5 Cities Opening Their Doors to Small Business

Date: July 01, 2014

Location matters. These areas are attracting small businesses with their friendly tax rates, regulatory landscapes and resources.

Thinking local matters. The city in which you
operate
your business determines your taxes, the resources available, and in
many cases, your customer base—not to mention your business’ longevity.  

These five U.S. cities are opening their doors
to entrepreneurs and helping them succeed and grow their businesses. Read on to
find out what makes each location a winner.

1. Casper, Wyoming

Population: 58,000

Unemployment Rate: 4.1%

Top Industries: Oil and Gas Development

Small Business Opportunities: Casper’s economy has been largely built on agriculture and the oil
and gas industry—in the early 1920s, it earned the nickname “Oil City” because
the area produced more oil than anywhere else in the world at the time. But it’s today’s oil boom, which began in 2004 and is
projected to continue through at least the next decade, that matters now. Statewide, Wyoming oil production has increased from
around 146,000 barrels in 2008 to almost 3 million barrels in 2013, according
to the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

The oil and gas
development industry may be the area’s economic backbone, but the city’s growing
population is fueling a demand for more service businesses. “Casper is a great
place for small businesses to bloom, as our city is growing as well,” says Melanie
Bradford, owner of Keefe’s Flowers, which has
operated in the city for more than 100 years. The U.S. Census Bureau ranked Casper as
the sixth fastest growing metropolitan area between July 2012 and July 2013,
out of 381 cities.

“When you have two [dominant] industries like [energy
and agriculture], they create a lot of subsidiary jobs,” says Tony Gagliardi,
NFIB’s Wyoming state director. As a result, the city has a diverse workforce
and opportunities for skills training, such as workshops at Casper College’s Center for Training and
Development or programs at the Casper
Workforce Center.

VIDEO: Hear more from Gagliardi on why Capser is small business friendly.

Reasons Casper Makes the List: Local businesses benefit from Wyoming’s low taxes—there are no
corporate or personal income taxes.

Casper’s hands-off regulatory environment also makes
it a good place for businesses to grow. For instance, oil production companies can
build roads and locate wells where they need without waiting for local or
state-level environmental approval.

NFIB works hard to ensure state lawmakers
prioritize small business. “When the Legislature is in session, I sit down
regularly with individual legislators to make sure that no policies are passed
that make it harder to own, operate or grow a business,” Gagliardi says.

In the most
recent legislative session, NFIB fought three bills that would have subjected small
businesses to more audits and higher fines and penalties if they misclassified
an employee as an independent contractor. Now, it’s combating government attempts
to mandate certain employee benefit programs such as higher minimum wage and
paid sick leave.

“The Wyoming Legislature is
very aware of the impediments these mandates can have on business,” Gagliardi says.
“We are committed to making sure Wyoming
legislators understand that business operates best when left alone by the
government.”

RELATED: How to Start a Business in Casper, Wyoming

2. Jackson, Mississippi

Population: 175,000

Unemployment Rate: 6.3%

Top Industries: Banking, Manufacturing

Small Business Opportunities: Two decades ago, Mississippi’s capital wouldn’t have made
this list. During the 1980s, Jackson’s population rapidly decreased due to
urban flight. But the city has rebuilt itself and undergone an economic revitalization,
says NFIB State Director Ron Aldridge.

The
renaissance began after Nissan Motor Co. opened a $930 million plant in the Jackson
area in 2003. Thousands of jobs for suppliers for Nissan soon followed, and the
local economy received a major boost.

Since
then, it has grown a significant economic base of government, healthcare and
higher education institutions, providing a strong environment for new and
growing businesses, says Aldridge. Jackson is especially seeing an increase in
“young entrepreneurs and professionals who desire to work, employ, serve, buy local
and play in the same area of the city where they live, and who are especially
interested in promoting and creating jobs,” Aldridge says.

VIDEO: Hear more from Aldridge about why Jackson is small business friendly. 

For
16 years, NFIB member Jim McIntyre has owned and operated his business, A
Complete Flag Source Inc., in Jackson. The company has installed flagpoles in
eight states, so being located in Jackson has been ideal. “The city has been
good to us,” McIntyre says.

Reasons Jackson Makes the
List:
Jackson
ranks as one of the most affordable cities to do business in the country. In
2012, the Building Owners and Managers Association International named Jackson
the city with the least expensive commercial real estate operating expenses in
the United States. And the city is home to the Mississippi Development
Authority’s new Entrepreneur Center, which provides “a one-stop shop for
supporting every Mississippi entrepreneur in starting or growing their
business,” Aldridge says. 

Jackson’s
workforce is plentiful. According to the Greater Jackson Alliance, the Jackson
metro area has a population of 780,000 and a workforce that is 400,000 strong.
That includes a “hidden workforce” of approximately 205,000, which includes the
underemployed, unemployed people who want to work, those working part time who
want full-time employment, and recent college graduates. The region also is
home to eight four-year colleges and three community colleges, with a total of
approximately 6,000 graduates each year. 

3. Las Vegas, Nevada

Population: 596,000

Unemployment Rate: 8.7%

Top Industries: Tourism, Gaming, Construction

Small Business Opportunities: The private sector is stepping up to bring
business opportunities to Vegas, says Randi
Thompson, NFIB’s Nevada state director. For instance, Zappos’ founder Tony Hsieh is leading The
Downtown Project, which has dedicated $350 million to rejuvenate a blighted
stretch of Las Vegas’ downtown, investing in real estate, small businesses, education
and tech startups.

VIDEO: Hear more from Thompson on why Las Vegas is small business friendly.

