The Geography of Business

By Joe Francica

Every week in this space, I discuss the "Business of Geography." This week, the tide is turned and I want to address the Geography of Business.Last week, Forbes Magazine released their list of the top metropolitan areas for business and careers and the best "small places" for the same.The top ten metros are listed below:

  1. Austin, TX
  2. Boise, ID
  3. Raleigh-Durham, NC
  4. Atlanta, GA
  5. Madison, WI
  6. Provo, UT
  7. Omaha, NE
  8. Des Moines, IA
  9. Dallas, TX
  10. Washington, DC-Northern VA

Below is a map of the top 25 metros, both large and small (click for larger map):

Coming in at lucky number 11 is none other than the hometown of this publication, Huntsville, Alabama.Coming in at number 1 for the best small places is none other than the city in which I started my career: Sioux Falls, South Dakota (which by the way has been ranked as the number one place to live in the country..I believe it was also Forbes that named it to this list).Now, having called these cities my home at one time, I can tell you this: they are great places to live...and I don't exaggerate.But for business?

The selection criteria are based on the rank that each attains according to the following indices: Cost of Doing Business Index, Housing Affordability index, Educational Attainment, Number of Advanced Degrees, and Crime Rate.Most data are culled from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, The Census Bureau, the FBI Crime Index,, and research that Forbes conducted.

My personal, unscientific view would be that cost of doing business would be the most significant factor.Again, having lived in both cities mentioned above, I would say that both are highly affordable to both live and sustain a small business.Yet, if you average the ranks of the top 25 cities, it is "educational attainment," then "cost of doing" business" that is the lowest index.My only comment is that many of my friends are indeed "rocket scientists" at NASA, so yes, there are a plethora of Ph.D's in the Huntsville metro.

On a macro scale, there is one obvious, perhaps overly simplistic geographical trend: The I35/I29 corridor between Bismarck, North Dakota, and Austin, Texas cuts a swath containing both large and small metropolitan areas ranked in the top 25 by Forbes.Slightly less obvious is the I40 corridor between Dallas, Texas and Raleigh/Durham, North Carolina, and by relative geographic proximity, the MSAs of Huntsville, Atlanta, Lexington, and Columbia.There are a lot smarter economic and applied geographers out there who can support a better spatial theory than simply the Eisenhower Interstate system.But, to be sure, location and proximity to transportation are extremely important to the sustainable growth of metro areas.I welcome any and all comments, theories, and articles by those of you who have studied these trends in more depth, especially those in the Applied Geography community.

Directions Magazine Lures Nora Parker to Serve as Senior Managing Editor

We also wanted to announce this week the addition of a new, and at the same time, 'old' member of the Directions Magazine editorial staff.Effective immediately, Nora Parker will become the managing editor of the Wednesday Digest newsletter.Many of you will remember Ms.Parker as the editor of Business Geographics Magazine and the chairperson of the conference by the same name.She is also a member of our board of directors and we are fortunate to have lured her back into an editorial role.She is an experienced technologist in the spatial information industry and you can expect that Directions' Wednesday newsletters will continue to offer insightful commentary under her leadership.

Published Saturday, May 17th, 2003

Written by Joe Francica

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