100 best places to live and launch

Talk back: What do you think of Charlotte?

Population: 596,123
Pros: Steady influx of young educated workers, business-friendly banking community, local sports entertainment
Con: Housing costs spiked in recent years

This national financial hub is home to big names like Wachovia and Bank of America, but the oak-tree-lined city is also a great place to launch and grow a small business.

Regional organizations such as the local Small Business and Technology Development Center, the Inventors Network, and the Central Piedmont Community College’s Center for Entrepreneurship supply a mix of mentoring, networking and technical assistance to innovative entrepreneurs, especially those in the finance and technology fields. To help develop the city’s biotech industry, a research complex sponsored in part by the University of North Carolina at Charlotte is set to open its labs this year to scientists and startups involved in healthcare and nutrition research.

Charlotte’s vibrancy and employment opportunities attract young professionals from around the state and help the city retain many of the graduates streaming out of 19 nearby colleges and universities. But as the city’s population has increased, so has its cost of living. Some neighborhoods like Ballantyne, Cotswold, and Plaza Midwood offer affordable options.

For sports entertainment, Charlotte residents can snag tickets to Carolina Panthers football games and Nascar races. The city also features a number of premier golf courses including the exclusive Quail Hollow club, where Tiger Woods has played. The Blumenthal Arts Center hosts touring musicians and Broadway shows throughout the year. For those who prefer outdoor recreations, the Great Smokey Mountains offer hiking, rock climbing and white-water rafting, while residents turn to Lake Norman for fishing, sailing and water skiing. -Brandi Stewart

Interactive map: Charlotte, N.C.
Find homes for sale in Charlotte, N.C.

NEXT: 9. Fort Worth

Talk back: What do you think of Fort Worth?

Population: 595,062
Pros: Business-friendly government
Con: Traffic

Fort Worth is one of the biggest places on our list, and it’s getting bigger – the city is the fifth fastest-growing community of more than 100,000 people in the U.S. today. It’s also home to large corporations such as Radio Shack and Pier One.

But Fort Worth has room for the little guys, too: The city presents a number of opportunities for small businesses, including an abundance of incentives and a laid-back tax structure. For companies that locate in one of the city’s enterprise zones, investing at least $75,000 and creating 10 jobs, the city offers rewards ranging from reduced development fees to waivers on permit fees.

The hottest industry in Fort Worth is the life sciences – combined with Dallas, the region boasts nearly 500 biomedical technology businesses. But tourism is also a thriving sector, thanks to the nearly 10 million visitors that pass through the city annually. Tourists – and residents – enjoy the many rodeos, art galleries, and historical museums in "The City of Cowboys and Culture." -Mina Kimes

Talk back: What do you think of Franklin?

Population: 29,642
Pro: Tech-savvy labor force
Con: I-495 -which connects Boston to Cape Cod – turns into a parking lot during summer weekends

Once a busy hub for the production of straw bonnets back in the 18th and 19th centuries, the charming, historic town of Franklin has diversified tremendously since then. Forge Park, a 360-acre development, houses such major companies as Cisco and New England Power, and it contributes more than a million dollars a year to the city’s tax base.

Startups and firms looking to relocate here can take advantage of some of the state’s business incentives. For instance, manufacturers and laboratories may be eligible for research and development tax credits; biotech and medical-device manufacturing firms may take advantage of incentive payments for new-job creation.

A single tax rate for businesses and residents has helped to draw regionally and nationally known firms to the city, such as Putnam Investments and prominent New England dairy Garelick Farms. EMC, the leading company in the disk storage industry, runs two new facilities in town and has attracted a talented pool of tech-savvy workers.

Hikers and bikers will find trails in Franklin State Forest and Franklin Town Forest. Two commuter rail stations and two exits off I-495 offer easy access to Boston, Worcester, and Providence, R.I., all in less than 30 minutes. For sports fans, Foxborough – home of Gillette Stadium and the New England Patriots – is only a 15-minute drive away. -Kelsey Abbott

A new Napa: Our full profile of American Canyon

Population: 12,484
Pro: Pro-business city council, gorgeous wine country setting
Con: Underdeveloped downtown

The southernmost gateway to Napa Valley, bucolic American Canyon lies 38 miles north of San Francisco and encompasses about four square miles. Incorporated in 1992, AmCan has doubled its population in the past five years, thanks to its cheap housing and land costs and business-friendly zoning laws, at least compared to the nearby city of Napa.

