20 Best Cities For Small Business

Our annual ranking of the nation's top entrepreneurial spots
Magazine Contributor
15+ min read

This story appears in the October 1997 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

We have to contradict Dr. Seuss. However, in the case of small business, we believe it's not just the places you'll go, but the place where you start, that adds spice to the journey. Therefore, it's become our annual mission to determine which cities in America best provide small businesses with springboards to success.

Tapping into many different resources, and drawing on the abilities of Dun & Bradstreet (D&B) to tie everything together, our fourth annual ranking reveals several surprises, as well as some of the usual suspects. For example, while some of this year's top cities (or, more accurately, Metropolitan Statistical Areas) are already well-established veterans of our list, others are first-timers. And, sadly enough, a few stars from years past seem to have fallen from the list.

Whatever their history, this year's top cities were scored in five categories: government attitude toward business (taking into consideration corporate tax rates and the 1997 State Development Report Card Ratings by The Corporation for Enterprise Development), business performance (company failure rates and payment delinquencies), economic growth (employment growth and growth in the average wage per job), risk (the chances of business failure over the next 18 months, according to a company's financial health, the amount of time it's been in business, history of its principals, record of paying suppliers and so on), and affordability (increases in the cost of living index, as well as growth in wages).

While D&B used this statistical information to compile the list, we dug deeper to find the story behind the successes. We've noticed some common factors--many top cities on our list, for example, boast strong high-tech, biotech and telecommunications sectors. Also, increases in venture capital indicate not only potential future growth for the city but also a confidence in the area's entrepreneurs. Large corporations seeking local suppliers and services usually turn out to be small-business allies. And innovative small-business programs, like the Milwaukee (#13) Economic Development Corp.'s Capital Access Program, give entrepreneurs a much-needed break.

While the factors listed above tend to be the building blocks of a solid small-business foundation, a few unexpected advantages showed up during our research of this year's list. We figured the casino industry would be powering Las Vegas (#8) but found it's also spurred small-business growth in unlikely areas such as Kansas City, Missouri (#10). This year, certain cities also scored big in the form of professional sports--Nashville, Tennessee (#15) sports fans, for example, welcomed the Tennessee Oilers, while Nashville entrepreneurs cheered the opportunities that accompanied the transported team.

Speaking of sports, we found that we had a "three-peat" champion of our own. Not only did Portland, Oregon, win the number-one slot for the third year in a row, but it seems to be pulling away from the pack. Portland ranked far higher than any other city, says Steve Hess, D&B's director of analytical services. "It has one of the lowest risks of insolvency, one of the lowest failure rates, one of the lowest delinquency rates and, at the same time, enjoys strong wage and job growth," says Hess. "Most of the other cities did well in a few categories and had problems in others. But Portland has consistently proven to be a terrific place for small business. It sticks out as the champion."

Meanwhile, Boston, one of 1996's notables, dropped off, which means the Northeast is conspicuously absent from our list. And even among this year's star performers, some problems emerged-the labor shortage and infrastucture were common examples.

Hess was perhaps more surprised by certain cities that were on the list. Cities such as St. Louis (#2) aren't what you'd typically consider booming, or even healthy, environments for small business, but they continue to appear on our list, serving their local entrepreneurs undeniably well.

Without further ado, we present our ranking of the best entrepreneurial cities in the nation.

Portland (1997)

Portland, Oregon, rains. But never before has it reigned quite like this. With an economy as solid as an oak, it's hard to imagine that just over a decade ago, Portland's economy was falling faster than you could say "Timber!"

A high-tech sector now provides the roots the city has long needed. Twenty years ago, this industry wasn't even a blip on Portland's screen; today, it is the largest employer in the state. Local technology manufacturers such as Intel court a multitude of satellite suppliers, while a recent wellspring of investment capital has given birth to many cutting-edge companies, particularly in the software and multimedia segments. And the capital just keeps on coming, thanks to events like this year's first annual Venture Oregon, which attracted more than 50 out-of-state venture capitalists.

And yet the strength of Portland's economy lies in the fact that, no matter how successful the high-tech arena is, it is far from the city's only star player. Portland also benefits from having the largest export port on the West Coast, as well as a burgeoning food-processing industry. Meanwhile, opportunities continue to bloom in the electronics manufacturing industry.