After experiencing the
excellent care local hospice workers provided during her father’s illness, Lisa
Wensley launched an in-home care franchise, ComForcare Senior Services, in her
hometown of Las Vegas. “Las Vegas is a good location to open a small business
because it is always growing and changing, which makes for a lot of
opportunities for small businesses to thrive,” she says. “It is an innovative
environment that supports small businesses, and we have seen that support
within our business.”

In addition to sunny weather, affordable housing and plenty of
round-the-clock fun, “there is a sense of community here, and that provides a
lot of opportunities to collaborate with others who are driven by the same idea
of community,” Thompson says.

The
Downtown Project is a good example of that collaboration. Hsieh and other
entrepreneurs and business owners have joined together to improve the downtown
area without any public funding. So far the project has created 533 jobs
through the development of new bars, retail stores, and other small businesses.
The Downtown Project also offers loans to small businesses that launch in the
area—one business, a restaurant called Eat, received a no-interest, $225,000
loan to get started downtown.

Reasons Las Vegas Makes
the List:
Statewide, there is no corporate income tax, no personal income tax, no estate tax, no franchise
tax, no inventory tax, no tax on corporate shares, and property tax has an
annual rate increase cap of 3 percent on residential homes and 8 percent on
business property. Additionally,
in an effort to redevelop underused areas of the city, Las Vegas will reimburse qualified applicants up to $50,000
toward the cost of rehabilitating older buildings to bring them up to current
building and fire code standards.

RELATED: How to Start a Business in Las Vegas, Nevada

4. Orlando, Florida

Population: 250,000

Unemployment Rate: 6.0%

Top Industries: Tourism, Technology

Small Business Opportunities: When Ashley Cisneros Mejia and her
co-founder launched digital marketing agency Chatter Buzz Media in 2012, they learned the ropes of business ownership
by participating in the city of Orlando’s Entrepreneurs Academy, a two-day
educational event for local entrepreneurs who apply. And during their first
year in business, the city’s National Entrepreneur Center “was our second home,”
Mejia says. “The center is home to resident organizations that provide
counseling, programming and training to local entrepreneurs.”

Such
organizations and opportunities help create Orlando’s “rich ecosystem for
supporting startups,” Mejia says. Because the city “embraces natives and newcomers alike, it’s an ideal
place for launching new businesses,” she adds.

Businesses in a variety of
sectors find success in Orlando; among some of the most successful sectors are
aviation and aerospace, film and television production, business services,
clean technology and sustainable energy.

Orlando
is home to a number of vibrant “Main Streets” that are attracting small
businesses, Butler says. That small-town feel convinced Kostya Kimlat to establish
the headquarters of Event Magic International, his national team of professional
magicians, in his adopted hometown of Orlando. “Orlando has always known that it’s a
small city growing up,” he says. “It has a small-town feel with large
opportunities.” 

Why Orlando Makes the List: Florida
Governor
Rick Scott has shown his dedication to the small business community and helped
make the state a better place for small business, says Kristen Butler, NFIB’s
Florida communications director. Gov. Scott has focused on reducing state
regulations on small business, such as a proposal to eliminate business taxes
for companies with less than $75,000 in revenue, streamlining the permitting
processes and capping the duplicative regulations that local governments place
on small business owners. He also cut corporate income taxes for small business
owners, “removing almost 4,000 businesses from the tax rolls,” Butler says.

RELATED: How to Start a Business in Orlando, Florida and My Small Business: Orlando Real Estate

5. Phoenix, Arizona

Population: 1.5 million

Unemployment Rate: 6.4%

Top Industries: Technology, Aerospace, Service Industries

Small Business Opportunities: NFIB member Mark Giebelhaus has owned and
operated commercial plumbing company Marlin
Mechanical Corporation for more than 31 years in Phoenix. Although his company
was not untouched by the Great Recession, he says it has experienced a fast
recovery during the past 18 months as commercial plumbing industry resurges.

For instance, in January
2013, Marlin Mechanical had 30 employees, and a year later, it has 150—the
highest number of employees the company has ever had in 32 years. (Before the downturn,
the company averaged roughly 80 employees.) While some sectors of the local
economy are still waiting to recover, Giebelhaus says his plumbing company is
in a unique position because the multi-unit market is experiencing a huge
comeback.

Construction
companies can also take on more projects due in part to a new law designed to
make local government more efficient for small business owners. Two years ago,
the Phoenix City
Council implemented reforms that shifted a significant portion of city
permitting and inspection functions to the private sector and created 24-hour
turnarounds for projects such as city and building permits that used to take
four to six months. With quicker turnarounds, doing business in Phoenix has
become faster and more convenient, NFIB State
Director Farrell Quinlan says.

VIDEO: Hear more from Quinlan on why Phoenix is small business friendly.

Why Phoenix Makes the List: Phoenix’s rebounding economy, favorable
climate and entrepreneurial culture attracts many transplanted residents. “The majority of people starting small businesses and
prospering here were born somewhere else,” Quinlan says. “That kind of ‘new
blood’ and vitality means opportunities in Phoenix aren’t encumbered by an ‘old
boys network.’” 

Although the Phoenix and
Arizona economies were dependent on new home construction until the housing bubble
burst in 2008, the area has made great strides in diversifying its economy to
include more manufacturing and healthcare businesses “so we will never again be
so exposed to a sector downturn,” Quinlan says.

Additionally, the state
has been a leader in low tax rates and regulatory reform. “For instance, House Bill 2013 simplifies the process state agencies
must follow when creating rules and regulations they impose on Arizona
businesses. That leadership ensures
government serves as a facilitator of economic dynamism rather than a frustrator
of job creation,” Quinlan says.

RELATED: How to Start a Business in Phoenix, Arizona

READ NEXT: 10 Best—and Worst—States for Small Business Taxes

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