In 2006, business growth in AmCan hit an all-time high fueled by commercial development. Wal-Mart moved in, along with Jamba Juice and Radio Shack. Food purveyors, such as honey makers and olive importers, have flourished here, along with flower and plant nurseries. Other high-growth industries include real-estate consulting and retail, including independent coffee shops, and restaurants. Last year, the city granted 109 business licenses. While the downtown arts and dining scene remains underdeveloped, many projects are in the works. Parking is plentiful. And with three international airports within 50 miles, business travelers can avoid the worst traffic bottlenecks. -Maggie Overfelt

Talk back: What do you think of Durham?

Population: 204,135
Pros: Thriving biotech and pharmaceutical industries, lots of local arts festivals and college sports
Con: Perceived as the underdog of the Triangle region

Known as the City of Medicine, Durham has made a name for itself in the tech and biotech industries in part thanks to Research Triangle Park, a business campus located mostly in Durham County. The 7,000-acre park provides some low-rent office space and support for fast-growth startups.

The creative class in the Triangle area (Chapel Hill, Durham, and Raleigh) has begun to set up shop in the unconventional workspaces that are available in downtown Durham’s "American Tobacco Historic District" and in recently renovated office towers. A low cost of living helps Durham stand out from its pricier neighbors, Raleigh and Chapel Hill. However, the city also records higher crime rates, which has dinged its reputation in the region.

Durham is home to beautiful botanical gardens, the famous Durham Bulls minor-league baseball team, the new Nasher Museum of Art and is surrounded by top-notch golf courses, including the Pinehurst Resort. Annual summer arts festivals and age-old college sports rivalries keep the city active all year round. -Brandi Stewart

Interactive map: Durham, N.C.
Find homes for sale in Durham, N.C.

NEXT: 13. Manchester, N.H.

Textiles to high-tech: Our full profile of Manchester

Population: 113,417
Pro: No income tax or sales tax
Cons: High property tax, cold winters

Healthcare is Manchester’s strongest industry, with tech businesses such as Web development and light manufacturing also growing quickly. New companies can set up shop in Manchester’s repurposed millyard or at one of two developing business parks. The city’s top employer, Elliot Hospital, is constructing a new medical center downtown, which will feature an urgent care facility, medical suppliers, and offices, and possibly retail stores. Uptown, the Northwest Business Park at Hackett Hill, which will start offering space this summer, is looking to attract manufacturers and research labs.

Located in the heart of New England, Manchester balances the charm of a small town with the amenities of a big city. Residents can hit the links at one of the area’s many golf courses, or take in a hockey game or concert at the Verizon Wireless Arena. The city also has its own airport, Manchester-Boston Regional, with daily flights to major cities including New York City and Washington, D.C. -Stephanie Fletcher

Interactive map: Manchester, N.H.
Find homes for sale in Manchester, N.H.

NEXT: 14. Virginia Beach, Va.

Talk back: What do you think of Virginia Beach?

Population: 445,875
Pros: Diverse economy; easy beach access
Con: Saturated market for beach-related businesses

Employers in Virginia Beach benefit from low taxes, a dynamic and diverse local economy, and a strong workforce composed of graduates from area colleges such as William and Mary, as well as Navy personnel looking for part-time work. The beach community is saturated with retail stores – you can find a surf shop on just about every corner – but important business sectors also include architectural and engineering firms, building-equipment contractors, and computer designers. Nearby naval bases attract aviation-related firms and defense-related companies.

Some large organizations, such as the North American headquarters for Stihl (a major manufacturer of power tools), maintain headquarters here. With plenty of bike trails and state parks, as well as triathlon and marathon events throughout the year, residents stay healthy by taking to the outdoors. -Mina Kimes and Peter McDougall

Talk back: What do you think of Salt Lake City?

Population: 184,550
Pro: Spectacular scenery
Con: Less growth than some neighboring cities

Nestled between the Wasatch Mountains in the east and the Oquirrhs in the west, Salt Lake City features 11 world-class ski resorts within an hour of the city. Snow lovers arrive en masse every winter to experience the world-renowned powder.

Entrepreneurs find additional reasons to show up and stay for the longhaul. Businesses with five or fewer employees requiring less than $35,000 instartup capital may apply to Utah’s Microenterprise Loan Fund. The county’s economic development office offers loans, grants, on-the-job training and free monthly workshops. Salt Lake City is the center of banking and finance for the region, and tourism remains the dominant industry.