Perhaps the best way to describe Portland is as a big city with a small-town attitude. The premium entrepreneurs place on quality of life also positions them on the leading edge of a nationwide trend--homebased businesses. And you'll find no cutthroat mentality here: The small-business community works together, creating a healthy environment for all. Businesses network, but without the edge. Meanwhile, the state's government, banks, corporations and nonprofit organizations add to this unique environment by providing entrepreneurs with the support they need to start and expand their businesses.

Some clouds loom on the horizon, though. The housing market, which used to lure out-of-state buyers with its unbelievably low prices, has seen a quick appreciation in the past two years. Recently, a legislative session failed to solve the city's chronic public-education funding problem and defeated a transportation package that would have done little more than maintain the quality of roads and bridges, some of which need improvement.

In the end, the only potential enemy this small-business powerhouse faces is itself. Some fear Portland's economic heyday has made legislators overly confident. Meanwhile, others are optimistic that small-business, the hero of the city's economy, will not be forsaken. Always on the lookout for entrepreneurs with the potential for rapid growth, Portland is, and will continue to be, a city that's coming up roses.

St. Louis & Seattle (1997)

St. Louis has been dubbed the "largest small town in the country." And that's no lie. While home to corporate giants like Anheuser-Busch and Enterprise Rent-A-Car, this conservative Midwestern town maintains a close-knit community, one where business is still done on a handshake.

The large corporate presence here ensures a steady flow of contracting work to small companies. Dominant industries are aerospace, biomedical and advanced manufacturing. Corporate downsizing in recent years has fueled the growth of small businesses, particularly in the high-tech arena.

Although access to capital presents a challenge for entrepreneurs in the St. Louis region, a new St. Louis Regional Commerce and Growth Association program called CAPCO (Certified Capital Co.) is improving the situation. The program raises venture capital funding for small companies by giving insurance companies tax credits for investing in certified CAPCO companies. Difficulty finding skilled workers and dealing with what's often perceived as a slow pace of change also plague the small-business community.

As for the future, it's expected the legislature will hold a special session this fall to consider a tax credit for historical renovation and restoration of older buildings in the downtown area, which should stimulate business. Plus, a $3 billion expansion of the Lambert-St. Louis International Airport scheduled to break ground next year could turn this not-so-small town into a major exporting and transportation center.

With names like Microsoft, Starbucks, Nordstrom and McCaw Cellular on its list of homegrown companies, people wonder, is it something in the water? Actually, there's no secret to Seattle's business success. A generally supportive government, a diverse economic base, a renowned high-tech sector, and an abundance of ambitious entrepreneurs operating under the awesome idea that they could become the next Bill Gates are all this city needs to charge up a vibrant small-business environment. By all accounts--D&B's included--it's surprising the city didn't make last year's list. Nonetheless, there are many reasons for Seattle's inclusion this year.

The high-tech sector has proved it can add not only sizzle to this city's economy but also solidity. From Boeing to Microsoft, conglomerates are proving to be small-business friends, not foes. Boeing enlists the help of many small aerospace manufacturing-related companies, while ex-Microsoft employees who spin off new technology companies have become celebrities in their own right. With the buzz that Seattle will be the nation's information technology leader of the future, the number of start-up information technology companies has multiplied rapidly over the past two years.

And perhaps there's something in the water, after all. Seattle's reputation as being America's most livable city attracts entrepreneurs, a talented labor pool and, as of late, a slew of venture capitalists.

Yet a few viruses persist--among them escalating housing costs, heavy traffic, and fairly steep business and occupation tax rates. However, the absence of corporate and personal income taxes provides a welcome contrast to the high gross-receipts tax on businesses.

A city known for setting business trends, Seattle has recently become a hotbed of innovation in both the biotech and telecommunications industries. And the city's multicultural population and Pacific Rim location make it ideal for international business. Should entrepreneurs in these sectors follow in the footsteps of their predecessors and become national leaders in their fields, we could see a whole new generation of sleepers in Seattle.

Greensboro (1997)

Although the Piedmont Triad, consisting of Greensboro, Winston-Salem and High Point, North Carolina, boasts more than 1 million residents, this is no metropolis. Rather, the area is made up of fiercely independent, thriving small cities still imbued with that Southern sense of self-reliance and hospitality.

