Business Resources in America’s 20 Largest Cities: How do I take Advantage of Opportunities for My Business?
One of the biggest mistakes small business owners make is trying to simply bootstrap their business’ funding and operations. One of the great aspects of America is how business friendly the entire nation is. After all, America was built by small businesses and entrepreneurship. They are the embodiment of the American Dream. In this article, we will talk about the different resources available to both new businesses and old businesses alike in America’s 20 largest cities, and discuss how they could help take your small business to the next level!
Before we begin, in this article we want to emphasize that we’ll be talking about America’s 20 largest cities. This does not mean they are the best cities. While many of them are great for small businesses, there are also lots of smaller cities that are great for businesses as well! So if your city, such as Boston, Massachusetts, Baltimore, Maryland, Nashville, Tennessee, Miami, Florida, Salt Lake City, Utah or Atlanta, Georgia, isn’t on the list, don’t worry! These locations, particularly Miami and Nashville in recent years, are still great places for small businesses. They just happen to not be one of the 20 largest cities in America.
1) New York City, New York
Starting the list is, of course, New York City. The city itself has been the largest city in the United
States since 1790. Naturally, as the business capital of the world, New York City offers an array of resources for small businesses.
Some programs and resources that New York City has include Business Mentor NY, which is a program that allows small businesses owners around the city and the state to join together and solve each others problems. Another great resource is Empire State Development, which works with small business owners and provides various forms of business development support, including capital and financial assistance, technical support, and legal assistance.
New York’s Small Business Development Center also assists small businesses, providing individuals throughout the state with guidance, mentoring, and various forms of training, all free of charge!
Of course, the United States Small Business Administration (SBA), which provides small businesses with government backed loans and other forms of support, is also quite active in the city, with a local branch and a number of different offerings for New York City small business owners.
As a quick note for those looking for a location to start a small business, whenever considering New York City, remember to consider affordability. New York City has the highest cost of living in the nation and some of the highest taxes. However, they also have one of the largest shares of venture capital funding and have a strong business environment. As always, there are a lot of pros and cons to weigh.
2) Los Angeles, California
While many in the United States still think of Chicago as the second business capital of the United States, due to intense population growth, back in 1982 Los Angeles officially surpassed the Windy City to become America’s second largest city according to the U.S. census. Today, when people think of Los Angeles they often think of tech startups and movie studios, but there’s a whole lot more to California’s vibrant economy! Along with the myriad of business opportunities are a number of small business support systems.
Businesses in Los Angeles have access to California’s Small Business Finance Center (SBFC), which provides a host of resources for California businesses. This includes a Jump Start Loan Program, a Small Business Loan Guarantee Program, and a Farm Loan Program, all of which can help small businesses access much needed capital.
Similar to New York City, Los Angeles also boasts a Small Business Development Center branch, which again provides free training, guidance, and mentoring for small business owners. This training covers topics ranging including formulating ideas and starting a business, solving problems with your current business, and how to expand and grow an already thriving company.
The United States Small Business Administration (SBA) also operates a Los Angeles District Office. Not only can this office assist you in taking advantage of the SBA loan opportunities, but the branch also hosts seminars and other functions for small business owners in the area.
3) Chicago, Illinois
It may not be the second largest anymore, but the City of Big Shoulders is still a thriving business center and a great location. In fact, Chicago still consistently ranks higher than Los Angeles and New York in quality of life metrics and has a significantly lower overall cost-of-living. This is not to say that Chicago is a low cost option where it is cheap to live – it is not – but it is cheaper than New York City and LA. Tax rates, particularly income tax, are also a little more favorable than New York City and Los Angeles, though this could change soon under Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker.
One of Chicago’s strong offerings is the City of Chicago Small Business Center, which provides businesses with access to free training, seminars, and workshops, offers financial assistance counseling, and helps businesses solve problems and connect with other local businesses. These services can be accessed both online or at one of the many Small Business Development Centers located throughout the city.
If you are looking to take part in state or non-for-profit backed loan programs, the Chicago Small Business Center is by far the best course of action. Their financial assistance counseling helps businesses identify local, community and state based programs that they qualify for, and they can even help you formulate a strong application.
