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Birmingham named America’s No. 1 city for millennial entrepreneurs

Fireworks above Regions Field in downtown Birmingham (Photo: James Nichols)
Fireworks above Regions Field in downtown Birmingham (Photo: James Nichols)

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Thumbtack, an online marketplace that matches service providers with consumers, has named Birmingham, Alabama the best city in the United States for millennial entrepreneurs.

The company analyzed survey responses from 18,000 small business owners from all over the country who answered questions about the business-friendliness of their area.

Birmingham came in at No. 16 overall, but it leapfrogged the competition when it comes to millennials, a term commonly used to describe Generation Y, with birth years ranging from the early 1980s to the early 2000s.

Here’s how Fast Company Magazine, which published the Thumbtack survey’s results, describes the millennial generation:

Millennials may be the most studied generation in history, caught in the confluence of the technology they actively use and the creation of data from all that activity. As analysts slice and dice terabytes of information on millennials, one theme has emerged: contradiction.

According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, millennials are optimistic (despite events like 9/11 and the great recession that have punctuated their lives), they’re caring and community-oriented despite the copious use of a solitary activity such as social media, and they’re eager entrepreneurs, even when they’re often laden with college debt that has forced them to continue living at home after graduation.

The most recent index from the Kauffman Foundation found that 24.7% of all entrepreneurs were 20 to 34 years old, and those with college degrees were starting businesses in unprecedented numbers.

Millennials’ propensity for launching new companies — one survey estimates 160,000 per month — compelled Thumbtack to dub them “Generation Startup,” and cities around the country are competing to attract them.

So why is Birmingham standing out?

For starters, The Magic City’s low cost of living makes it one of the most budget-friendly metros in the country, but here are the categories in which Birmingham is really excelling, according to ratings given by entrepreneurs:

Ease of hiring: A+
Zoning: A+
Employment, labor and hiring: A+
Regulations: A
Health & safety: A
Licensing: A-
Ease of starting a business: A-

And there is still room for improvement.

One young entrepreneur who was surveyed called Birmingham’s tax and insurance qualifications “a huge disruption for growing a business” and another complained about the difficulty of dealing with the numerous balkanized local governments in the city’s metro area.

But in spite of those concerns, Birmingham’s scores only dropped below a “B” in one category. When it comes to training & networking programs, the city received a disappointing C-.

When surveyed, young entrepreneurs frequently expressed a desire for the state and local governments to offer more “helpful training or networking programs for small business owners.”

To their credit, the state’s politicians and economic developers seem to be responding to this need.

For example, The Alabama Workforce Council, a group of 35 business, education and political leaders, is spearheading new workforce development initiatives around the state and Innovation Depot, a non-profit business incubation program, is cultivating the city’s startup scene.

With a continued focus on entrepreneurship and growth, Birmingham is well positioned to continue attracting the country’s next generation of business leaders.