That's not to say that growth hasn't brought problems. There's more traffic, schools struggle to keep up, and help-wanted signs are ever-present. These concerns have inspired intense debate between pro- and slow-growth advocates. Among the assistance being provided to tackle these challenges are apprenticeship programs, offered through Guilford Technical Community College in conjunction with local industry, to fulfill training needs.

Financing remains problematic. Within the last year, however, a new loan pool began offering minorities and women start-up and expansion capital. In addition, Self-Help Credit Union, a community development credit union, started lending money to small firms, and Branch Banking & Trust Corp. created a new venture capital fund.

Although traditional industries, including textiles and tobacco, remain the leading employers, the economy has shifted in the last 10 years toward financial services, retail and telecommunications. The Bowman Gray School of Medicine at Wake Forest University continues to spur the medical industry, and if the Foreign Trade Zone Status is approved, firms involved in exporting may also become a competitive force.

Charlotte (1997)

In many ways, Charlotte, North Carolina, resembles a gangly teenager-grown-up on the outside but with traces of the child inside occasionally surfacing.

Banking and spin-off financial services dominate the region. Banking is driven by the merger and acquisition activities of Nations Bank and First Union, both of which have their headquarters here. But contrary to typical scenarios, small firms are not losing out-many of the smaller and midsized banks are focusing on the entrepreneurial market.

Like so many cities in our top 20 that are experiencing rapid growth, Charlotte is coping with congested roads and labor shortages. Chamber of commerce officials are urging members to improve worker loyalty and explore alternative employee resources, such as retirees. The state's welfare reform effort (Work First) is also expected to help solve the labor shortage. Charlotte's inner child resurfaces when it looks toward the future. Can this become a world-class city? The answer lies in the hands of residents. Can they develop the mature cosmopolitan attitude it takes to allow the non-traditional to flourish, or will conservatism maintain the status quo? Only time will tell.

Denver (1997)

Denver has all the trappings of a great city: a busy international airport, a slew of professional sports teams--even last June's international economic summit. Even so, the Mile High City has not lost touch with its small-town roots, retaining a close-knit entrepreneurial community, friendly business climate and a touch of the Old West.

Top-notch recreation and a high quality of living attract businesses to the Denver area. Small Internet and high-tech companies, micro-breweries and restaurants thrive here. Business is also brisk for small-business consultants and various service companies. Still, with small-business failure rates on the rise and housing and commercial construction slowing, some are taking these as not-so-subtle signs that the city's skyrocketing growth may be slowing.

The influx of people into the area continues to present the biggest challenge, straining the city's infrastructure and school system to their limits. To help ease the pain, an initiative to provide funding for highway construction and repair is slated for the November ballot. Local schools and businesses are also teaming up to develop mentoring programs and a related curriculum to ensure a steady stream of skilled workers for businesses in the future. Considering Denver's pioneering spirit, there's no doubt this city will come out on top.

Minneapolis/St. Paul (1997)

There's so much going on here, it's hard to put your finger on what exactly makes the Minneapolis/St. Paul area tick.

For one, the region is home to an array of industries. The printing and publishing, software, and machining sectors remain at the forefront, but health care, medical products, financial services, food processing, and electronics follow close behind, making for a diversified base. Major corporations, including 3M, Honeywell and Dayton Hudson, are based here, offering a variety of subcontracting and technology transfer opportunities to small businesses. Lifestyle pluses include first-rate recreational opportunities and a superb school system.

In the past, high property taxes, particularly for the commercial sector, have been a major hurdle for entrepreneurs. Recently, however, a property tax reform bill was passed to lessen the burden, although some say it didn't go far enough. Remaining challenges include the availability of qualified labor, open land for industrial development and, to a lesser degree, adequate financing, though the region is well-known for its generous venture capital community.

As for the months ahead, the creation of an NHL franchise in St. Paul and the development of an entertainment and retail complex known as "Block E" makes the future bright for twin cities entrepreneurs on all fronts.

Las Vegas (1997)

Some have honeymoons in Vegas; others leave Las Vegas--but small business is here to stay.

The 7,000-plus people moving to this metropolis monthly are feeding a construction and service business boom that's turning the Las Vegas Valley into the big leagues of small-business opportunity. Gaming and tourism still lead the way, however, with the convention segment attracting significant numbers of people. Entrepreneurs in the distribution and light manufacturing sectors who cater to both the gaming and nongaming industries are also among the businesses hitting the Las Vegas jackpot.