As with all major cities, Chicago also has a Small Business Administration (SBA) branch.
4) Houston, Texas
Houston, Texas is another great options for small businesses. Over the last few years, Houston has seen an incredible population expansion and the city has witnessed an incredible flourishing of businesses, both large and small, and in the area. Particularly enticing is the fact that Texas has no personal income tax. This means that small business owners who operate pass-through entities have fairly limited tax obligations. Texas also only taxes corporations if they make over $1,000,000 in gross receipts, in which case they are responsible for a 1% tax.
Houston benefits from a number of small business support systems, starting with a Small Business Development Center branch. Backed by the University of Houston, the Small Business Develop Center has 14 locations throughout Houston and offers incredible learning opportunities that are relevant to both new and long-time business owners.
The Office of Economic Development in Houston is also a great resource for business looking to find out about the different economic incentive programs and tax advantages that Houston is currently offering for businesses looking to enter certain industries and business sectors.
5) Phoenix, Arizona
Phoenix has become a strong option for small businesses for a number of reasons. For one, from May 2018 to May 2019, Phoenix’s metro area saw job growth of 3.2% and the state as a whole came in at #2 for year-over-year job growth. This means that businesses are flocking to the state and the city. Plus, expanding job growth is almost always followed by an expanding workforce and talent pool, a huge benefit for small businesses looking to attract talented and skilled workers.
On top of that, Phoenix has an incredible array of small business resources. SCORE Phoenix offers businesses free and low-cost training, workshops, seminars, and general assistance. Meanwhile, the Phoenix Small Business Development Center branch, backed by the Maricopa Community College, continues to offer new and growing businesses tailored, one-on-one assistance as they look to expand and meet needs in the Phoenix community.
Of course, the SBA also operates out of Phoenix, again providing businesses with loans and others forms of federal government-backed assistance.
6) Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Founded in 1682, Philadelphia is one of America’s oldest cities, and though it may be thought of as a smaller city when compared to the likes of New York, LA, and Chicago, it is still a strong location for small businesses. With a flat-rate income tax of 3.06%, Philadelphia is neither a high tax nor low tax state, meaning its tax structure is rather favorable for pass-through entities. However, the cost of living is relatively high.
That said, Philadelphia offers its a small businesses a number of resources. In February of 2018 Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf created the Pennsylvania Business One-Stop Shop program. This unique, state-run program is designed to help companies throughout every stage of the business life-cycle, whether that is getting started, solving operational problems, or expanding.
The city also has a number of college-backed Small Business Development Center branches. These branches have been so successful that many companies, including Urban Outfitters and Sabre Systems, got their start utilizing their services and programs, speaking to the power of business education.
7) San Antonio, Texas
Similar to Houston and Texas as a whole, San Antonio is an up and coming business center, with a number of opportunities for new and established businesses to grow and expand. As previously mentioned, Texas has an incredibly favorable tax structure, and with a reasonable cost of living, it is truly becoming a premiere destination for businesses.
The resources have become so numerous that the City of San Antonio Economic Development Department has begun publishing an 30-page guide detailing all different opportunities. This guide breaks opportunities into categories, expanding on incentives available to different industries, business sectors, ethnicities, income-levels, and more! Plus, the resources cover a range of different business needs, from tax consulting to financial planning to loans.
Some highlights include the SBA’s San Antonio District Office, SCORE San Antonio, and the University of Texas San Antonio Small Business Development Center.
8) San Diego, California
San Diego is one of the most picturesque cities in the nation. When it comes to natural beauty, it is hard to beat. However, this isn’t all that is great about San Diego. They also offer some top notch business resources. Outside of the typical SBA District Office, San Diego also has Business Cooperation Program, which provides local small businesses with a tax rebate of 50% of the 1% sales tax. This program targets business-to-business, wholesale companies.
For businesses that don’t meet typical bank loan requirements, the San Diego City Government offers a Business Finance Loan Program, that provides gap loans to small and medium-sized businesses. However, these loans unfortunately come with a high 8% interest rate.