While towns to the south, such as Provo, are currently experiencing hotter economic growth, Salt Lake City, the state’s capital, offers a more diverse population and additional entertainment amenities, from fine dining to arts and culture. In the summer, skiers make way for hikers, rock climbers and mountain bikers, but the rugged mountains remain the reason for visiting – and sometimes, staying. -Kelsey Abbott

Talk back: What do you think of Novato?

Population: 48,410
Pro: Educated workforce
Con: Competitive labor market

The northernmost city in Marin County, Novato is about 29 miles north of San Francisco and 20 miles from the wine regions of Napa and Sonoma. Still, it’s one of the most affordable towns in the Bay Area, with a median home price of $625,500. Birkenstock Footprint Sandals call Novato home, and many software and telecommunications companies are based here. In recent years, the local economy has generated numerous small,knowledge-based startups oriented toward global markets.

As city officials seek out ways to provide more available commercial space, the Novato Independent Business Alliance has rallied to support local businesses and to discourage an influx of big-box retailers.

As the fastest growing community in Marin County, Novato enjoys a healthy influx of new potential workers. The city recently revitalized its 10-block stretch of downtown, making way for additional mixed-use space and attracting new retailers. -Kelsey Abbott

Talk back: What do you think of Santa Fe?

Population: 65,433
Pro: Excellent quality of life
Con: Tough competition – Santa Fe’s quality of life attracts lots of new businesses

Santa Fe’s spectacular cultural and geographic landscape attracts visitors from around the world – tourism is the city’s biggest industry. But Santa Fe also boasts an increasingly diverse palette of small-business incubation programs. The Santa Fe Small Business Development Program provides technical assistance, while the nonprofit Santa Fe Business Incubator houses startups and offers training and support programs. Santa Fe’s Small Business Development Loan Fund lends capital to businesses that bring new jobs to the area.

New, direct regional jet service to Dallas, Salt Lake City and Los Angeles make access to major markets as easy as finding local great restaurants and or unforgettable art in Santa Fe’s famed Canyon Road gallery district. A brand new convention center slated to open later this year and a new Hilton resort/meeting facility will introduce new opportunities for retail, restaurant and hospitality businesses. Tech businesses also thrive in Santa Fe; it’s home to a number of spin-offs from nearby Los Alamos. -Shara Rutberg

Talk back: What do you think of Charlottesville?

Population: 40,877
Pro: A lively college town
Con: Served by a small airport

Home to the University of Virginia and Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, Charlottesville is also a business-minded city with a diversity of industries, including manufacturing, medical services, life sciences, and technology. High-tech businesses in the area generate an estimated $4 billion in annual revenues.

The city’s Industrial Development Authority helps finance businesses by issuing tax-exempt industrial development revenue bonds with low interest rates. SCORE (the Service Core of Retired Executives) keeps its local office in Charlottesville’s Chamber of Commerce Center, and counsels entrepreneurs and business leaders on topics ranging from taxes to human resources. In addition, there are federal contracting preferences in certain HUBzones (historically underutilized business zones) in the area.

A lively college town, the Charlottesville is full of arts, culture, and shopping venues featuring antiques shops and clothing boutiques. Outdoor enthusiasts will love the local rivers and lakes, where they can sail, kayak, canoe, and fish. -Kelsey Abbott

Interactive map: Charlottesville, Va.
Find homes for sale in Charlottesville, Va.

NEXT: 19. Boise

Talk back: What do you think of Boise?

Population: 203,649
Pro: Low-cost office space and housing
Con: Competitive labor market

Boise Valley is the third-fastest-growing metro area in the U.S. and is home to a very clever populace: Boise routinely tops lists of patent grants per capita. The tech industry is particularly strong – thanks to resources out of the University of Idaho and major corporations in the area, such as semiconductor firm Micron – but the health services industry has also demonstrated robust growth. And while unemployment is extremely low (just 1.9%), the university provides an annual crop of young grads eager for work.

Boise’s Economic Development Team assists entrepreneurs with startup strategies, from selecting potentially profitable sites to accessing community and county data. Business owners who have made the move to this mountain town find low housing and office-space costs, light traffic, and low taxes.

