Best Cities for Small Business: Small Cities

5 min read

This story appears in the October 1996 issue of Business Start-Ups magazine. Subscribe »

Unlike that of its sibling to the south, Reno's growth has been slow and steady. And while gaming is an important part of the economic mix, it's not the only action in town.

There are robust retail and manufacturing sectors, thanks to companies like Wal-Mart, Costco and Kal Kan, many of which buy from local businesses. Warehousing, distribution and exporting continue to grow, and printing could become a factor due to the relocation of industry giant R.R. Donnelly to the area. The National Bowling Stadium is also expected to create a lot of entrepreneurial energy because for every $100 tournament bowlers spend on hotels and gaming, they contribute another $100 to local retailers.

There are problems, of course, including a skilled labor shortage that is forcing many companies to recruit out of state and the need to continuously conserve water (a situation that may ease some if an agreement between local officials and American Indians becomes law).

Land is also at a premium because much of the area's acreage is under federal government control. But a pollution-free, pro-business environment and efforts to seek solutions to the problems make the short-term inconveniences worth the hassle.

Colorado Springs, CO (1996)

Why are so many small businesses springing up in Colorado Springs? With a population that's grown by roughly 100,000 in the last three years, a favorable tax environment and a healthy respect for small business, it's easy to see why Colorado Springs has become a land of plenty.

First and foremost, the city--located at the base of the Rocky Mountains--is a high-tech mecca. Corporate giants such as MCI, Hewlett Packard and Digital Equipment Corp. all reside here. As a result, scores of small computer hardware and software companies have set up shop, fueled in part by considerable downsizing on the part of large high-tech companies.

What's more, five major government and military installations provide small-business contractors with a steady flow of work, while bed and breakfast inns, restaurants and travel agencies are bustling with activity, thanks to a stream of visitors to the city's many business conventions and plentiful recreational opportunities.

If Colorado Springs can overcome its growing pains-namely a scarcity of low-skilled employees and a road system that's pressed to the limit--it's certainly headed toward the top of the small-business mountain.

Madison, WI (1996)

The stage is set for substantial small-business growth in Madison. Boasting a high quality of living and a pro-business attitude, it's no wonder that Madison is a veritable hotbed of entrepreneurial activity.

As if that weren't enough, the University of Wisconsin, Madison, continues to aid local start-ups with its technology transfer efforts. This year, the school also unveiled two new entrepreneurial programs: the Family Business Center and the Agribusiness Executive Management program.

On the downside, a very low unemployment rate can make it difficult for small and large employers alike to find qualified labor; many find they must offer higher wages and attractive benefits packages to lure qualified employees. And, as its population has grown, traffic congestion has become a problem, too.

Overall, though, industries across the board are thriving in this college town. High-tech computer and semiconductor firms, as well as genetic engineering, manufacturing, service and retail businesses are all faring well in this city that's no longer an unfamiliar spot on the map.

Boulder, CO (1996)

Boulder is a city whose citizens are working together to spur small-business growth. Want proof? This mountain community was one of the nation's first to get wired on the Internet with the private-public-sponsored development of the Boulder Community Network (public access to the Internet through local libraries); a new bus service, The Hop, started recently to ease transportation problems around town; and a host of private business and university entrepreneurship programs continue to be created.

Considering Boulder's nurturing environment-and highly skilled labor force--it's only natural that a slew of small telecommunications, hardware and software companies, and Internet service providers are being started. The biotechnology and medical products industries have also taken wing. And, in nearby Longmont, high-tech manufacturers of PC boards and other computer-related equipment are thriving.

Business isn't quite perfect: Boulder's burgeoning business development continues to drive up lease rates and cause a scarcity of commercial office space. The cost of labor is rapidly rising, and there's a growing shortage of entry-level workers. Given the area's knack for sticking together, though, there's no doubt the region's residents will strive to overcome these problems together.

Appleton, WI (1996)

This region is perhaps best known for children's apparel company OshKosh B'Gosh. But not for long: The Appleton/Oshkosh/Neenah area is teeming with entrepreneurial spirit that's breeding start-up companies throughout the entire region.

In Appleton, long known for its paper production, service-based businesses serving the large paper corporations are thriving. Insurance is also blossoming in Appleton, and computer manufacturing companies have emerged in Oshkosh in recent years. The Chain o' Lakes--50 lakes in the surrounding area--as well as two nearby car racing tracks provide for a growing tourism industry.

Yet with growth expected to continue at a swift clip for the next three years and with a recent survey revealing that most local companies plan to expand in the coming months, employers are worried about the shrinking labor force. Consequently, Appleton recently established several student apprentice and internship programs with local businesses, and a Workforce Development Center to train local employees is scheduled to open in Oshkosh next year.

All things told, the vicinity boasts a low crime rate, an educated work force, a strong work ethic and plenty of recreational opportunities to attract visitors and new residents. Quite an entrepreneurial environment, b'gosh!


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