San Diego also has a SCORE branch, which provides free and low-cost training, workshops, and seminars for businesses in the city. They also have the requisite Small Business Development Centers throughout the city and surrounding area.
9) Dallas, Texas
Like the previous cities, Dallas has a highly rated branch of the Small Business Development Center, which offers the typical consulting, training, and resources. Dallas-based companies can also take advantage of the services provided by the Texas Manufacturing Assistance Center (TMAC), which provides small businesses with management, technology, and operations solutions to help address common difficulties in business industries including manufacturing, logistics, construction, and health care.
There is also the Texas Wide Open for Business program, which is run by the Texas Economic Development Division, a branch of the governor’s office. Through this, businesses can learn about the different incentives and state-backed programs designed to assist different industries and priority business sectors throughout the state.
10) San Jose, California
When it comes to big-tech, no city can top San Jose, the largest city in Silicon Valley, the home of tech-giant including Google, Apple, Facebook, and more. Even Microsoft, which is based on Redmond, Washington, felt the need to open a campus in Silicon Valley.
One of the biggest advantages of San Jose is the amount of venture capital investment that pours into the Silicon Valley area every year, which usually consists of more than 30% of the total venture capital spending in the entire nation. If you are looking to get into high-tech products, then San Jose is definitely a strong option.
For those looking to get into biotech, San Jose’s bioCube offers co-working office space for small businesses. The space includes a cell-culture room, virus room, bacteria room, tons of lab equipment and more. This is a great resource for small biotech startups that are struggling to access expensive biotech facilities.
Silicon Valley also has a number of groups like Action Spot, which offer co-working office space and have a panel of industry specialists who help advise and guide early startup businesses. All throughout Silicon Valley, it is evident that the business environment is highly geared to startups, particularly tech startups.
Other top resources include the Silicon Valley Small Business Development Centers and a San Jose branch of SCORE.
11) Austin, Texas
Austin is the already the fourth city from Texas to make the list, showing how vast the state of Texas is and how many opportunities there are for businesses within its borders. As already discussed, Texas tax structure makes it very appealing for businesses, especially since many large cities, like New York and Los Angeles, come with a slew of taxes.
While Austin businesses have access to the previously discussed Texas Wide Open for Business program, through which businesses can learn about the different incentives and state-backed programs designed to assist different industries and priority business sectors throughout the state, there are also a number of Austin specific programs for businesses to take advantage of.
The Austin Small Business Program in particular is a great resource for businesses. They provide free consulting, training, workshops, and seminars, and they can assist businesses in navigating the business and industry specific requirements, legal and otherwise, in Austin. If you are a business owner in Austin, you should definitely become familiar with their site, as it serves as a hub for learning about all the businesses developments and opportunities in the area.
If you are looking for one-on-one consulting, such as help with applying for loans or developing a strong business plan, BiGAustin is a great resource. They are a nonprofit organization that has been working with small businesses in the Austin area for over 25 years!
As always, Austin also has dedicated SCORE and Business Develop Center branches, as well as an SBA District Office.
12) Jacksonville, Florida
Though one usually thinks about Orlando or Miami when they think about Florida, Jacksonville is actually Florida’s largest city and the only city in Florida that is one of the 20 largest cities in the nation. One of the biggest advantages of Jacksonville, and Florida in general, is that there is no personal income tax. However, corporations are subject to a 5.5% income tax. As such, Florida is a premiere destination for businesses being operated as pass-through entities, such as LLCs.
Like most cities, Jacksonville features a SBA District Office, a SCORE branch, and a number of Business Development Centers. In addition, the JAX Chamber Foundation operates a Women’s Business Center, which provides training and resources for women entrepreneurs looking to start a business in the Jacksonville area. Through this program, participants can earn certificates in customer development, finance, marketing, and venture leadership.
13) Fort Worth, Texas
Rounding out the cities in Texas to make the list Fort Worth. Like the previous four, Forth Worth continues to benefit from Texas’ generous tax structure and relatively low cost of living. Plus, business in Forth Worth have access to all the state run programs that the other four cities have access to.
