What makes for a great city for women entrepreneurs? It’s a city where women have the means, opportunities, and support to start their own business. It’s a city where they are surrounded by other women entrepreneurs and where they earn the same as their male counterparts for the same work (which in much of the U.S. is still not a given). It’s also a place where women can hire from a community that champions them.
If you want to see which cities have become hotbeds of female entrepreneurship across the country, this is the ranking for you. We put together a list of the cities that are friendliest and most supportive to this crucial and growing class of business owners. These rankings are based on data pulled from The American Community Survey from the U.S. Census Bureau as well as the Tax Foundation.
The Top 5 Takeaways From the Rankings
1. The South and West reign supreme: States from these geographic regions were well-represented in the top 15, including Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, Oregon, and Washington.
2. Tech hub Seattle takes the top spot: Seattle is a hub of innovation, and it’s also a highly skilled and equitable city for women entrepreneurs to make their mark. Keep in mind: This is also one of the priciest cities in the country.
3. Arizona and Florida are very woman entrepreneur-friendly: Three of the top 15 cities on our list are in the state of Arizona, and two of the top five are Florida locales.
4. California cities aren’t kind to women entrepreneurs: Some of the worst-ranked cities on our list were California cities (such as Riverside, Santa Ana, and Fresno), owing perhaps to their high costs of living and large earnings gaps.
5. In certain cities, female business owners outearn their male peers: Although on average, American women still earn $0.82 for every $1 American men earn, there are some places where women business owners are outearning their male counterparts. That’s the case for three cities in our top 10: Paradise, Nevada; Orlando, Florida; and St. Paul, Minnesota.
Out of the 100 biggest cities in the U.S. by number of workers, these are the 15 best cities in which to be a woman entrepreneur.
The Top 15 Cities for Women Entrepreneurs in the U.S.
1. Seattle, Washington
Home to some of the world’s greatest tech companies and, (arguably) the country’s best coffee scene, Seattle tops our list of the best cities for women entrepreneurs.
Seattle performed strongly in many of our metrics. Of the city’s self-employed business owners, 43.8% are women, and the earnings gap between men and women business owners is just 6%. But Seattle shot to the top of our list due to its well-educated workforce on which small business owners can draw, and a 0% state income tax rate, offsetting some of the city’s more expensive aspects.
The biggest drawback? Spending 35.4% of income on housing costs means the average Seattle women entrepreneur is considered “housing cost-burdened.”
2. Paradise, Nevada
When you think of Las Vegas—the Strip, for example—you’re probably thinking of Paradise, a census-designated place (rather than, technically, a city) that is very good to women entrepreneurs.
Women business owners earn nearly twice as much as men business owners do in Paradise, and housing costs as a percentage of those earnings are just 17.5%—by far the lowest in the top 15.
The biggest drawback of operating here might be that Paradise lacks a high-skilled workforce.
3. Orlando, Florida
The Paris of eastern-central Florida, Orlando is third on the list of best cities for women entrepreneurs. Women business owners earn more than men on average here, earning 106.3% of what their male peers do, and the city has low costs of living that make it affordable and easy to reinvest profits back into the business.
4. St. Petersburg, Florida
Another central Florida city makes our list here in St. Pete. This city is affordable due to having no state income tax and low housing costs. Plus, the earnings gap here is less than 10%.
5. Gilbert, Arizona
The first of three Arizona cities to make this list is Gilbert, which posts solid scores across the board. Its best metric was the percentage of women employed in their own business: 4.7%, which ties for second in the top 15.
6. Scottsdale, Arizona
The second of several Arizona cities to make this list, Scottsdale is number six overall thanks in part to its strong community of women entrepreneurs—it is the top city on this list in terms of the percentage of women employed in their own business (7.5%). The city also boasts a high-skilled workforce.
The earnings gap in Scottsdale, however, is modest for such a top city, as women business owners in the city earn just 55.9% of what men business owners do, on average.
7. Durham, North Carolina
Part of North Carolina’s Research Triangle, Durham lands at number seven on our list thanks to a large percentage of self-employed women business owners, relatively low housing costs, and job growth numbers (before the pandemic) which portend a bright future for the city’s workforce.
Despite its high ranking, Durham still has room to grow as a top city for women entrepreneurs. Only 2.1% of the city’s women are employed in their own business, and the earnings gap between men and women business owners approaches 30%.
8. Portland, Oregon
The City of Roses lands at eight with strong marks across the board, particularly in percent of women employed in their own business (4.5%) and percent of business owners who are women (42.7%).
Portland does have a higher income tax rate than many of our other top cities, and the earnings gap (over 20%) leaves something to be desired.
9. St. Paul, Minnesota
This Twin City makes the top 10, in part, due to its earning gap: Women business owners earn 116% of what men do in St. Paul, on average. The city also earns decent marks across the board in our other categories.
Relatively high income tax rates is the biggest mark against it.
10. Anchorage, Alaska
Rounding out the top 10 is Anchorage—although it’s not the most convenient city to get to, it boasts well-above-average marks for the percent of self-employed business owners who are women, and the percent of women employed in their own business.
11. Houston, Texas
One of the most diverse cities in the country, Houston is also good to its women entrepreneur population. Its biggest strength here, however, may be in its job growth numbers, which were likely impacted by 2020’s coronavirus pandemic. It remains to be seen whether the city’s strong economic numbers will continue in the years to come.
12. Boise, Idaho
Beautiful Boise clocks in at number 12. The capital of Idaho lands here thanks to solid scores on metrics like earnings gap, residents with bachelor’s degrees, and housing costs.
13. Lubbock, Texas
Lubbock makes the top 15 due to a surprising earnings gap percentage—women entrepreneurs outearn men by over 13%, on average. Like most other cities in Texas, Lubbock is also inexpensive.
Keep in mind that only 1.8% of Lubbock’s women are employed in their own business, the lowest of the top 15.
14. New Orleans, Louisiana
In New Orleans, over 43% of the city’s business owners are women, and 3.2% of the city’s women are employed in their own business.
An earnings gap of over 30% compared to men is the city’s weak point.
15. Chandler, Arizona
Finishing up our list is the third Arizona city to make the rankings: Chandler. Like Gilbert and Scottsdale, Chandler scores very well in terms of women who are employed in their own business and a skilled workforce.
High housing costs is what weighs Chandler down here.
Methodology: How We Ranked the Best Cities for Women Entrepreneurs
All data for this report was pulled from the 2018 American Community Survey from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Tax Foundation. We took the 100 largest cities in the country based on number of workers and compared them based on the following factors:
- Percent of self-employed business owners who are women: This is the percent of all people who are self-employed in their own incorporated business who are female. (18% of total score.)
- Percent of women employed in their own business: This is the percent of all working women employed in their own incorporated business. (18% of total score.)
- Earnings gap between male and female business owners: This is the earnings of women self-employed in their own incorporated business compared to the same figure for men. (18% of total score.)
- Housing cost as a percent of earnings for female entrepreneurs: This is housing costs divided by earnings for women employed in their own incorporated business. (18% of total score.)
- Percent of residents with bachelor’s degree, denoting high-skilled workforce: This is the percent of the population with a bachelor’s degree. (9% of total score.)
- Job growth: This is the percent change in workers from 2017 to 2018. (9% of total score.)
- Tax rates: Top state marginal individual income tax rates in 2020. (9% of total score.)
The Bottom Line
If you’re a female business owner living in any one of our top cities for women entrepreneurs, perhaps you already know the value of where you’re located. If you’re considering starting a business, keep these locations in mind—in a future that is still murky thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, finding a place that you can call home that will support you emotionally and financially as you start your business might be a good place to start.