Our 2018 Picks for the Top 100 Cities for Global Trade
Each year, Global Trade magazine takes the time to look at U.S. cities to guide our readers to the best places to do business.
We choose these cities based on many factors: what they’ve done, what’s planned, and how global trade has responded to them. As with any list like this, there is always room for interpretation, but we feel that each of these cities, from the country’s largest to some tiny cities, all deserve to a look from anyone interested in doing business in the United States.
THE NATIONAL ECONOMY AND TRENDS
The economy of the U.S. is stronger than it has been in decades. Record low unemployment, rising wages and high consumer and business confidence are all contributing to huge growth in the economy. The fundamentals of the economy are strong and don’t appear to be weakening soon.
Many businesses and industries that had abandoned the U.S. for cheaper shores are returning due to changes in tariffs and economic realities. Notable is the return of the steel industry, which was all but dead in the U.S. but now appears to be making a quiet resurgence.
On the horizon are areas for concern, depending on whom you ask.
The current administration succeeded with renegotiating some trade agreements, as evidenced by the creation of USMCA to replace NAFTA, but trade with China is still a huge question mark. China’s government doesn’t appear to respond to strong-arm tactics, and they have a large enough economy they may be willing to battle with the U.S. administration.
Some economists predict a mild recession in 2109, but most offer different reasons for this. Without a consensus, it’s hard to believe these predictions will come to fruition.
THE BEST CITIES FOR GLOBAL TRADE
Each category of this list allows business leaders to look at locations in which to open or relocate a business.
These cities deserve mention in several categories. Most times, these are America’s largest cities and are obvious candidates for many categories….
New York City(Export/Financial Hub)
New York City is an obvious choice for several categories. As the heart of the global financial community, with Wall Street and most of the world’s largest banks, New York is arguably the global financial center. The Port of New York and New Jersey is still the second busiest in the world. The Big Apple is the launching point for millions of global businesses.
Seattle(Export/Skilled Workforce/Financial Hub)
Seattle has been a global trade leader for over a generation. With its well-protected port, and as the home of such businesses as Amazon and Microsoft, skilled workers and financial services have flocked to the city. Few cities in the world offer the global trade access that Seattle does without massive populations.
The Windy City has been the entry point to and exit point from the heart of the United States. It is still the ideal location to import and export goods. Its intermodal strengths include a massive highway system, river barges and rail that allow the movement of goods within the country with ease. The St. Lawrence Seaway provides access for ships of every size to go into and out of the Great Lakes.
Detroit(Export/Financial Hub/NAFTA/USMCA/Business Incentives)
Despite a legendary crash of the auto industry and bleak images of a downtown in shambles, the Motor City is still an economic powerhouse. With easy access to the Great Lakes and Canada, Detroit is an excellent place to do business with America’s second largest trade partner, Canada. The economy in Detroit has led to business incentives that rival or best anything being provided by the Southern states.
Miami , Florida(Export/Skilled Workforce)
More than pristine beaches, Miami and its high-tech port are an excellent location for import/export. There is also an abundance of skilled workers who have arrived in the city, many of them immigrants bringing an intimate knowledge of other nation’s economies and markets.
The Big D is a place with a Texas-sized economy and the assets to keep it that way. The intermodal assets in the city make it an ideal location to bring goods in via air or the nearby Gulf ports and ship it to the booming South and into the Mountain states.
San Francisco(Financial Hub/Cities to Watch)
San Francisco has been a financial hub since the Gold Rush, and it continues to show its prowess by attracting financial business from Silicon Valley and the large, but hidden, economy of Northern California. The Golden Gate City makes our list of cities to watch as it is going through a growth spurt and, if the city leaders adapt well, will solidify San Francisco’s place among such cities as Hong Kong, Singapore and Los Angeles as a Ring of Fire powerhouse.
Charlotte, North Carolina(Financial Hub/Start-Relocate a Business)
There are few cities like Charlotte. Maintaining much of its old Southern Charm, this city has modernized overnight and is attracting some of the best businesses and minds in the country. The quality of life, the vibrant economy and the entrepreneurial spirit of the city make it an ideal place to start or relocate a business. The financial sector makes Charlotte a quiet giant, home to billion-dollar deals and a large investment community.