The city has experienced its share of growing pains, however. Traffic delays are common, and area schools are struggling to meet a rapidly accelerating demand. School bond issues passed within the last year should provide some relief.

While business owners may find that access to capital remains a problem, a new $3 million state-operated fund called the Nevada Development Capital Corp. will provide funding for businesses between start-up and bankability. In addition, some area banks are starting to target small businesses.

And, for the first time, a vocal segment of citizens is calling for controlled population growth. While the political debate rages on, entrepreneurs continue to flow into the Las Vegas Valley seeking their own personal pot of gold.

Salt Lake City (1997)

It's said that variety is the spice of life. In the Salt Lake City area, variety is also creating a highly successful business climate.

In the past, the area depended primarily on a military base and copper, coal and gold mining to provide an economic foundation, but today everything from high-tech to tourism to construction flourish in this city's stable economy. Winning the 2002 Olympic Winter Games was icing on the cake, offering confirmation that Salt Lake is the place to be.

As with all fast-growing cities, Salt Lake has its problems, chiefly roads and highways that are being brought up to snuff with a five-year project to improve Interstate 15. An overall labor shortage has forced some small companies to pay salaries of as much as 40 percent more than they were paying two years ago.

But perhaps the biggest challenge for Salt Lake City is one of attitude. Some people are ready to slow the city's growth; others are happy to ride the wave of prosperity; and still others advocate planning for what will happen when the wave crests. Meanwhile, small business grows on.

Kansas City (1997)

A recent study by The Kansas City Business Journal found Kansas City, Missouri, to be one of the nation's most cost-effective metropolitan areas, based on income, cost of living and other economic considerations. Coupled with an unemployment rate of less than 4 percent, this "Heart of America" is a prime location for entrepreneurial business.

Situated at the convergence of the Missouri and Kansas rivers in the center of the United States, Kansas City is a major distribution, transportation and warehouse center that nurtures and provides abundant resources to local business owners. As evidence of its commitment, in August, the city unveiled a comprehensive, 50-year plan to foster economic growth and improve education. The Kauffman Foundation, a center for entrepreneurial leadership, fosters success through education and grants. And there are a multitude of financing sources, including venture capital funds.

As in Salt Lake City, finding well-trained workers is a challenge here-but opportunities abound for local businesses, thanks to out-sourcing by major corporations such as Sprint Communications and Hallmark. Telecommunications, pharmaceuticals, tele-marketing and high-tech industries remain strong, while the success of casino gaming has brought nearly 8,000 jobs into the community since 1994. Looking to the future, experts expect more service businesses for seniors, Internet-related companies and continued growth in the homebased sector.

Detroit (1997)

It's no wonder Detroit continues to be such an economic powerhouse--especially when you consider it's headquarters to Ford, Chrysler and GM. Although these automakers may not be as dominant as they once were, they still provide Detroit with a strong economic base. But the Motor City is also a focal point for small business--interest rates are low nationwide, and Detroit's optimistic economy is on an upswing.

Construction is currently planned on two new professional sports stadiums. Costing close to $505 million, the anticipated undertakings have stimulated job opportunities and, upon completion, are expected to revitalize the downtown area. As in Kansas City, the advent of casino gaming is also having positive fiscal effects; three large casinos are scheduled to be built, which should spawn spin-off businesses.

Although the auto industry drives Detroit's economy, retail and service operations, as well as high-tech firms, are also major players. The city works hard to cultivate entrepreneurship by offering access to free information through its Small Business Development Center, networking opportunities and lending programs. It all adds up to a healthy environment that fosters business development.

On the down side, one of the biggest hurdles challenging the city today is a lack of qualified workers, a trend we're noticing in many of our top cities. Experts also predict that as large numbers of auto workers retire from the Big Three in coming years, entrepreneurs may lose some employees, as these corporations looking to hire offer better wages.

Atlanta (1997)

The Olympics may be a fading memory, but business is as bright as ever in Atlanta--just ask its entrepreneurs. It costs less to launch a business here than in other major U.S. markets, thanks to a laissez-faire philosophy resulting in less government interference and no sales tax on services. The Games of '96 are not to be forgotten, however; profitable repercussions are expected for decades to come.

Business development is nourished--the community boasts 10 colleges with entrepreneurial programs--a boost helpful to the many downsized executives from AT&T and IBM, which both have offices here, who are looking to become sole proprietors.

