The South is known for its culture, hospitality and cuisine. Atlanta has been synonymous with all three, and may be about to become known for a fourth: haven for innovators and entrepreneurs.
Four Fortune 100 companies—Home Depot, United Parcel Service (UPS), Coca-Cola and Delta Airlines—have long called Atlanta home, and another 30 Fortune 1000 firms are headquartered in the metro area. But it’s small businesses and tech start-ups that are currently fueling the city’s remarkable growth.
The metro Atlanta area has been highly ranked in several national and international business surveys over the past two years. fDi Intelligence, a unit of the Financial Times, ranked Atlanta as the number one city in the United States and 13th worldwide for foreign direct investment, and 18th in its list of “global cities of the future.” The city also placed seventh on fDi’s list of cities with populations of 750,000 or more (and overall urban populations of 2 million or greater), and fifth in the category of “human capital and lifestyle.”
Sensible zoning and licensing rules, ease of hiring, and growth-oriented tax policies and regulations make Atlanta an inviting place for small business and start-ups, particularly technology based companies.
Atlanta also has Hartsfield-Jackson, the busiest airport on the East Coast. That makes it easier for entrepreneurs to travel, meet investors and bring in potential partners and investors.
There is also ample support in the area for tech entrepreneurs. Organizations such as the Technology Association of Georgia, Technology Executive Roundtables, MIT Enterprise Forum of Atlanta and the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce exist to ensure startups feel more secure in growing their businesses.
Nearby universities, including Georgia Tech, Georgia State, Morehouse College and Emory University, have become excellent recruiting grounds for developers and engineers.
Atlanta Tech Village is home to 800 different entrepreneurs and over 225 startups. The Technology Business Incubator at Georgia Tech provides classes, community and coaching, and helps keep members connected with employers around the area.
For career development, coding schools such as The Iron Yard that offer courses on everything from mobile and website development to back-end web development.
The one thing Atlanta lacks at the moment is a large pool of venture capitalists.
Bijan Khosravi, an angel investor who moved to Atlanta from Silicon Valley 15 years ago, wrote recently in Forbes about the region’s dearth of tier-one investors.
“The kind of multibillion-dollar venture capitalists that can create companies like Facebook, Google and Twitter are not yet present in Atlanta,” Khosravi writes. “In fact, the limited angel and second tier investors that Atlanta startups have access to just isn’t enough.”
When a friend of Khosravi’s recently started a company in Atlanta, he couldn’t secure enough funding locally. Eventually, a venture capital company in Boston invested — and forced him to relocate there. “While it’s not impossible to acquire tier one venture capital without having to move,” Khosravi explains, “the examples — like Ionic Security — are few and far between.”
More important than having big money readily available, Khosravi says, is having the benefit of others’ experience. “If you’ve previously invested in companies and led them to multi-billion dollar valuations, you have the perspective and experience to do so again,” he writes.
Despite that limitation, young entrepreneurs are willing to give the area a chance in large part because of Atlanta’s low cost of living. A one-bedroom apartment in Atlanta rents for about $1,073 a month, compared with $3,300 for a similarly sized or smaller place in San Francisco.
What’s more, Georgia’s state and local tax burden ranks 35th out of the 50 states, according to the Tax Foundation. By comparison, California ranks 4th, and New York ranks first in the nation with the highest state and local taxes.
Atlanta is already faces some competition for small businesses from nearby Greenville, South Carolina. But if the city can attract more top-tier venture capitalists and investors, the business-friendly climate and welcoming environment for young singles and families offers ample opportunity for growth and development.
Jay Caruso is a contributor for Opportunity Lives. You can follow him on Twitter @JayCaruso.