Minneapolis/St. Paul(Financial Hub/Skilled Workforce/Business Incentives)
The Twin Cities have been and are home to many of the nation’s largest financial institutions. It maintains its place as one of the best educated cities in the country with great colleges and universities and a quality of life that keeps people there. The region’s economic developers are committed with loans and grants to help businesses grow and thrive in the area.
Durham, North Carolina(Financial Hub/Start-Relocate a Business)
At one point of the Research Triangle, Durham, North Carolina, is on our list of places to start or relocate a business. With abundant workers, from unskilled to highly skilled, arriving to the region every day, it’s an ideal place to put most types of business. The financial sector in Durham is growing as the surrounding states are welcoming large global businesses with staffs that need local financial services.
Memphis, Tennessee(Intermodal/Business Incentives)
The Mississippi River flows past this city, known for its music life. The river along with a well-established intermodal system make Memphis a perfect spot from which to import and export. Bringing business to the city is made easier by incentives that often lead the nation in their boldness. Memphis sits at the heart of the South, centrally located to move goods and people up and down the entire country.
El Paso, Texas(Export/NAFTA/USMCA)
There might not be a better city to trade with Mexico and South and Central America than El Paso. Right on the Mexican border, with one of the best intermodal systems in the region, El Paso makes it easy to do business with America’s southern neighbors.
Austin, Texas(Start-Relocate a Business/Skilled Workforce/Quality of Life)
In a state famous for its rugged individualism, Austin is a place built on community growth and shared wisdom. This has attracted tens of thousands of skilled workers and created a capitol city that is friendly to residents and new businesses. Altogether, this makes Austin one of the coolest cities from which to launch one’s global empire.
Cheyenne, Wyoming(Start-Relocate a Business/Small Market)
With just 64,000 residents, Cheyenne is a small city that has a lot going for it. Wyoming is leading the nation in business climate, according to the Tax Foundation. This, combined with a commitment to small and medium-sized businesses, makes Cheyenne a great place to start or relocate a business. Still small enough to have that small-town feel, Cheyenne has a full-sized business climate.
Bismarck, North Dakota(Start-Relocate a Business/NAFTA/USMCA/Small Market)
Along the Canadian border there is a business boom that is quietly eclipsing the country. North Dakota’s oil rich economy is creating a perfect environment for starting or relocating a business, particularly if you’re looking to do business with Canada. North Dakota’s capitol city is small (72,500 souls) but is moving up the ranks of business-friendly cities.
Sioux Falls, South Dakota(Start-Relocate a Business/Business Incentives)
Sioux Falls, like Bismarck, is enjoying a statewide boom in energy. One of this small city’s biggest assets is the incentive efforts that are made to welcome and grow businesses. The leadership is very creative with assistance to bring jobs to town. Starting or relocating a business in the city is a powerful way to take advantage a great small city in a state that offers outstanding tax rates.
Texarkana, Texas(Business Incentives/City to Watch)
By far the smallest city on our multi-category list, Texarkana has a unique history that makes it a city to watch. In the Panhandle, it is on the Arkansas border and very near the Louisiana and Oklahoma borders. Once home to the U.S. military’s largest weapons depot, this city has rail lines to spare and buildings that were literally built to withstand a bomb (or decades of business). The leadership offers amazing incentives and works with businesses to get them what they need. A tiny Texas giant, this is a city poised to lead the nation in growth.
Des Moines, Iowa(Quality of Life/City to Watch)
There are many nice cities, but Des Moines stands out. The moderate climate and Midwestern charm make it a great city to live in. The business climate continues to improve, making this gateway to the Plains a perfect place for any concern looking to bridge the distance between Chicago and the East and the energy of the Upper Plains states.
San Diego, California(NAFTA/USMCA/Skilled Workforce)
The largest city on the Mexico border, San Diego is the perfect place to do business with its southern neighbor and the nations farther south. Its climate and abundant activities attract more and more skilled workers every year. Easy access to the whole state of California, with 13 percent of the total U.S. population, makes San Diego a great place for business.
Bellevue, Washington(Quality of Life/Cities to Watch)
Green and lush like it’s big sister, Seattle, Bellevue is an ideal place to live. Sitting between two lakes, Lake Washington and Lake Sammamish, it’s a wonderful place for outdoor activities, still in the warm zone created by the Puget Sound. Microsoft, Amazon, Starbucks and all the other amazing businesses of Washington state are just a stone’s throw away. This is a city that is making room for the next wave of Washington innovation.