Atlanta's multifaceted economy is supported by a variety of industries. United Parcel Service's (UPS) headquarters is here, and light manufacturing continues its hold, thanks to local Ford and GM plants. Other healthy markets include service, aerospace, trucking, construction, retail, software, technical and personnel. The latest U.S. Census Report ranks Atlanta eighth in the nation for the number of women-owned businesses and fifth for minority-owned businesses.

A lack of venture capital and skilled labor hinders many of Atlanta's businesses. And despite a strong foundation, keeping up with technology is a concern for this flower of the South, though it remains optimistic that high-tech will blossom in coming years.

Milwaukee (1997)

You might say that the city of Milwaukee has gone through somewhat of a business renaissance in recent years. To wit: Tourism, high-tech and construction industries are booming; the downtown Riverwalk area is being transformed into a tourist and shopping Mecca; and the Milwaukee Chamber of Commerce's Future 50 program annually recognizes 50 local small-business owners for their entrepreneurial achievements.

Not that the city that news anchor Peter Jennings dubbed the "jewel of the Midwest" had much to complain about. Lively ethnic and music festivals; plentiful water recreation on Lake Michigan; and friendly, safe neighborhoods make for a truly high quality of living.

Limited access to capital and a dwindling labor force continue to present challenges for Milwaukee entrepreneurs. The city is making inroads, however, thanks to innovative welfare-to-work programs. And the Milwaukee Economic Development Corp.'s Capital Access program, in which state and local government match cash to a reserve fund designed to back risky loans, has helped more than 300 businesses since its inception in 1992.

The area's transformation is giving new meaning to the city's slogan: "Genuine Milwaukee"--and locals certainly have reason to be genuinely proud of this city.

Ft. Worth (1997)

If you still think of the Ft. Worth metropolitan area as Cowtown--don't. Though its cattle-raising roots are branded in the nation's consciousness, this north Texas region has been transformed by a surge of high-tech enterprise. Indeed, Ft. Worth ranks among the top 20 electronics manufacturing sites nationwide.

Even if Ft. Worth casts a longer shadow, Arlington deserves a tip of the hat--cowboy or otherwise--for its semiconductor and software industries.

The completion of Alliance Airport in 1989-the first industrial airport in the United States-simply adds to the area's strengths. Factor in the busy Dallas/Ft. Worth International Airport, as well as rail and interstate highway access, and you've got a transportation hub few cities can rival.

As for entrepreneurial resources, Ft. Worth helps local business owners with its self-created Ft. Worth Business Assistance Center, a one-stop site for financing, legal and exporting assistance. Even local public schools get into the act--the Ft. Worth Chamber of Commerce, in partnership with the Ft. Worth Independent School District, determined which skills were most sought after by pro-spective employers and designed appropriate curriculums for all grade levels.

And, as home of the popular Texas Rangers, Arlington clearly scores with baseball fans and the local businesses that cater to them. That's enough to bat away those Old West images.

Nashville (1997)

With 25,000 new jobs predicted by 2000, Nashville, Tennessee's, thriving economy is music to the ears of local entrepreneurs. The number of start-ups has exploded in recent years, and availability of capital and other resources is higher than the national average.

Many attribute the positive economic outlook in part to the acquisition of the Houston Oilers and the approval of an NHL team. A new sports arena and the anticipated completion of the Tennessee Oilers' stadium in 1999 have scored small businesses hundreds of subcontracting jobs and other opportunities.

The tourism, health-care, manufacturing, service, music and food industries remain strong. And entrepreneurs have access to such resources as the Small Business Administration's (SBA) Small Business Resource Center and the Nashville Chamber of Commerce/SBA Access Loan Program, which has financed 39 Nashville companies in just three years.

Nashville is not without problems, however. A shortage of skilled labor--ever-present in our ranking--has prompted the city to work on lowering the high-school dropout rate. And experts predict the city's transportation system will need upgrades. But with export and Internet-related companies expected to gain momentum, Nashville seems poised to net rewards for small business.

Richmond (1997)

Midsized Cities
This year's top-rated midsized metropolitan area is no stranger to our ranking--and it's no surprise why. A hotbed of high-tech activity, the Richmond/Petersburg, Virginia, area boasts the kind of pro-business climate that draws Fortune 500 companies and entrepreneurial enterprises alike. Circuit City Stores, Reynolds Metals and Eskimo Pie Corp. all have headquarters here, a stone's throw away from our nation's capitol.

