Becoming your own boss, either as a solo freelancer or as an entrepreneur behind a successful startup company, is the dream of many an employee. Not only do you control your own schedule and hours, but your income potential isn’t limited by a department budget or a rating on a performance review. It’s all about your own ability and desire to expand and grow. No one is saying that working for yourself is easy or stress-free — quite the opposite — but the benefits, the autonomy and the pure satisfaction make it worthwhile.
Naturally, you can start your own business anywhere, but certain cities make it easier. A recent survey by business-to-business marketplace Expert Market examined 112 US cities with populations above 100,000 to find out which ones offer the best shot at freelance or entrepreneurial success. The group considered such elements as state income-tax rates, Wi-Fi, networking events, coffee shops, co-working space availability and cost of living. If you’re looking to set up shop as your own boss, read on for the top 25 cities for you.
25. Cleveland, Ohio
Cleveland rocks, at least as far as being your own boss is concerned. The Ohio city that’s home to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame can take a bow — it came in at No. 25 on the list, topping bigger cities including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. For one thing, it’s a lot cheaper to live in Cleveland, and its location in the middle of the U.S. makes airline travel easy.
24. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Pittsburgh landed at No. 24, while its same-state cousin Philadelphia went the opposite direction, landing in the bottom 10 at No. 108. Its smaller size and lower cost of living probably helped the Steel City, and the City of Brotherly Love’s high local income tax rate most likely hurt its ranking.
23. Charleston, South Carolina
Scenic and historic Charleston is the largest (and oldest) city in South Carolina, but it’s not a sprawling mega-metropolis like New York City, and its taxes are probably lower too. Cost of living is low in Charleston, and quality of life high. Not a bad place to hang your shingle.
22. Oakland, California
Scrappy Oakland provides a next-door alternative to San Francisco, featuring many of that city’s benefits without the City by the Bay’s infamous housing prices.
21. Atlanta, Georgia
Joining Charleston as another Southern addition to the list, lively Atlanta certainly isn’t short on Wi-Fi, coffeehouses or co-working spaces.
20. Las Vegas, Nevada
If you’re ready to gamble with a business of your own, roll the dice in vibrant Vegas. But you may be taking a chance on finding an affordable place to live. Sin City just surpassed Seattle as the nation’s hottest housing market.
19. Jersey City, New Jersey
While New York City doesn’t rank highly on the be-your-own-boss list, residents of Jersey City in neighboring New Jersey are close enough that they can take mass transit to the Big Apple for its many networking and other opportunities, without its high housing costs.
18. Irvine, California
California dreaming? The Orange County city of Irvine features the Golden State’s great weather without the soul-deadening traffic of Los Angeles, 40 miles to the north. Liveability.com has consistently given the city a high rating, for its wealth and safety, and more:
The economy in Irvine is strong, sustained by technology, higher-education institutions and a host of semiconductor companies. Irvine is a city firing on all cylinders with so many reasons to move to this great community, including a steady job market, warm weather, beautiful scenery, safety and education, to name a few.
17. Boulder, Colorado
Living in livable Boulder, located at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, will make you happy that you can set your own schedule and take advantage of all the available outdoor activities, from fly-fishing to snowboarding.
16. Austin, Texas
There’s no state income tax in the Lone Star State, and the state capital of Austin — home to the University of Texas — attracts startups with its low cost of living, lively business and tech scene, and diverse population.
15. Cincinnati, Ohio
Cost of living and housing costs are low in affordable Cincinnati. The Queen City’s metro area includes parts of Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky, if interstate business matters to you.
14. Tampa, Florida
Soak up the sun on the beaches of Tampa, the striking Florida city that’s only officially recorded snow once (less than a half-inch fell in 1977). There’s no state or local income tax in Florida, and no estate or inheritance tax, though corporations that do business and earn income in Florida must file a corporate income tax return.
13. Seattle, Washington
The city where Amazon and Microsoft grew to be giants is a good choice for small businesses too. Washington has no state income tax, and the tech industry is thriving. But be forewarned: These days, housing in the breathtaking Emerald City doesn’t come cheap.
12. San Francisco, California
If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair — and bring heaps of cash, because the city of the little cable cars isn’t cheap to live in. But the city is beautiful, mass transit is so good you don’t need a car, and you’ll have access to amazing technology opportunities. BYO trust fund.
11. Chattanooga, Tennessee
U.S. News & World Report called livable Chattanooga the comeback kid of Tennessee, singling out its revitalized Main Street and hearty startup scene. Cost of living’s affordable, too, and there are plenty of outdoor activities to boot.
10. West Palm Beach, Florida
West Palm Beach isn’t just for retirees anymore. In the early 2000s, city government set out to encourage business launches by offering Downtown Incentive Program grants to ease the burden of getting new ventures off the ground. Amazing art museums and theaters offer even more reasons to relocate — and did we mention no state or local income taxes?
9. Bellevue, Washington
Just across Lake Washington from Seattle sits Bellevue, with a booming downtown, good schools and plenty of energy. Nearby Microsoft has a presence there, though its corporate headquarters is in neighboring Redmond; that city and Bellevue are part of the metro east of Seattle that also includes Kirkland and Renton. Washington’s lack of a state income tax is a plus.
8. Dallas, Texas
Texas always ranks high on any list of states in which to start a business, and among the Lone Star State’s cities, Dallas shines. There’s no state or local income tax, and convention space and cultural attractions abound. No wonder 80 percent of companies in Dallas are classified as small businesses.
7. Berkeley, California
Bike-friendly Berkeley benefits from being home to the world-class University of California, and the city sits just across the bay from tech and cultural powerhouse San Francisco. While living here’s not cheap, if you can make it work, it’s a less-congested, more laid-back alternative to the big city.
6. Vancouver, Washington
Scenic Vancouver — the American one, not the one in Canada — is in Washington, but it’s much closer to Oregon’s largest city, Portland, than to Seattle. Living in Washington means no state income tax, and if you cross the border to shop in Oregon, that state has no sales tax.
5. Orlando, Florida
Orlando’s charms go well beyond the gates of its many theme parks. As with the other Florida cities, it boasts a favorable tax situation. And the perks of living close to all those tourist attractions are plenty, including abundant hotel rooms and improving transit options.
4. Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Like the other Florida cities on the list, spring-break mecca Fort Lauderdale benefits from Florida’s friendly tax laws (no state or local income tax, inheritance tax or estate tax). The dynamic and livable city features a lively and growing business sector, and the weather, water access and beaches are tough to beat.
3. Salt Lake City, Utah
Striking Salt Lake City features plenty of networking events, plenty of free Wi-Fi hotspots, and a thriving business Meetup community. Expert Market called the Utah capital “the perfect place for budding entrepreneurs to turn their ideas into IPOs.”
2. Miami, Florida
Sun-sational Miami, with its diverse population, warm weather and laid-back attitude, offers a vibrant home for any size business — not to mention those tax advantages of the Sunshine State.
1. Ann Arbor, Michigan
College town Ann Arbor benefits in many ways from the enormous University of Michigan. Expert Market ranked it first due in part to the city’s “stellar startup culture” and excellent citywide Wi-Fi coverage, calling it “truly one of America’s most exciting innovation hubs.” Go Blue!
Would you relocate to one of these cities with your startup idea? Share your thoughts in comments below or on our Facebook page.