Top Cities for global trade
Population: 931,830 | Unemployment: 2.9 percent | Sales Tax: 8.25 percent
The energy and independent spirit that first brought Austin to national prominence for its music/film/art fuels its present evolution into one of the country’s hottest business centers. Yes, companies such as Dell, National Instruments and Roku have offices there, but Austin’s rise has been powered by young entrepreneurs and their tech startups, many beginning at the University of Texas. Their success has attracted other young professionals and recent grads—the city gained more than 140,000 residents between 2000 and 2015—which has led to a construction boom.
Population: 667,137 | Unemployment: 3.5 percent | Sales Tax: 6.25 percent
When the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation ranked Boston first among the top 25 startup hubs in the U.S.—yes, ahead of even Silicon Valley—it may have taken some by surprise. But it did not surprise venture capitalists who’ve poured more than $3 billion into local, next-generation tech companies specializing in education, energy and healthcare. That kind of intellectual capital not only attracts money but talent: Boston has grown by 50,000 residents in just the past five years.
Population: 682,545 | Unemployment: 3.3 percent | Sales Tax: 7.65 percent
When Panasonic Enterprise Solutions and Lockheed Martin located, respectively, an innovation/sales hub and the headquarters of its commercial space operations in Denver, their leaders said the moves were easy decisions given Denver’s central location and access to one of the most educated workforces in the country (college attainment is more than 40 percent). That kind of talent has led to a diverse local economy strong not only in aerospace—Denver has the largest number of private aerospace jobs in the nation—but bioscience, energy and information technology.
FARGO, NORTH DAKOTA
Population: 118,523 | Unemployment: 2.2 percent | Sales Tax: 7.5 percent
A problem with assigning the strength of Fargo’s economy, which grows a robust 5 percent annually, to North Dakota oil is that it doesn’t tell the true whole story. That yarn includes an expanding industrial and technology sector with STEM employment up nearly 40 percent since 2001 and residents with university BAs having grown an amazing 50 percent over the past decade. It’s an increasingly metropolitan downtown that attracts a ton of new investment. Those investors are no doubt drawn themselves by business costs nearly 20 percent lower than the national average.
GRAND RAPIDS, MICHIGAN
Population: 195,097 | Unemployment: 3.2 percent | Sales Tax: 6 percent
Grand Rapids, home to the fifth fastest-growing economy in the U.S., owes a measure of its success to development organization The Right Place, which not only offers technical job training but peer groups for manufacturers and medical device companies (it’s the eighth largest biopharmaceuticals cluster in the nation.). Grand Rapids successfully retained SpartanNash’s headquarters after a merger and recruited the likes of Chinese automobile wheel manufacturer Dicastal to the area as well as Nevada-based Switch, which built a regional data center. Since 2000, the college-educated population has increased an incredible 92 percent.
Population: 115,264 | Unemployment: 3.5 percent | Sales Tax: 6.75 percent
The positive vibe in Provo has a lot to do with its people, ranked as the nation’s most optimistic bunch. Why not? Provo experienced the nation’s biggest percentage gain in employment at 5.2 last year, and it was the second city in the country to hook up with Google Fiber. Technology development is a pillar of its economy, as it is home to several billion dollars worth of startups, some launched at Brigham Young University. Optimistic? Provo has been ranked as one of the best cities to start a career and retire.
SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA
Population: 1,026,908 | Unemployment: 3.4 percent | Sales Tax: 8.75 percent
The business climate is so nurturing here that its high cost of living—50 percent above the national average—hasn’t deterred the influx of intellectual and actual capital, i.e. San Jose residents produce more U.S. patents than any other city and 35 percent of all venture capital funds in the U.S. are invested in companies in San Jose/Silicon Valley. Home to the headquarters of too many heavyweights to mention, 40 acres of San Jose land will soon become an Apple research campus with about 16,000 employees.
SIOUX FALLS, SOUTH DAKOTA
Population: 171,544 | Unemployment: 2.1 percent | Sales Tax: 6 percent
The city has a diverse corporate community led by, perhaps surprisingly, the financial sector—Wells Fargo and Citigroup are the city’s fourth and fifth largest employers. All companies are no doubt attracted by a lack of a corporate sales tax, while regular folk/workers dig the low cost of living, home prices and unemployment as well as healthy job growth. With those trends it’s not surprising to see another: Since 2000, Sioux Falls has added nearly 50,000 residents.
ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI
Population: 315,685 | Unemployment: 4.2 percent | Sales Tax: 7.11 percent
It figures that the Gateway City would rise as one of the nation’s leading centers to start a business by bringing together myriad resources and conditions. Its low cost of living—5 percent below the national average—has cultivated a plentiful and talented workforce, many hailing from resident universities Washington U. and St. Louis U. The city also boasts local accelerators such as Accelerate St. Louis and SixThirty CYBER, incubators such as Downtown T-Rex and major, homegrown investors such as Cultivation Capital.
SUGAR LAND, TEXAS
Population: 88,156 | Unemployment: 4.8 percent | Sales Tax: 8.25 percent
Designated one of the nation’s best cities to find a job or start a business, Sugar Land conducts itself so well that not only do the likes of Imperial Sugar and CVR Energy have their headquarters there, but it attracted Minute Maid in 2009, and Schlumberger, the world’s largest oilfield services company, will move into a new Sugar Land headquarters in 2017. Still not convinced? Both of those companies relocated from Houston, arguably the most business friendly big city in the country.