Cited in a recent national study as the second most cost-effective metropolitan area in which to do business, Richmond also affords entrepreneurs the advantage of being no more than a two-day drive from 40 percent of U.S. markets. And, as far as educational resources go, the Virginia Biotechnology Research Park complements four-year academic institutions such as the Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Richmond.

Speaking of resources, an active Capitol Area Small Business Development Center as well as the Greater Richmond Partnership--a regional economic development organization--assists and encourages businesses to bloom in Richmond just as surely as the state's flowering dogwoods grow.

If there's a downside for the area's small businesses--many of which are concentrated in the service sector--it is that such a boom in companies and workers places greater demand on Richmond's infrastructure. The local airport, in particular, could use some upgrading. That said, however, this area's entrepreneurs are generally optimistic--and rightly so.

Tacoma (1997)

On lower Puget Sound, you'll find Tacoma, Washington, a city bound for success from the start. Its "City of Destiny" moniker was acquired in 1873, when the transcontinental railroad selected the city for its Western terminus. More than a century later, it's clear Tacoma's still on the right track--its economy is strong, and unemployment has reached a 31-year low.

Tacoma's proximity to the Pacific Rim offers a prime setting for international business; in fact, the Port of Tacoma is one of North America's largest. Two local military bases have brought thousands of consumers into the area, and Intel recently announced expansion plans for a new research and development facility in the community. Leading industries include financial services, manufacturing and high-tech.

Venture capital abounds, and a new SBA One-Stop Capital Shop opened last year. Taxation is not much of a problem for local entrepreneurs--there's no state income tax, and the state recently eliminated sales tax on manufacturing equipment. Currently in discussion: a proposal to give tax benefits to financial services companies that relocate to the area.

All this activity has led to congestion in the city, but Tacoma is working to relieve that--plans have been approved for a light rail system, which should be completed by 2001.

Raleigh-Durham (1997)

The Research Triangle area, composed of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill, North Carolina, is setting its sights on 1999. That's when a new arena will begin to host the North Carolina State University basketball team and the transplanted Hartford Whalers (now the Carolina Hurricanes) NHL team. Two museums and a performing arts center will come to life, and the World Special Olympics and the United States Golf Association Open tournament will arrive in nearby Pinehurst.

But small businesses aren't waiting until then to cash in on this area's explosive opportunities. Clinical research, telecommunications, biomedicine and software are perennial growth industries that make this one of the country's most active business communities.

Although venture capital investment has picked up, there's room for improvement, and local officials have taken the mountain to Mohammed by venturing into Boston and the Silicon Valley to woo investors. The state government has also gotten into the act by increasing pension investments in venture capital from $30 million to $100 million.

A number of employment initiatives, including the Durham Work Force Partnership and Marriott Pathways to Independence, may provide needed relief for the employee shortage in nonskilled jobs. And bonds have been approved to finance new schools and road improvements. But change will not happen overnight. Consequently, some economic developers are looking into the future and encouraging new businesses to locate in nearby communities--rather than directly in the Triangle--to alleviate congestion.

Rockford (1997)

A peek into the Rockford files reveals a city best known for its manufacturing base--but increasingly focused on a wave of service-oriented businesses. Internet providers, temporary employment agencies and cleaning companies are just a few examples of service opportunities in Illinois' second-largest metropolitan area.

Even if nearby Chicago garners more attention, Rockford has become the kind of city that affords its small businesses wide distribution for their products, thanks in large part to the local UPS hub. (It doesn't hurt that Rockford is centrally located in the country.) Other advantages include a network of city support services that ranges from an acclaimed chapter of the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE) to a progressive chamber of commerce that recently put together an amnesty program to educate local businesses on environmental regulations compliance. Additionally, entrepreneurs in Rockford have good access to financial assistance.

With its tree-lined streets, Rockford seems the picture of prosperity. Nonetheless, relatively high property taxes remain a problem--even as other forms of taxation are considered more competitive by national standards. And look for Rockford to continue making strides in overall exports and in the field of consumer electronics repair.

Omaha (1997)

What a difference a burgeoning economy makes. Though Omaha, Nebraska, may still be regarded as just another quiet Midwestern city, some are realizing business here is anything but sleepy-eyed.