Many also discover an improved quality of life. With sunny weather, plentiful outdoor recreational options, high-quality schools, and low crime rates, urban transplants may wonder why they didn’t move sooner – though some might jet off to San Francisco from time to time (less than two hours away by air) for a high-culture fix. -Kelsey Abbott

The call of the mountains: Why entrepreneurs flock to mountain towns
Interactive map: Boise
Find homes for sale in Boise

NEXT: 20. Raleigh, N.C.

Talk back: What do you think of Raleigh?

Population: 316,978
Pros: Thriving tech industry, central location amid major research and business centers
Con: Raleigh’s infrastructure is struggling to keeping up with its population growth

North Carolina’s capital has a growing tech industry, thanks in part to its close proximity to Research Triangle Park, a business campus that fosters the growth of tech, biotech and pharmaceutical research companies, among others. Within its city limits, Raleigh is experiencing an expansion of two niche industries: digital gaming, and non-woven textile manufacturing.

Raleigh takes entrepreneurship seriously: 20 regional organizations provide guidance and financial support to small-business owners. Entrepreneurial enclaves are even starting to spawn in some of Raleigh’s suburbs, such as Garner and Holly Springs. The state has introduced an income tax credit that encourages private investors to fund growing companies and offers matching grants to small firms that receive federal funding through the Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer programs. Entrepreneurs also like the fact that Raleigh has no local income tax.

Wake County is the fastest growing area in North Carolina, but Raleigh’s infrastructure is having a hard time keeping up with its population growth: the city is feverishly working to expand a number of two-lane roads that now attract highway-level traffic. But one area that welcomes drivers is Raleigh’s downtown, which has become more car-friendly as it undergoes a $2.5-billion renaissance. The City of Oaks has a healthy offering of museums, performing arts and golf courses, and is conveniently nestled between the Blue Ridge Mountains and the beaches of the Carolina coast. -Brandi Stewart

Hollywood on the Plains: Doing business in Iowa City

Population: 64,933
Pros: Low cost of living, educated workforce
Con: Lack of nonstop flights to and from major hubs

Locals may joke about the lack of beachfront property or mountain views, but Iowa City has its own appeal. After all, there’s good reason why Moore North America and Procter & Gamble have set up satellite offices here.

For one thing, living is affordable. The median home price is $158,250 – a relatively good deal compared to even, say, Boise, where the median price is $221,385 (according to 2006 statistics, the latest available). For another, the city offers an extremely business-friendly environment. The Iowa City Area Development Group and Priority One (Cedar Rapid’s economic development arm) have joined forces to enhance the eastern Iowa business and community hub known as the Technology Corridor. Situated at the crossroads of Interstates 80 and 380, the Corridor lures firms with tax incentives and financial assistance. Statewide business-stimulus programs, such as tax exemptions on profits from overseas sales, also spark growth.

Iowa City is rich in arts and culture, thanks in large part to the University of Iowa. A 5,300-acre man-made reservoir four miles north of town allows the city’s landlocked residents to boat, fish, swim, and water ski. Not exactly a beach, but close. -Peter McDougall

Talk back: What do you think of Omaha?

Population: 399,820
Pros: A local airport within minutes of downtown; nearby Bellevue is home to the U.S. Strategic Command, which controls the U.S. nuclear arsenal and has helped stimulate the local tech industry
Con: Omaha does not attract many venture capitalists

Low rates for utilities like power and water in the Omaha area have attracted some large technology companies, including Google, which recently set up a data center nearby. But local small businesses benefit from more than just cheap water and electricity. The city also offers the "Nebraska Advantage," a series of state tax incentives for both small and large businesses.

Theaters, museums and restaurants are plentiful – there’s even a zoo. Editors’ choice for a lazy Sunday afternoon in Omaha: take a gondola ride on the ConAgra lagoon. -Malika Zouhali-Worrall

Talk back: What do you think of Minneapolis?

Population: 374,956
Pros: Financial support for entrepreneurs, scenic lakes
Con: High taxes

Minnesota may be the land of 10,000 lakes, but its biggest cities are also filled with thousands of entrepreneurs. Minneapolis, in particular, has been working hard to recruit and support small business.

