When it comes to small business, Jacksonville is among the country’s best cities to develop companies with few employees.
Two recent ranking systems by websites that specialize in business development placed Jacksonville among the best and most friendly small-business environments in the United States. One puts Jacksonville among the elite cities for small business development; another grades the city’s areas as “friendly” to startups and entrepreneurial development.
A Biz2Credit.com list in May ranked Jacksonville as the 23rd best small business city in the country. In Florida, only West Palm Beach and Tampa ranked higher at 10th and 12th, respectively. San Jose, Calif., Detroit and Denver were the top three, in that order.
Then Tuesday, Thumbtack.com issued its annual grade for small business-friendly cities, and Jacksonville rated a B-minus. It was the second highest rating for any Florida city, tied with West Palm Beach and behind Orlando, which rated an A-minus.
Thumbtack conducted a survey of more than 12,000 entrepreneurs nationwide, up from last year’s 7,700 surveys. Its overall grades combined several factors.
For instance, Jacksonville was given high A-minus marks for ease of starting a business and municipal tax codes. Regulations, licensing, environmental, zoning and labor hiring all fell within the B range.
Not so highly regarded were training and networking programs or ease of hiring. Each got a C-plus. The lowest grade for Jacksonville’s small business environment came in workplace health and safety, which rated a D-plus.
There are multitudes of success stories. But some of the Jacksonville area’s small business support programs helped entrepreneurs who have attracted media attention and various recognition:
■ Brian Smith started Fighter Energy, a tablet that dissolves in water to form an energy drink, through iStart Jax and the Small Business Development Center at University of North Florida. Both iStart Jax and the small business center are entrepreneurial support groups that hold a Startup weekend annually on the UNF campus.
■ Aaron Murray, a licensed tattoo contractor, landed a job this year with a Riverside tattoo business after establishing a business model with the help of the Senior Corps of Retired Executives — or SCORE — in Jacksonville.
■ Joe Lezcano is organizing the Connection Festival in downtown Jacksonville in September to celebrate mostly local musical artists after participating as a “creator” in the One Spark festival. Lezcano said having a startup booth at One Spark, which showcases startup businesses and entrepreneurs, solidified his concept for the music fest, which in turn is designed to highlight startup musicians.
There are multitudes of other instances, but the point is clear — Jacksonville has a thriving small business and startup scene.
The overall grade is the same as Jacksonville’s 2013 mark. And that is substantially higher than the 2012 grade — the year the grading system was introduced by Thumbtack — when Jacksonville got a C-minus for small-business friendliness.
Thumbtack chief economist Jon Lieber said it’s difficult to explain fluctuations in some of the grades that support the overall grade. But the grading system expanded to include more cities.
“This year, we went from 50-something cities to 82 cities,” Lieber said from San Francisco. “So it could be that [some of] the Jacksonville scores were pushed down because other [cities] are doing better.
“I wouldn’t read too much into the year-to-year variations,” Lieber said. “I think it [the grade] is a good thing.”
Attempts to reach a Biz2Credit.com official for comment were unsuccessful. But a news release on the top 25 city rankings said Florida is one of the nation’s hottest spots for small business development.
“Florida’s economy has improved overall. Younger people are moving there and the state has an influx of immigrants who are very entrepreneurial and are starting new businesses,” said Rohit Arora, Biz2Credit CEO.
Arora cited several factors for the small business boom in Florida.
“The economy has picked up there because it is a low-cost state for conducting business, the weather is warm and housing prices are more affordable compared to major cities like Boston and New York,” he said.