Buffalo, New York(NAFTA/USMCA/Skilled Workforce)
Buffalo sits on the very western edge of New York and at the leading edge of New England’s boom. Right on the Great Lakes and the heart of an East Coast Silicon Valley, Buffalo has more skilled workers per capita than most of the rest of the country. Many of these workers hail from New York state colleges and universities. The state’s incentive commitments are forging powerful partnerships with business.
LISTS BY CATEGORY
Rather than clog up the lists below with the repeat winners, we’ve pulled those cities out so we can highlight the great cities that win in their respective categories.
While each category has up to 10 winners, they are presented in no particular order as each offers its own assets, such as location, that make it unique for a business’ needs.
Top Export Cities
These are cities that make it easy to bring goods in and send goods out. Many have deep-water ports, or like El Paso have import/export assets that are outstanding.
-Los Angeles, CA
-New Orleans, LA
Top Financial Hubs
Banks, investment firms and stock brokers flock together to allow them to share information and often, because the city’s data capabilities are high enough to prevent a slowdown of information from around the world. Another significant reason to choose a city is its proximity to a growing industry that needs financial services.
Most Advanced Ports
The level of automation and quality of the dockside equipment in a port can hugely influence how quickly products are offloaded or put onto a ship. The ports on this list lead the nation in innovation, reliability and speed.
-Port of Long Beach, Port of Los Angeles
-Port of Savannah, Georgia
-Port of Virginia (Norfolk), VA
-Port of Oakland Oakland, California
-Port of Charleston (South Carolina)
The ability to move from ship to train to truck to plane or any combination can mean the difference between shipments in days or weeks. The cities on this list provide the fastest and most intermodal access for shipments into or out of the United States. Some are located inland and allow for transport to the central part of the country. Others are coastal and act as the jump-off points to waters surrounding the country.
-Kansas City, Missouri
-Elizabeth, New Jersey
-Little Rock, Arkansas
Start or Relocate a Business
This is the list of cities that are the best in the country for starting or relocating a business. Low start-up costs, an excellent business environment and plenty of qualified staff make these cities the ideal places to create a new global trade empire.
-Raleigh, North Carolina
-Grand Rapids, Michigan
The latest update to NAFTA, the USMCA appears to be a modernization of the now 25-year-old agreement. The cities on this list provide a home base for any business seeking to work with the most important U.S. trading partners, Canada and Mexico. Most are near the borders, providing the ease of access to the U.S., while being ideally placed for shipments into and out of the northern and southern neighbors.
-Albuquerque, New Mexico
-Corpus Christi, Texas
-Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Quality of Life
Business is important, but everyone needs to live some place that they love. This list represents the nicest places to live in the country. Where living is good, business is also excellent. Although not a strictly business category, the list compiles cities to consider if you need a great staff. Being someplace that people want to live makes it easier to attract great workers.
-Colorado Springs, Colorado
-Las Cruces, New Mexico
Best Business Incentives
Incentives for businesses are thought of as being cash or tax credits, but many cities here offer many more diverse choices. Among them: free land or buildings, free education for staff, and many other attractive incentives.
-Salt Lake City
-Boca Raton, Florida
Every business needs a great staff. In this era of near full employment, finding the right qualified staff can be a challenge. The cities on this list have a disproportionate number of educated laborers. For companies seeking a place to be that will give them the world’s greatest employees, these are places to be.
Leading Southern Ports
The South is in the midst of a decade or more long boom. The area from Florida to Louisiana has some of the world’s greatest ports, providing a gateway to a powerful economic engine. These ports vary in size and volume, but all of them represent some of the best places in the world to move products into and out of the United States.
-Port Everglades (Florida)
-Port Tampa (Florida)
-Port New Orleans
-Port Canaveral (Florida)
-Port South Louisiana
-Jacksonville Port Authority (Florida)
Small Markets (<100,000 population)
These small cities make a big imprint. Large cities are expensive and crowded, while these are small enough to be inexpensive, easy to move around in, and easy to be “a big fish in a small pond.” Look to these cities to be offered the respect you deserve.
-St. George, Utah
-Wilson, North Dakota
-Ft. Myers, Florida
Cities to Watch
These are cities that deserve attention for their economic climate and the efforts that the leadership and the great citizens are putting in to make their cities great places in which to live and do business.
-Jersey City, New Jersey
-Little Rock, Arkansas