The scarcity of office space, despite a recent boom in construction, speaks to the level of commercial activity in metropolitan Omaha. More service-based than manufacturing-oriented, Omaha keeps humming along with its high-tech businesses, print shops, insurance agencies, biomedical companies and medical claims processing firms.

A low unemployment rate is a mixed blessing here. Though a strong educational system, affordable housing and one of the nation's best ratings for personal safety encourages people to relocate to Omaha, there remains a demand for unskilled labor. Nonetheless, this labor crunch isn't deterring entrepreneurs from taking advantage of the wealth of available small-business loans.

Keep your eyes on the growing homebased and women-owned business and fiber-optic/communications industries in the region. And, if Omaha stays on course, expect further exporting strides--particularly to Japan.

About Dun & Bradstreet

Dun & Bradstreet (D&B), with the world's largest business information database, tracks 46 million companies worldwide--11 million in the United States alone. Businesses use D&B's services to find new customers and evaluate their creditworthiness, identify potential suppliers and collect overdue receivables.

Through face-to-face and telephone interviews and public records searches, more than 200 million financial transactions are added to D&B's files annually, and that's just in the United States. D&B updates its information base continually--more than 750,000 times each business day.

When businesses are entered into the D&B database, they are issued D-U-N-S Numbers (comparable to Social Security numbers for companies). Required by the U.S. government for all businesses in its Central Contractor Registration database and used by the United Nations and the European Union, the D&B D-U-N-S Number is quickly becoming the universal standard for identifying businesses on the World Wide Web as well.

To have a D-U-N-S Number assigned to your business free of charge, call (800) 234-3867.

Top 20 Cities (1997)

Large Cities
1. Portland/Vancouver, OR/WA
2. St. Louis, MO/IL
3. Seattle/Bellevue/Everett, WA
4. Greensboro/Winston-Salem/ High Point, NC
5. Charlotte/Gastonia, NC/ Rock Hill, SC
6. Denver, CO
7. Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN/WI
8. Las Vegas, NV/AZ
9. Salt Lake City/Ogden, UT
10. Kansas City, MO/KS
11. Detroit, MI
12. Atlanta, GA
13. Milwaukee/Waukesha, WI
14. Ft. Worth/Arlington, TX
15. Nashville, TN

Midsized Cities
1. Richmond/Petersburg, VA
2. Tacoma, WA
3. Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill, NC 4. Rockford, IL
5. Omaha, NE/IA

Top West Cities
1. Portland/Vancouver, OR/WA
2. Seattle/Bellevue/Everett, WA
3. San Jose, CA
4. Sacramento, CA
5. San Francisco, CA

Top Southeast Cities
1. Greensboro/Winston-Salem/ High Point, NC
2. Charlotte/Gastonia/Rock
Hill, NC/SC
3. Atlanta, GA
4. Nashville, TN
5. Memphis, TN/AR/MS

Top Mountain Cities
1. Denver, CO
2. Las Vegas, NV/AZ
3. Salt Lake City/Ogden, UT
4. Phoenix/Mesa, AZ

Top Midwest Cities
1. St. Louis, MO/IL
2. Minneapolis/St. Paul,MN/WI
3. Kansas City, MO/KS
4. Detroit, MI
5. Milwaukee/Waukesha, WI

Top Northeast Cities
1. Pittsburgh, PA
2. Rochester, NY
3. Boston/Worcester/Lawrence/Lowell/Brockton, MA/NH
4. Buffalo/Niagara Falls, NY
5. Hartford, CT

More from Entrepreneur
Our Franchise Advisors will guide you through the entire franchising process, for FREE!
  1. Book a one-on-one session with a Franchise Advisor
  2. Take a survey about your needs & goals
  3. Find your ideal franchise
  4. Learn about that franchise
  5. Meet the franchisor
  6. Receive the best business resources
Make sure you’re covered if an employee gets injured at work by
  • Providing us with basic information about your business
  • Verifying details about your business with one of our specialists
  • Speaking with an agent who is specifically suited to insure your business
Whether you want to learn something new, be more productive, or make more money, the Entrepreneur Store has something for everyone:
  • Software
  • Gadgets
  • Online Courses
  • Travel Essentials
  • Housewares
  • Fitness & Health Devices
  • And More

Latest on Entrepreneur