Best Places to Live

2017 Best Cities for Entrepreneurs

You might joke that entrepreneurs tend to live at their businesses. The level of dedication – regardless of business sector – required for a successful new venture usually means some long hours at the office. Of course even the most stalwart starter-uppers head home at some point. But where should that home be?

It was a question posed to us by our friends at Entrepreneur as we started gathering data for our second annual list. What would make a city a great home for an entrepreneur? 

Starting with a universe of more than 2,000 small- to mid-sized cities, we narrowed our field to the Top 50 Best Cities for Entrepreneurs. We consulted with our economic development experts at Livability to select just the right indicators for a city that is both a great place to work and to live. First, it had to be a good city to start a business – one that supports startups and has a community of similarly-driven people. We looked for cities with high levels of SBA loans, creative class workers, broadband technology and transportation infrastructure to support new businesses. To grow the business you need talent, so we analyzed cities that had low levels of unemployment and economic inequality, diverse demographics and affordable housing. Areas with plenty to do at night with cultural and entertainment options scored well too. Finally, we added in a variety of quality-of-life indicators about crime, schools, health care and commute time.

We ranked the cities based on these 15 data points and used that as a short list. From there, our editors selected the top 50 from that group to ensure we had a good mix of cities in terms of size and geography. The final Top 50 Best Cities for Entrepreneurs are therefore a collection of cities that are ideal crucibles for a new business venture to start and thrive and for entrepreneurs to settle in, put down some roots and maybe even grow a family.

  • 1

    Alexandria, VA

    Population: 149,315
    Photo by Flickr user sikeri

    With it’s close proximity to Washington D.C., the Entrepreneur’s Organization and Entrepreneur Center @ Northern Virginia Technology Center, Alexandria, Va. is a hotspot for entrepreneurs. It hit a number of criteria putting it at the #1 spot on the list – it ranks in the top 10 for lowest unemployment rate, top 20 for small business loans, top 20 for high wage job growth, top 5 for diversity and rates on our list for access to high speed internet. The area is chock-full of creatives and educated individuals, ranking in the top 10 for creative class workers and top 20 in educational attainment. The city also doesn’t lack in the arts and culture scene, ranking in our top 5 for culture. The drawbacks of working so close to D.C.? The commute time is the worst on list. But Alexandria ranks #1 for transportation affordability and in the top 5 in safety. And it may be a little pricey to eat around the area, but Alexandria made it on our Top 10 Best Foodie Cities, as well as three years in a row on the Top 100 Best Places to Live and Top 10 Downtowns.

    Why Alexandria is also a Top 100 Best Place to Live

  • 2

    Iowa City, IA

    Population: 71,832

    Courtesy of Alan Light under a CC 2.0 license.

    Iowa City is a great place to start a business and to live. It may be known for its college town atmosphere and culture scene, but the city thrives on entrepreneurship and is home to many corporate headquarters. It’s ranked on our Top 100 Places to Live list three years in a row so far, as well as ranked on our Top 10 Best College Towns. That alone may tell you that the city ranks high for college attainment (top 20), but it also ranks in the top 5 for jobs. As far as cost of living (and doing business), Iowa City ranks in the top 10 for affordable housing and food spending, as well as top 20 for growth in high wage jobs, commute time and culture.

    See Why Iowa City is also Top 100 Best Place to Live

  • Part of a the wider Metropolitan area of Durham-Chapel Hill and the Research Triangle of Chapel Hill, Durham and Raleigh, the city has kept its small town feel. This southern city has been named on our Top 100 Best Places to Live for three years in a row and our Top 10 Best College Towns thanks to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. On this list, Chapel Hill combined smarts with growth to earn its top spot, ranking in the top 5 for educational attainment, top 10 for high wage job growth, top 10 for household income growth and offers easy access to broadband. Culture and creative jobs are flourishing in Chapel Hill as well, the city ranks in the top 5 for creative class workers and in the top 5 for culture.

  • 4

    Boulder, CO

    Population: 103,919

    Courtesy of Let Ideas Complete under a CC 4.0 license.

