The Best Cities for Women to Start a Business in 2018


America is home to more than 11.6 million women-owned businesses.1 From employment rates to equal pay, see which American cities rank the best for women entrepreneurs.

At Business.org, we’re all about learning what it takes to start and run successful businesses. And with 39% of all US businesses owned by women,2 we wanted to learn more about the factors that may help women entrepreneurs be more successful.

It may be obvious that the tech-driven landscape of Silicon Valley offers some of the greatest opportunity for women business owners. But it may surprise you to see exactly which metropolitan areas—both in Silicon Valley and beyond—offer the best mix of factors for women looking to launch their own businesses.

These are this year’s best US areas for women business owners.

The 10 best cities for women to start a business

  1. Greater Tampa Bay Area, FL (Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater)
  2. Silicon Valley, CA (San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara)
  3. Seattle Metropolitan Area, WA (Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue)
  4. Greater Orlando, FL (Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford)
  5. Inland Empire, CA (Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario)
  6. Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN-WI (Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington)
  7. Bay Area, CA (San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward)
  8. Pittsburgh, PA
  9. St. Louis, MO-IL
  10. Miami Metropolitan Area, FL (Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach)

What we found

Our research turned up several interesting outcomes. For example, some states contain multiple metro areas with widely different results.

Tennessee is on both ends of the spectrum, having one metro area (Nashville-Davidson-Murfreesboro-Franklin) ranking in the top 20 overall and another (Memphis) in the bottom 10. This Tennessee divide may only serve to fuel a long-standing rivalry between the two Volunteer State regions.

Florida ranks on both the best and the worst lists for the number of start-ups. The Miami and Palm Bay areas sit only two and a half hours away from each other but are on the opposite sides of the start-up creation spectrum. The worst places for start-ups all reside in eastern states, except for Hawaii, which is one of the most expensive states to live in.

Here’s another standout result: out of the top five worst places for women-owned businesses, Utah showed up twice, with Ogden-Clearfield and Provo-Orem home to the fewest women entrepreneurs in the country. Utah’s low rate for women-owned businesses may be a result of the state’s stay-at-home-mom tradition.

The driving factors

We examined five key metrics to decide which cities provide the best environment for women entrepreneurs:

  • Percentage of women-owned businesses
  • Number of new businesses per 100,000 people
  • Women-to-men pay difference
  • Unemployment rate for women
  • Number of National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) chapters

The best and worst areas for women entrepreneurs

Our analysis shows that in the 107 metropolitan areas we studied, about 35% of businesses are women-owned. But some cities far exceed that rate—like Memphis, which tops the average by 10 percentage points.

Other cities are well below the national average. Santa Rosa, California; Lancaster, Pennsylvania; and the Provo-Orem area in Utah each has a rate of 29%.

On average, Americans in our reviewed metro areas created about 225 businesses per 100,000 people each month, or a percentage of about 0.2%.

New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, California, Washington, Florida, and Minnesota are home to the most entrepreneurial places.

The least start-up-friendly metro areas are in Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana, and Arkansas. Note that this factor includes both men and women start-up creators.

It’s no secret that women tend to earn less than men in the United States. Taking home less pay than their male peers may spur some women to start their own businesses, but it’s interesting to see which cities landed in the top and bottom for the pay gap.

All of the five best and five worst metro areas for equal pay are in the eastern US. The Youngstown-Warren-Boardman area that spans Ohio and Pennsylvania boasts the smallest pay gap in our study. This area, also called the Mahoning Valley or the Steel Valley, is dominated by the American steel industry. Manufacturing tends to have narrower gender pay gaps than other industries.3

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for American women is slightly better than the rate for men. But women younger than 20 and women older than 54 have even better employment rates.4

Nearly all of the metro areas with the highest number of unemployed women are in Central California, which is one of the poorest regions in the country. The lowest woman unemployment rates span the nation, from Arkansas to Utah.

Our approach

Our data analysts collected data that comprise a mix of five different factors for each metropolitan area, including the percentage of women-owned businesses, the unemployment rate for women, the pay differences between women and men, the number of new businesses per capita, and the number of NAWBO chapters. Our sources included US Census data and data reported by NAWBO.5,6

We applied weighted averages to each of the five factors to determine each area’s final score and then ranked each state according to their total weighted scores. These are the weight ratios we applied to each factor:

