These regions boast cultural amenities, pro-business environments, highly educated workforces and enviable salaries.
Entrepreneur Joshua Onysko, owner of Pangaea Organics, has two regions to thank for his success.
Rhode Island-born Onysko, 31, learned the agriculture and natural products business during volunteering trips to Nicaragua and India during his 20s.
And when Onysko launched his skin-care line in 2005, he set up shop in Boulder, Colo., despite time spent on the East Coast and in Jackson Hole, Wyo. It was both a personal and business decision. Boulder offers world-class ski slopes and an abundance of parks, as well as a strong venture capital environment, plenty of like-sized start-ups and high-quality talent from local resident University of Colorado.
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This month, Onysko hopes to fill three sales and marketing positions, for which he's received over 300 resumes. Why is he hiring when many other business are contracting? The factors that lured Onysko to the area have helped Pangaea become a company whose annual revenue has grown 229% since 2005, to $7 million, Onysko says. He now boasts sales in 12 countries. The result? Onysko has the means to attract candidates willing to relocate to a desirable place like 90,000-strong Boulder.
"It's a really easy place to live and work," he says. "There are a ton of new companies here, and that environment helps you build your business because there are great connections, and it's easy to get people to move here."
Features like these helped propel Boulder to the top spot on our list of best towns to live well. Our data comes from ZoomProspector.com, a San Francisco-based consulting firm specializing in corporate relocation. It evaluated areas of the country with less than 100,000 people. Due to differing regional definitions, we used the label "town" for any city, township, borough or Census-designated place with such populations. Characteristics like the number of museums, parks, bars and restaurants, and cultural institutions per capita were considered, as were factors indicative of a favorable business environment. These include patents, venture capital funding, sole-proprietorships, start-ups and small businesses per capita.
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By these measures, Doral, Fla., ranks second. Thirteen miles west of downtown Miami, 35,336-population Doral offers mild weather and access to world-class golf courses. It also has one of the nation's highest concentrations of small businesses per capita, especially surrounding aerospace and logistics. Third-place Fairfax, Va., home to a strong public school system and a high median salary of $86,088, is packed with entrepreneurs--its rate of 0.14 sole proprietors per capita ranks in the top 1% nationwide.
These factors are increasingly important in a recession. When businesses and jobs retract, as they have nationwide, municipalities with strong environments for start-ups, and those that offer attractive amenities, are better suited to recover from economic downtimes, as there are more business activity filling the void. "Many small and medium-sized cities have developed the business, demographic and lifestyle amenities of big cities," says Anatalio Ubalde, chief executive of ZoomProspector.com. "While smaller cities may not have the total number of quality employees and amenities of larger cities, on a per-capita basis, they are very competitive locations for businesses."
We also looked at the quality of the labor force, including the percentage of the population, the percentage of foreign-born workers and the percentage of people aged 25-34 with bachelor's degrees or higher; the latter two were more heavily weighted as indicators of places so desirable that highly skilled workers from all over the world are willing to move there. Other factors considered: median income levels, commuting time, distance to highways and airports, and the share of professional level workers as defined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Not surprisingly, places like Cupertino, Calif., Coral Gables, Fla., Evanston, Ill., and Newton, Mass., with their proximity to critical masses of research universities, perform very well on our list. Those places tend to produce start-ups, develop patents and attract venture capital money.
It also helps to have natural beauty, high salaries and plentiful restaurants and cultural attractions.
Santa Fe, N.M., which has only 67,391 residents, is home to the Georgia O'Keefe Museum and has dozens of quality music venues that are used to host various jazz, rock and classical music festivals. The area is well-known as one of the country's hottest art markets. These amenities almost certainly play a part in the number of BLS-defined highly skilled workers (19%) and sole proprietors (0.10 per capita) the area attracts, and helps it to No. 24 on our list.
Seventh place Columbia, Md., a 97,506-population town between Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, is packed with restaurants, parks and music venues, and it is zoned against big boxes, making it exceptionally small business friendly.
When you have museums and sunshine, mountains, nice restaurants and a local economy with new companies starting up, it makes an otherwise slow economy far easier to deal with.
America's Top 5 Towns to Live Well
1. Boulder, Colo.
© Ray Roper/iStockphoto
Location: Northwest of Denver, in the mountains.
Median income: $54,243
Strongest categories: Boulder is a consistent high performer in all our measures. The city's businesses bring in $1,165 in per capita venture capital funding; it ranks fourth for its young and educated population of those 25-34 years old, in the top 5% for its patents per capita, second for its number of sole proprietors, fourth for its number of museums and cultural institutions and has an average commute of 17 minutes.
Drawbacks: If you don't like snow, this might not be the place for you.
2. Doral, Fla.
© AP Photo/J Pat Carter
Location: West of downtown Miami by 13 miles.
Median income: $70,895
Strongest categories: Doral is probably most famous for its world-class golf courses and resorts, but it's also a vibrant center of multinational importing and exporting businesses due to its proximity to the Miami airport. It ranks second for the number of sole proprietors running their own business and third for its share of young and educated workers. Thanks to the resort communities and high-end clientele, it also ranks toward the top for restaurants per capita.
Drawbacks: While there is plenty of entrepreneurial and smal-business activity in Doral, there aren't many cutting-edge companies developing new technologies or creating new fields. Its rank for venture capital cash and patents are low, despite its third place ranking for start-ups.
3. Fairfax, Va.
© Andre Jenny / Alamy
Location: A western Washington D.C., suburb.
Median income: $86,088
Strongest categories: A great place for entrepreneurs, Fairfax has the second highest number of sole-proprietors of any place measured on our list and as a result, its start-ups per capita ranks first.
Drawbacks: The measures keeping Fairfax out of the top spot are its entertainment and cultural offerings as well as the number of young and educated people. Fairfax is a great place to raise a family and start a business, but few highly educated people ages 25-34 call it home.
© Harris Shiffman/iStockphoto
Location: South of Palo Alto on the Bay Area peninsula.
Median income: $88,736
Strongest categories: While there's plenty more to Mountain View, the average commute time of 20 minutes is a rarely found pleasure of Bay Area living. Credit Mountain View's standing as our most active venture capital markets, for an abundance of entrepreneurs running their own businesses, which in turn means they don't have to commute to bigger cities like San Jose and San Francisco.
Drawbacks: There aren't a lot of restaurants, music venues, museums or cultural attractions in Mountain View, though it isn't too far for residents to trek 15 miles into San Jose.
© Mariusz Jurgielewicz / Alamy
Location: South of San Francisco and west of San Jose.
Median income: $128,149
Strongest categories: A great start-up environment in the heart of the Silicon Valley and home to a number of semiconductor and technology companies, most notably Apple, Cupertino succeeds as a mix of a place for established businesses and small shops. It ranks in the top 10 for sole proprietors and small businesses per capita.
Drawbacks: While you certainly can't complain about the warm climate, Cupertino simply didn't do as well as the top cities on our list even in the categories considered its strengths.
Click here for the full list of America's Top 25 Towns to Live Well
Data provided by ZoomProspector.com