961 $206,095 24.77% 8.16 2.8% 36.04
64 Yorkshire 7,426 669 $248,525 26.01% 9.45 3.5% 35.77
65 Pimmit Hills 6,507 759 $613,582 17.26% 13.12 3.0% 35.56
66 Virginia Beach 442,151 34,768 $861,574 27.30% 7.99 4.2% 35.26
67 Lakeside 12,491 1,091 $2,333,116 27.96% 9.43 7.5% 35.19
68 Oakton 35,644 2,705 $794,370 21.29% 8.49 3.1% 35.13
69 Tuckahoe 46,263 3,987 $431,126 24.03% 8.98 4.3% 35.07
70 Blacksburg 42,864 2,352 $600,363 31.12% 5.65 4.8% 34.85
71 Manassas Park 15,125 1,196 $793,154 20.40% 10.28 3.3% 34.25
72 Radford 16,705 805 $952,937 29.32% 5.01 4.6% 34.24
73 Bailey’s Crossroads 23,792 2,259 $726,325 23.64% 10.9 5.0% 34.16
74 Wolf Trap 16,702 1,986 $112,447 12.08% 13.62 3.3% 34.16
75 Fort Hunt 16,860 1,455 $115,352 11.96% 10.57 2.3% 34.09
76 Danville 42,996 2,919 $1,193,589 36.93% 6.49 8.8% 34.01
77 Petersburg 32,326 1,678 $1,239,385 40.88% 5.11 9.0% 33.78
78 Lincolnia 22,208 2,012 $261,733 14.76% 13.12 3.5% 32.84
79 Centreville 73,476 5,237 $1,062,222 18.79% 9.72 4.2% 32.8
80 Chester 20,606 1,692 $569,061 24.23% 8.18 5.3% 32.68
81 Laurel 15,804 1,183 $1,064,345 31.45% 7.52 7.6% 32.59
82 Chesapeake 225,597 16,367 $903,154 24.71% 7.46 4.9% 32.48
83 Newport News 181,025 10,746 $1,269,976 29.12% 5.58 6.3% 31.96
84 Huntington 11,728 591 $467,095 17.26% 8.3 3.3% 31.71
85 Franconia 19,062 3,042 $473,298 16.54% 9.09 3.3% 31.67
86 Mantua 7,449 815 $101,665 12.76% 11.16 3.3% 31.65
87 Dunn Loring 9,469 755 $760,993 15.50% 9.14 3.8% 31.42
88 Pulaski 9,048 556 $759,896 23.38% 6.19 5.3% 31.29
89 Norfolk 244,090 14,430 $1,460,993 28.65% 6.11 7.0% 31.25
90 West Springfield 23,048 2,854 $199,829 15.38% 9.62 3.4% 31.23
91 Burke 42,233 5,595 $194,683 14.08% 10.02 2.8% 31.07
92 Suffolk 84,842 5,218 $1,098,759 24.40% 6.44 5.5% 30.89
93 Idylwood 17,888 1,425 $414,568 14.39% 9.84 3.7% 30.83
94 Portsmouth 95,901 5,404 $731,799 29.48% 5.37 6.4% 30.83
95 Hopewell 22,429 1,056 $2,011,048 35.70% 4.6 9.9% 30.78
96 Stuarts Draft 7,888 735 $1,404,482 17.14% 9.6 6.1% 30.44
97 Hybla Valley 15,671 1,648 $419,300 13.83% 9.63 3.3% 30.3
98 North Springfield 7,242 1,009 $698,076 15.46% 10.99 4.7% 29.94
99 Wyndham 9,710 755 $114,830 10.46% 8.4 2.3% 29.81
100 Lake Ridge 42,761 2,630 $294,798 15.25% 8.65 4.3% 28.5
101 Montclair 19,354 1,181 $104,809 16.17% 6.29 3.1% 28.26
102 Mount Vernon 12,849 1,725 $154,497 16.93% 5.7 3.6% 27.8
103 Hampton 136,957 7,523 $743,917 23.08% 5.16 6.6% 26.89
104 Montrose 7,575 545 $694,807 22.75% 7.58 8.0% 26.7
105 Linton Hall 39,380 1,718 $441,821 10.24% 8.21 3.0% 26.39
106 Groveton 14,658 1,871 $207,723 14.38% 8.97 5.9% 25.27
107 Lorton 19,236 2,351 $345,261 13.95% 9.28 5.9% 25.17
108 East Highland Park 14,625 890 $411,012 19.33% 6.77 7.2% 24.7
109 Seven Corners 8,018 810 $367,840 5.56% 10.51 5.2% 23.96
110 Dale City 67,562 4,663 $269,909 16.86% 7.3 6.6% 23.62
111 Highland Springs 16,133 861 $563,711 23.00% 5.59 9.5% 22.27
112 Sudley 16,765 517 $328,000 10.64% 6.6 6.8% 19.58

 

Methodology

NerdWallet analyzed 112 places in Virginia with a population of 5,000 or more. We excluded 11 places with less than 500 businesses and 64 places that were missing data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Survey of Business Owners.

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 annual revenue of businesses is 20% of the overall score. A higher average contributed to a higher score.
  • Percentage of businesses with paid employees is 25% of the overall score. A higher percentage contributed to a higher score.
  • Businesses per 100 people is 20% of the overall 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 overall score. A higher median income contributed to a higher score.
  • Median annual housing costs are 10% of the overall score. Lower median costs contributed to a higher score.
  • Unemployment rate for residents 16 and older is 15% of the overall score. A lower rate contributed to a higher score.

NerdWallet staff writer Steve Nicastro contributed to this article.


Image of Tysons Corner, Virginia, via iStock.