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Best places for entrepreneurs

When it comes to starting a business, the adage is the same as in real estate: Location, location, location. In recent years, the definition of what makes the perfect place to launch a new venture has expanded.
/ Source: BusinessWeek Online

When it comes to starting a business (or buying a house), the adage has remained the same: Location, location, location. However in recent years, the definition of what makes the perfect location in which to launch a new venture has changed — or rather expanded.

Innovation seems to be the overarching theme. Entrepreneurs are regularly tapping into new ideas to create new businesses, and now cities and towns across the country are coming up with innovative programs in which to create environments attractive for new businesses and economic growth, beyond the usual tax abatements.

"We are starting to see virtually every community try and bring in and grow new industries," says Jack Schultz, author of Boomtown USA and CEO of Agracel, an Effingham, Ill., outfit that specializes in industrial development in small towns.

Still, booming communities remain traditional lures for entrepreneurs when it comes to choosing a location. Florida remains an area of high growth — at 4 percent, the state's job growth dwarfs the national average, currently 1.6 percent. However, a continuing development is the growth of smaller communities and "micropolitans" — places that, sizewise, are between a large city and a rural town) and which are routinely cited has high-growth areas. For instance, last year, the National Policy Research Council, a Washington-based research organization ranked Lincoln, Neb., (population 225,581) and Green Bay, Wis., (population 102,313) among its top five hot cities for entrepreneurs.

One emerging trend is that some cities aren't waiting for economic growth to come to them — they are creating it for themselves. And town governments are finding that they, too, have to redefine themselves to attract businesses and entrepreneurs. Like the NFL, towns are seriously recruiting businesses.

Along the lines of "if you build it, they will come," a host of places has established new business opportunities by identifying the kinds of establishments they lack and offering incentive programs to help entrepreneurs launch them.

For instance, Louisville, Ky., launched COOL (Corridors of Opportunity in Louisville) after noticing a dearth of retail establishments, particularly grocery stores. The COOL program includes a forgivable loan package of up to $50,000 for those new businesses that serve an in-need neighborhood for at least five years.

Sweltering Freeport, on the Lone Star State's Gulf Coast, is looking to start a water park for its residents, and is offering graduated tax abatements for businesspeople who are interested in setting one up.

And Effingham, Ill., which wanted to bring upscale eateries to town, recruited two restaurateurs, a hometown pair who had moved to San Francisco. Effingham raised $1 million toward the effort from 15 investors and bank loans and the Firefly Grill opened for business in February. It is a model that the town hopes to replicate with other small businesses. Already in the works: a 1,500-seat concert hall.

For those cities on life support, the ones that many have given up hopes of reviving as thriving hubs of entrepreneurial activity, CEOs for Cities, a nonprofit organization of mayors, university presidents, corporate executives, and foundation officials — says think again. The Chicago-based group has decided to apply business-innovation strategies to ailing urban centers like Memphis, Pittsburgh, Detroit, and Columbus to resuscitate their city "brands" and attract new residents and businesses.

As well, globalization is no longer for the multinational corporations. A number of small businesses are sprouting overseas as many entrepreneurs lured by location, climate, markets, lower costs, and new business advantages are moving to and operating out of far flung locations.