  • Percentage of women-owned businesses: 40%
  • Number of new businesses per 100,000 people: 30%
  • Women-to-men pay difference: 15%
  • Unemployment rate for women: 10%
  • Number of NAWBO chapters: 5%
Final RankMetro Area"Women-Owned Business" Ranking"Start-ups" Rank"Pay Difference" Rank"Women Unemploy-
ment Rate" Rank
"NAWBO Chapters" Rank
1Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL 6615264
2San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA 8820174
3Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA 13319144
4Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, FL 5922283
5Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA 51214423
6Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI 1055233
7San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA 81432152
8Pittsburgh, PA 131028163
9St. Louis, MO-IL 131324153
10Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, FL 5456302
11Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, OR-WA 71930163
12Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA 6258321
13Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV 5375203
14New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA 8171272
15Providence-Warwick, RI-MA 131731224
16Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, AZ 82042243
17Santa Rosa, CA 14329164
18Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura, CA 92439173
19Nashville-Davidson–Murfreesboro–Franklin, TN 111851123
20Oklahoma City, OK 112141194
21Indianapolis-Carmel-Anderson, IN 81567143
22Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise, NV 6778363
23Raleigh, NC 93136173
24Tulsa, OK 11417244
25Durham-Chapel Hill, NC 54621214
26San Diego-Carlsbad, CA 74317353
27Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News, VA-NC 5564254
28Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX 51191303
29North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton, FL 102355284
30Spokane-Spokane Valley, WA 45318183
31Louisville/Jefferson County, KY-IN 112260203
32Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, PA-NJ-DE-MD 122849272
33Kansas City, MO-KS 101688133
34Denver-Aurora-Lakewood, CO 72580104
35Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI 63648323
36Colorado Springs, CO 73059304
37Detroit-Warren-Dearborn, MI 44837323
38Wichita, KS 11626183
39Tucson, AZ 66011403
40Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell, GA 33392243
41Austin-Round Rock, TX 92796134
42Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX 73489163
43Boise City, ID 102994204
44Des Moines-West Des Moines, IA 114763113
45Sacramento–Roseville–Arden-Arcade, CA 86329273
46Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers, AR-MO 11516414
47Worcester, MA-CT 13742184
48Lakeland-Winter Haven, FL 63883333
49Charleston-North Charleston, SC 83598124
50Deltona-Daytona Beach-Ormond Beach, FL 84276254
51Cape Coral-Fort Myers, FL 102699394
52Columbia, SC 75845384
53Jacksonville, FL 55269284
54Youngstown-Warren-Boardman, OH-PA 11831204
55San Antonio-New Braunfels, TX 88212233
56Buffalo-Cheektowaga-Niagara Falls, NY 12507973
57Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia, NC-SC 84975333
58Baltimore-Columbia-Towson, MD 544103184
59Stockton-Lodi, CA 87910414
60Boston-Cambridge-Newton, MA-NH 1139101144
61Springfield, MA 87825244
62Winston-Salem, NC 10863274
63Salt Lake City, UT 8803473
64Columbus, OH 87147173
65Rochester, NY 89213134
66Provo-Orem, UT 14851694
67Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, CT 1140102354
68Albany-Schenectady-Troy, NY 1245107134
69Bakersfield, CA 57544463
70McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, TX 28938294
71Birmingham-Hoover, AL 95586314
72Honolulu, HI 71048124
73Albuquerque, NM 554106243
74Greensboro-High Point, NC 77654284
75Madison, WI 12726544
76Knoxville, TN 125784214
77Lexington-Fayette, KY 116474214
78Harrisburg-Carlisle, PA 126770164
79El Paso, TX 56981284
80Cleveland-Elyria, OH 96185313
81Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton, PA-NJ 125987224
82Toledo, OH 119126224
83Richmond, VA 89627183
84Portland-South Portland, ME 12973324
85Scranton–Wilkes-Barre–Hazleton, PA 910223203
86Greenville-Anderson-Mauldin, SC 117373254
87Hartford-West Hartford-East Hartford, CT 116690214
88Akron, OH 1165104114
89Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville, FL 610335244
90Cincinnati, OH-KY-IN 107097164
91Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis, WI 99353204
92Chattanooga, TN-GA 136895164
93Dayton, OH 98177214
94Lancaster, PA 14984384
95Syracuse, NY 1110040214
96Grand Rapids-Wyoming, MI 128772114
97Ogden-Clearfield, UT 13906854
98Omaha-Council Bluffs, NE-IA 11946664
99Memphis, TN-MS-AR 110161343
100Fresno, CA 67793454
101New Orleans-Metairie, LA 710646253
102New Haven-Milford, CT 128862374
103Modesto, CA 99950444
104Augusta-Richmond County, GA-SC 384105364
105Little Rock-North Little Rock-Conway, AR 1110757124
106Jackson, MS 79582434
107Baton Rouge, LA 6105100334

Sources
1. American Express, “The 2017 State of Women-Owned Business Report
2. American Express, “The 2017 State of Women-Owned Business Report
3. Forbes, “The 10 Industries with the Biggest Gender Pay Gaps
4. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey
5. National Association of Women Business Owners, “Find a Chapter
6. United States Census Bureau, “Data