These Are the Top 10 Best Cities for Veteran Entrepreneurs in 2020

The Seattle Space Needle
The Seattle Space Needle. ( Chizek)

Veterans are already accustomed to the lifestyle small-business owners need to get their enterprises up and running: Long hours, hard work and attention to detail are ingrained in the mindset of American vets.

Veterans not only operate 10% of U.S. businesses, they generate $41 billion in gross domestic product and employ almost a million Americans, many of them other vets. But even though they tend to be good business leaders, getting a leg up in starting that business is still a good idea.

Budding veteran entrepreneurs can start with where they found their businesses -- and a global pandemic won’t change that.

The PenFed Foundation operates a kind of vet-owned business accelerator called the Veteran Entrepreneur Investment Program (VEIP), which can even help fund veteran startups. And as part of the program, the VEIP conducted a study that determined the best places in America for veterans to start their businesses.

Related: 5 Reasons Why Employers Are Not Hiring Vets

It used four criteria to determine these places:

  • Support for veterans
  • Ability to start a business
  • Economic growth
  • Livability

Support means that the city and surrounding area have a support system in place to fit veterans' unique needs. The ability to start a business was determined by the city's new business development and its residents' previous entrepreneurial successes. Economic growth was determined by looking at the city's key economic indicators, and "livability" measures the key facilities people seek when looking for a place to live.

1. New York City

If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. Once again, the greater New York City area tops the list as the place where veterans have the best opportunity to found businesses and live successful lives.

New York’s livability also stretches into more affordable areas, like Newark and Jersey City in New Jersey. So if living in Gotham is a little overwhelming for a new business owner, there are more affordable options within the top spot.

2. Washington, D.C.

This should come as no surprise. If a veteran needs a community of other veterans as they join the civilian world, start a business or just decide where to begin, look no further than the National Capital Area.

Like New York City, D.C. can be pretty expensive for someone just starting out as a civilian entrepreneur, so the PenFed Foundation’s research extends to Northern Virginia, including Alexandria and Arlington.

3. Chicago

Also returning to the list in 2020 is the Greater Chicago Area, which starts from Chicago proper (population: 2.7 million) and extends out to Naperville, Illinois (population 148,000). This means that no matter how ready and knowledgeable a veteran business owner is, anyone needing support can find it in this area.

4. Seattle-Tacoma, Washington

Sea-Tac isn’t just home to one of America's largest military installations; it’s home to a lot of veterans of those installations. And why not? The Seattle-Tacoma area isn’t just one of the best places for veterans to start a business, but it’s also consistently ranked as one of the top three places to live in the U.S.

5. Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota

Minneapolis made one of the biggest jumps in the ranks this year, moving up nine points due to its scoring on open spaces, parks and health-care establishments. It also had one of the best year-over-year changes in unemployment rate and bankruptcy filings (yes, even considering the COVID-19 pandemic).

(Edelman Intelligence/PenFed)

6. Boston

The Greater Boston Area is one of the top three best places for anyone to start a business, not just veterans. For vets, the opportunity gets even better, considering all the training and resources available to them. Boston is No. 6 on the greater list, but it's the strongest place for a veteran business owner.

7. Dallas-Fort Worth

Although the Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington area came in at No. 7 overall on the list, it's one of the best places in the country for veterans looking for a community to support and to have that support reciprocated.

A lot of veterans are in the DFW area, and as a result, the options and support for vets among other vets are very high, as well as access to the Department of Veterans Affairs and VA benefits.

8. Madison, Wisconsin

Madison, Wisconsin, is No. 8, but as far as livability goes, it's tops. Of all the places on this list, Madison offers veterans a high standard of living, which means a lot of opportunity at a good price. More than that, veterans with families will find the best schools, public transit and cost of child care is best when starting their new lives in Madison.

9. Philadelphia

The City of Brotherly Love is crawling its way up the list from No. 12 in 2019 to nine in 2020, which is a big deal, considering the sheer size and location of the city. Philly offers some of the best institutional support for veterans for a city its size in the United States.

And if you attended West Point or the Naval Academy, you might catch the Army-Navy Game here at the end of (almost) every year.

10. Cleveland

The Factory of Sadness is no more: Cleveland is rising on the list, higher and higher every year. Of all the places on this list, no city is friendlier to veterans starting a new business than Believeland. Although Cleveland is hardly as big as some of the other metropolitan areas on this list, the livability and support for veterans extends to the suburbs of Cleveland.

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