There's something that statistics just can't capture about the entrepreneurial spirit of a town. In some cities, the do-it-yourself business ethic may spring from a ruined economy. In others, small-business booms were carefully engineered by long-term government policies, or developed as a byproduct of rapid growth. Whatever the case, you'll know it when you step into an entrepreneurial city: There's an openness and energy that permeates the whole culture, an infectious enthusiasm throughout the small-business community, and a faith that any problem can be overcome through dedication and smart decisions. Here are 10 cities we think embody the entrepreneurial spirit--and some of the entrepreneurs that power them to greatness.
The Opportunity: Las Vegas
There may be no place hit harder by the mortgage meltdown than Sin City: After decades of breakneck growth, home prices have slumped 35 percent to 45 percent, unemployment is near 10 percent and the tourism industry is struggling to fill rooms. Those might be the best reasons to set up shop in Las Vegas. With commercial rents, cost of living and employee wages as low as they've ever been in modern memory, small businesses have a chance to do the cash-intensive phase of business development at discount rates. "The slowing economy has provided opportunities," says Kara Kelley, president and CEO of the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce. "Housing is more affordable than it has been in eight years. Smart business owners can take advantage of that." And when the economy does rev up? They'll be basking in the sunshine.
<insert ad here>
Cupcakes, it turns out, are recession-proof. Or at least the Kir Royale, Chocolate Peanut Butter and other gourmet flavors sold at Pamela Jenkins' The Cupcakery are. The New York transplant, who runs two Cupcakerys in Las Vegas and opened two more in Texas, is preparing to start up a fifth location near the high-traffic Vegas strip. "If you have a proven idea, the costs of opening a business right now are really inexpensive," she says. "Commercial real estate has tanked. Now is a hell of a time to get in on a good commercial location." But it's not just the cheap rent that makes Jenkins confident in expanding her business. "As an entrepreneur, Vegas is a great place to start a business," she says. "The community appreciates locals and they've supported me immensely. From what I've seen, Vegas is like a giant small town."
Jason Daley lives and writes in Madison, Wisconsin. His work regularly appears in Popular Science, Outside and other magazines.