If you are planning on operating, or are already operating, a small business in Fort Worth, you should become familiar with the City of Forth Worth Office of Small Business. Through this office, businesses can gain access to economic development programs, start-up and established business growth planning, assistance with business finances, and information on how local small businesses can gain access to capital funding.
One place in particular businesses can go to learn and receive one-on-one counseling is the City of Forth Worth Business Assistance Center (BAC).
As usual, you can also go to the local SCORE or Business Development Center branches for assistance, as well as the SBA District Office.
14) Columbus, Ohio
Located in the rust belt, Columbus, Ohio ranks as the 14th largest city in the United States. In terms of taxes, Ohio falls in the middle of the pack, with taxes ranging from 0% to 4.797%. Most people fall in the range of 2.850% to 3.802%. Corporate rates range from 4% to 10%. As such, all things considered, Ohio isn’t neither extremely tax heavy, nor is it close to tax-free.
The resources for small businesses in Ohio are fairly standard. Again, there are the SCORE and Small Business Development branches, as well as a Small Business Administration (SBA) District Office. However, there are some real bright spots for small businesses. One of these bright spots is the Economic & Community Development Institute (ECDI). Not only do they provide businesses with access to incubators, counseling, and training, but they also give businesses access to a range of loan options. These loans range from $500 micro-loans, which are designed to help small businesses build a strong credit rating, to fairly substantial $350,000 loans, which are for small businesses with a more established track record of success and creditworthiness. However, the loan options they offer truly are for all businesses, as the average loan size is around $28,000.
Columbus also has a Small Business Concierge and Small Business Builder program. These are designed to help business all throughout their lifecycle, whether that is startup planning, acquiring financing, navigating legal weeds, and more.
15) San Francisco, California
San Francisco is the last of the cities in California to make the list. Like the rest of the cities in California, San Francisco has relatively high taxes. However, the cities cost of living surpasses even that of Los Angeles, putting it on par with New York in many aspects.
San Francisco has a number of business development resources for small businesses. As always, it has SCORE and Small Business Development branches. Organizations that are specific to San Francisco include the San Francisco Council of District Merchants Association (SFCDMA), which specializes in helping small businesses in the San Francisco area, and the San Francisco African American Chamber of Commerce (SFAACC), one of California’s oldest and most influential minority business associations.
The city also works closely with the San Francisco branch of the United States Small Business Administration (SBA).
16) Charlotte, North Carolina
As the 16th largest city in the United States, Charlotte represents the only city in North Carolina to make the list. In terms of taxes, North Carolina has a fairly high flat-rate tax at 5.25%, which is definitely something to consider if you are looking for the best state to start your small business in. However, in recent years, North Carolina has become an incredibly popular destination for corporations looking to take advantage of their incredibly low corporate income taxes, which is now a measly 2.5%. This makes it by far the lowest corporate tax rate east coast, particularly among major business states like New York, Pennsylvania, and Florida.
Resources for small businesses in Charlotte include Small Business Development Center branches, which are run out of the University of North Carolina in Charlotte. Charlotte also has a Small Business Administration (SBA) District Office. A particularly useful resource is Charlotte Business Resources (CBRBiz), which has partnered with 25 regional resource partners and works with small businesses to help them plan, learn, and grow. They are also a great resource for keeping up with recent developments in the Charlotte Area.
17) Indianapolis, Indiana
Indianapolis ranks as the 17th largest city in the nation. Their main industries are finance and insurance, manufacturing, education, and health. Indiana offers a favorable flat-rate income tax or 3.23%, which is relatively low in comparison to the other 20 largest cities. Plus, while their corporate tax rate is currently 5.5%, it is set to decrease 0.25% every 12 months through at least 2021, and possible longer. This means, as the years go by, Indianapolis is becoming more and more business friendly.
One of the best resources for small businesses in Indianapolis, and in Indiana in general, is the Indiana Economic Development Corporation (IEDC), which encourages and assists businesses with accessing grants, loans, and other state-backed funding. Indiana’s Capital Access Program is a particularly strong option for businesses looking to raise funds. Another great program is the Indiana State Trade and Export Promotion (IN-STEP) program, which reimburses businesses that have been accepted to the program for export-related business activities. If you are interested in getting into the exports industry, Indianapolis could be a great place to set up shop.