    It’s no secret that Boulder is a great place to start a business with a close-knit community that heavily supports entrepreneurs – and that’s why it ranks at the top of our list for entrepreneurs. (It was also #1 on the list last year.) This Colorado town ranks in the top 10 for small business loans, top 5 for educational attainment and access to high speed internet. The city ranks in the top 3 for culture and the top 20 for creative class workers – making it a mecca for the arts and culture scene. While housing is fairly affordable (in the top 20), food spending can get expensive. And while the average commute time is not ideal, the city ranks in the top 3 for transportation affordability. Boulder continues to rank on many of our lists, years in a row, such as the Top 100 Best Places to Live, Top 10 Best College Towns, Top 10 Best Foodie Cities and Top 10 Affordable Vacation Spots.

  • 5

    Corvallis, OR

    Population: 54,981
    Lainey Dyer

    This university town likes to live green and clean in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. Corvallis has strong community and civic engagement and ranks in the top 5 for high wage job growth, top 20 for a educational attainment and offers easy access to broadband. Growth combines with affordability in the area with household income growth ranking in the top 20, while affordable housing and food expenditures also rank in the top 20. The city is well-rounded with creative class workers and a culture scene, ranking in the top 20 for both of these areas. And while transportation is on the expensive side, daily commute time is fairly reasonable (ranking in the top 20). Corvallis ranks on our Top 10 Best College Towns and Top 100 Best Places to Live.

     

  • 6

    Bozeman, MT

    Population: 40,319

    Courtesy of Leaflet under a CC 3.0 license.

    With a slogan like, “The most livable place,” Bozeman – nestled in the southwestern part of Montana – offers something for everyone. This tech-savvy community gets the best of both worlds with beauty and outdoor recreation galore and tech businesses like Oracle in their backyards. This city ranked in the top 15 for small business loans and the top 10 for both high wage job growth and household income growth. Culture isn’t lost on this town with a ranking in the top 20, while affordable housing and affordable food expenditures both rank in the top 10. Combine all of that and add a commute time ranking in the top 3 and you can see why Bozeman is a town for entrepreneurial ventures. The city also ranks in our Top 100 Best Places to Live and Top 10 Best Winter Cities.

     

  • 7

    Ann Arbor, MI

    Population: 116,194

    Courtesy of Nekonomist under a CC 4.0 license.

    Sitting pretty at a top spot on our list again this year, Ann Arbor is a well-rounded place to live and grow a business. The city is full of creative and smart people, ranking in the top 5 for creative class workers and the top 5 for educational attainment. As for small business growth, it ranked in the top 20 for small business loans. The commute time may be a little high though, Ann Arbor ranked in the top 15 for transportation affordability. And to round it out, the culture for this college town ranked in the top 15. It’s not a surprise that this city has ranked on our Top 100 Best Places to Live three years in a row so far, and our Top 10 Best College Towns four times.

     

  • 8

    Ames, IA

    Population: 62,815
    Asten via Creative Commons license

    Anchored by a top research university and an engaged community, Ames has made our Top 100 Best Places to Live three years in a row and our Top 10 Best College Towns in 2014. This intelligent city ranks in the top 10 for educational attainment on the list and the top 5 for high wage job growth. It’s a place that makes it easy to live, work and play, ranking in the top 5 for affordable housing and the top 20 for culture. Ames boasts a relatively low unemployment rate (in the top 20) and creativity, ranked in the top 20 for creative class workers.

     

  • 9

    Rochester, MN

    Population: 110,275
    Courtesy of Sheridan Vincent Photography

    This city on the rise ranked number 1 on our Top 100 Best Places to Live list in 2016. Rochester, home to Mayo Clinic, is in an era of growth, making it a great spot for entrepreneurs. In this city, the living’s easy, ranking in the top 10 for household income growth, affordable housing and jobs. Other notable rankings include a top 15 ranking for high wage job growth, top 20 ranking for creative class workers and top 10 ranking for commute times. Rochester has also been featured on our Top 10 Most Affordable Places to Live.

  • 10

    Manhattan, KS

    Population: 55,769
    Ed McNamara/Courtesy of Historic Downtown Manhattan

    This Midwestern college town, dubbed “The Little Apple,” is pretty much the whole package wrapped in small town charm: education, livability and business. That’s why it’s been ranked on our Top 100 Best Places to Live for two years in a row and our Top 10 Best College Towns. Manhattan ranked in the top 3 for both high wage job growth and affordable housing on this list. It also hit the top 10 for jobs and commute times, and takes a top score for high speed internet access.