With changes in technology over the past decade, many small business owners can now live anywhere they want. The Internet has brought a sea change similar to the building of the railroads across this country. Location has become much less important since business people can now work "anywhere and anywhen." Business owners are no longer tied to big cities or particular geographic locations with its access to large numbers of customers or a skilled workforce. As a result, many urbanites have moved to smaller towns (with populations lower than 100,000) and many rural communities have been able to retain a growing business population.
So where are the best small towns for business? In an interview, Jack Shultz, the author of “Boomtown,USA” and the premier authority in economic development for rural America revealed his choices (in alphabetical order):
There is an entire section on their website on why locate a business in Bend. They have a step by step guide to starting a business in this city that makes it friendly and easy. Industries include high tech research and software development, craft brewing, recreational equipment, and health care They also highlight their very educated work force. (Population: 76,639)
The city’s tag line is “Unexpected and Unforgettable”. It should be since Architectural Digest Magazine called Columbus the 6th most architectural significant city in the country. It is also the headquarters of Cummins Engine. Fortune Small Business Magazine named the town as one of the "Best Places to Live and Launch" a small business. They even have their own Chamber TV and SmallBiz University. (Population: 46,011)
With $4 billion of investment in the area, there has been a recent economic boom. There are 8,000 jobs in town that pay over $50,000 annually. The city is home to the Columbus Air Force Base which creates one-third of the nation's pilots. With more than 3,000 military and civilian employees, the base has a local economic impact of $250 million per year. (Population: 23,818)
Only two hours from Boston, this small town has a niche in nanotechnology (Moore Nanotech). Other industries include high-tech manufacturing in the medical field, ball bearings, machine tools and printing technology. Many of the local employers do a lot of international business, so it is not unusual to hear foreign languages spoken in town. (Population: 22,395)
The town has experienced significant residential and commercial growth in recent years. The population has doubled as businesses around the NASCAR racing circuit have relocated to this town they now call Race City,USA. In addition, it is the home of Lake Norman and corporate home improvement giant, Lowes. (Population: 22,133)
This small town is known as the literary capital of the south with famous authors such as William Faulkner having lived here. Of course, it hosts the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss). The downtown area features a historic town square with an old courthouse surrounded by retail shops and restaurants. Its population has grown 36% in the last 10 years. (Population: 17,636)
Ponca City, OK
This town has a very progressive economic development organization. They even have their own Youtube video promoting Ponca City as the place to locate your business. The city’s history has been shaped by the petroleum industry since Conoco Oil once had their headquarters here. Now, they highlight their fast-track permitting, workforce training, state and local incentive programs and a completely wireless community. Incidentally, it's only an hour and a half from Becky McCray, my co-author in my book, Small Town Rules. Her home town is Alva, OK with a population of 4,814. She runs both a cattle ranch and liquor store in town. (Population: 24,782)
This small town is 90 mikes north of Phoenix and proclaimes four distinct seasons. It remains cooler in the hot Arizona summer. Business people have always been at the center of this small town since 1895 when a group started Arizona’s first Elk Lodge. There is an aviation cluster of businesses here since it is home to one of the campuses of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. For entrepreneurial cowboys and cowgirls, it was named the Number 1 "True Western Town" of the Year by True West magazine. (Population: 42,749)
St. George, Utah
One of the larger towns on the list, it has a low average population age of 26 and has seen tremendous growth over the past decade. It is only a few hours north east of Las Vegas. It has a diversified business base with some of its “largest employers” being small businesses. (Population: 72,897)
Forever recognized as the home of Elvis Presley, there remains a $46 million tourism and hospitality industry in this town that draws 100,000 visitors a year. As the city tagline says: “We Put a Little Elvis in Everything We Do.” Tupelo also has additional industry such as a major Toyota manufacturing plant, a furniture mart and University of Mississippi’s Advanced Education Center. (Population: 36,337)
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What business-friendly small towns would you add to the list?