Of course, as usual, Indiana has an SBA District Office, as well as both SCORE and Small Business Development Center branches.
18) Seattle, Washington
Home to both Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos, Seattle, Washington has a long history of business success. Seattle has a favorable tax setup when it comes to income tax, with no income tax at all, but its sales tax is extremely high at 9.17%. This high sales tax can take a toll on businesses, especially for retail based operations. Additionally, Seattle recently attempted to levy a wealth tax of 2.25% for individuals with over $250,000 in income and couples with over $500,000 within the city. This was ultimately ruled unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court, but the court also ruled that Seattle’s 35-year-old law banning cities within the state from taxing residents unconstitutional. As such, it is clear that sentiments in the city of Seattle are shifting toward higher taxes in general, which is something to consider for businesses.
Seattle has a unique small business support program, which is run by the Seattle’s mayor’s office. This program, which operates out of the Office of Economic Development, employs individuals known as small business advocates. These advocates work with small businesses throughout the city to help connect them with resources they need, such as funding, and provide counseling on various startup, operational, and expansion issues. They also assist in representing small businesses in front of the city’s government.
Seattle also publishes a small business handbook, which can help businesses understand and navigate city regulations and requirements, as well as assist them in locating resources throughout the city.
Once again, as usual, Seattle also has a SBA District Office, and local SCORE and Small Business Development Center branches.
19) Denver, Colorado
The 19th largest city in the United States, Denver is another city that benefits from a fairly reasonable tax structure overall. Colorado’s flat-rate income tax of 4.63% is fairly reasonable, and their corporate tax rate of 4.63% is one of the most favorable in the nation. Plus, in relation to the other cities on the list, the cost of living in Denver is also fairly reasonable.
Denver has the typical support programs, including SCORE and a Small Business Development Center. Depending on your economic status, you may also qualify for Denver’s Community Economic Development Clinic, which provides small businesses with free business legal services.
Another community-based organization is the Mi Casa Resource Center, which has been operating since 1976 and which provides Denver community businesses with free and low-cost training and development programs.
20) Washington, D.C
Rounding out the 20 largest cities is the United States is none of than the United States Capital, Washington, D.C. The city itself has relatively high personal income tax rates, with a bottom marginal tax rate of 4% and a top marginal tax rate of 8.5%. The corporate tax rate is also extremely high compared to states in the nation, with a flat rate of 8.25%. This makes D.C. relatively unappealing from a tax perspective, however, there are, of course, a number of reasons why D.C. may still be a strong choice for you.
D.C. offers businesses a number of resources specific to the area. The DC Business Center and its Small Business Resource Center (SBRC) is a particularly strong resource for businesses, and one that all business owners in D.C. should be aware of and familiar with. Through the SBRC, businesses can access one-on-one assistance to help navigate D.C. regulations and requirements. They also host group workshops and trainings sessions, such as the SmartStart Program and the Money Smart for Small Business Program.
D.C. also has a highly rated branch of the Small Business Development Center (SBDC).
The number of community organizations and small business resources these days is incredible. There are so many dedicated groups and professionals who want to help your business succeed. While this list discusses the larger, more popular resources, it is certainly not an exhaustive list. There are tons of small, nonprofit groups out there, many of which are industry specific, so make sure you take the time to research the different opportunities in your area.
Remember, even if your city isn’t on this list, that doesn’t mean there aren’t organizations. All major cities have a Small Business Development Center for the most part, as well as a SCORE center. To search for loan offices, Small Business Development Centers, Score Branches, regional innovation clusters, SBA centers, women’s business centers, U.S. Export Assistance Centers, and more, you can visit the SBA local assistance search engine.
Overall, the important thing to remember is that there is help out there for small businesses. So if you ever need assistance of guidance, don’t hesitate to reach out. There are tons of organizations waiting to help you and your business succeed!