The Emerging Entrepreneur Capital Acquisition loan program is one example of the city’s low-interest financing options available to new and expanding companies. To ease the pains of filing for permits and licenses, the Minneapolis Community Development Agency opened a one-stop business center in its office. The research and resources of the University of Minnesota and other area colleges have greatly contributed to the growth of the city’s high-tech sector. One potential sticking point for entrepreneurs: Minneapolis has high state and local taxes.

Minneapolis’ lakes offer recreational activities and scenic getaways, and private donors and foundations have invested $500 million in developing the city’s art and cultural scene. Hot spots include the Walker Art Center, which hosts music, dance, film, theater, and educational activities. Other amenities in the metro area include the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, five professional sports teams, and the Mall of America. -Brandi Stewart

Interactive map: Minneapolis
Find homes for sale in Minneapolis

NEXT: 24. Fargo, N.D.

Talk back: What do you think of Fargo?

Population: 96,029
Pro: Low cost of living
Con: Long, cold winters

Fargo has seen significant growth in the past decade, bucking the pattern of struggling Midwestern cities. The town has much to recommend it: a low cost of living, low crime, short commutes (typically less than 15 minutes), and clean air. It also boasts one of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation: just 2%.

As the largest city in the state, and one located at the intersection of two interstate highways, Fargo is a retail magnet for the Upper Plains. (Sioux Falls is 250 miles south; Minneapolis is 250 miles southeast.) Agriculture has long been of primary importance, thanks to the Red River Valley’s rich farmland. Related industries include agribusiness and agricultural research. But tech firms have emerged, too: Microsoft employs 1,500 in Fargo and last year announced a $70 million expansion of its Fargo campus.

Summers are hot and short; winters, long and cold – the average low in January is -2ºF. Downtown Fargo is a bright spot, with restaurants, galleries, a historic art deco theatre, and one hip hotel, the Hotel Donaldson. -Elizabeth Bland

Interactive map: Fargo, N.D.
Find homes for sale in Fargo, N.D.

NEXT: 25. Scottsdale, Ariz.

Talk back: What do you think of Scottsdale?

Population: 232,929
Pros: Large entrepreneurial community, high volume of tourist traffic, lots of culture and nightlife
Cons: Relatively high cost of commercial space, lots of competition

There’s only one city within the greater Phoenix area that allows business owners to hike Camelback Mountain, play a round of golf, and dine at a five-star restaurant in the course of a day: Scottsdale. Averaging 314 days of sunshine a year, the city – 12 miles northeast of downtown Phoenix – is home to more than 2,200 small firms, many of them in the retail industry.

Although commercial rent is slightly higher here than in other cities within the county, business owners will find warehousing space and the overall cost of living more affordable than in other major cities. Retailers subsist on the affluent tourists that visit the city’s high-end resorts and spas year-round. Scottsdale is revitalizing its downtown center, which has racked up around $3.3 billion in investment over the past five years. -Maggie Overfelt

Talk back: What do you think of Louisville?

Population: 19,402
Pros: Access to educated workforce, Rocky Mountain playground
Cons: Little racial diversity, dearth of downtown office space

Six miles from Boulder and 25 miles from Denver, Louisville blends the best of small-town living with easy access to two thriving markets and the nearby Denver International Airport.

Louisville entrepreneurs can tap into a highly educated workforce: the Boulder Valley has one of the highest rates of per-capita graduate and doctoral degrees in the nation. High-tech firms such as Sun Microsystems and Medtronic have campuses here. The town teems with young families enjoying friendly neighborhoods, excellent schools and a thriving historic downtown. Nearly in the shadow of the Rocky Mountain foothills, Louisville boasts nearly 300 days a year of sunshine and proximity to world-class hiking and skiing. -Shara Rutberg

Talk back: What do you think of Bellingham?

Population: 73,357
Pro: Skilled workforce
Con: Rising home prices

Bellingham – which sits on Bellingham Bay, tucked in the northwest corner of Washington – is strategically located between Seattle and Vancouver. The city, 23 miles south of the Canadian border, is also near Mt. Baker, a popular skiing and snowboarding destination, and the scenic North Cascades National Park.

The mountainous location fosters a thriving tourism industry, which will no doubt receive a boost from the upcoming Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Startups looking to cater to visitors can receive support from the city’s Tourism and Promotion Fund, which supports ventures that create cultural and entertainment-related activities in the city.

Washington state levies a Business & Occupations Tax, but Whatcom County softens the blow by offering credits for workforce training, manufacturing, and international services. -Mina Kimes

Source Article