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Updated on Thursday, October 24, 2019
Though it may seem like giant corporations like Amazon command the U.S. business landscape, small businesses continue to be the backbone of most local economies.
The U.S. Small Business Administration estimates that 99.9% of ventures, or 30.7 million companies, qualify as small businesses. However, the SBA’s definition of a small business is broad. To qualify, businesses must meet or fall below the maximum revenue and employee count that the SBA sets for each industry. Revenue limits span $750,000 to $38.5 million, while employee requirements range between 100 and 1,500 people.
But the vast majority of small businesses are much smaller — 89% have 20 or fewer employees. For this study, MagnifyMoney researchers only considered businesses with fewer than 10 paid employees, firms that may include younger companies and mom-and-pop operations with slim resources.
Researchers found that these extremely small companies come close to matching — and in one case exceeding — average payrolls of all businesses in their cities. We ranked the 50 largest U.S. metros by payroll relative to metro averages, growth among companies with fewer than 10 employees and the percentage of workers employed by these firms to see where they dominate.
- Miami comes out on top with a large and growing number of small businesses: 84% of businesses here have fewer than 10 employees with 15% of the city’s total workforce employed by these extremely small companies.
- Los Angeles takes second place, also with a large number of small-scale businesses, but what’s striking about these companies is that their payroll is 94% of the metro average, second only to Las Vegas where companies with fewer than 10 employees actually exceed the average payroll.
- Louisville, Ky. is at the bottom of the list — just 7% of all workers are employed by companies with fewer than 10 employees. Additionally, the number of such small businesses in Louisville is dropping, which could be a bad sign for those still operating in the area.
- Memphis, Tenn. comes in one spot above Louisville, Ky. This metro area had the lowest share of extremely small businesses on our list, as well as one of the lowest shares of all metro workers employed by these companies.
- The average small business rate is 72% among all cities. In other words, roughly three quarters of businesses in the 50 largest metro areas have less than 10 employees on the payroll.
- Generally, payroll per employee at these small businesses tends to be lower than the metro average. On average across all 50 metros, payroll per worker at companies with fewer than 10 employees is 79% of the metro average.
Metro areas where very small businesses dominate
Small businesses support the local economy in these high-ranking metros.
The South Florida city boasts the highest percentage of businesses with fewer than 10 employees as well as the largest percentage of its workforce employed at such companies, despite a relatively small business rate increase in one year’s time, just a 0.2% change. Average payroll per employee is 86% of the relative metro average.
The economic development council in Miami-Dade County identifies and promotes industries that are poised for job and wage growth including aviation, banking and finance, creative design, hospitality and tourism, technology, life sciences and health care, and trade and logistics. Tourism has long been a lucrative sector for Miami. Small businesses in the industry can promote their services at the City of Miami Beach Visitors Center, which has more than 120,000 annual visitors.
2. Los Angeles
Los Angeles holds the No. 2 spot thanks to a strong average payroll, second only to Las Vegas among extremely small businesses. Business rate growth was flat in one year’s time but 12% of LA’s workforce is employed by small businesses with fewer than 10 employees.
Entertainment is unsurprisingly among the top industries in Los Angeles, alongside aerospace, bioscience, transportation and fashion. The City of Los Angeles offers several resources and incentives to support small businesses, such as the Restaurant and Hospitality Express Program, which streamlines the permit approval process for food service establishments. The cyber threat protection program also helps small business owners learn best practices to prevent cyber attacks or breaches.
3. Tampa, Fla.
Another Florida metro rounds out the top three. Though it tops No. 2 Los Angeles by small business rate, Tampa has lower employment numbers: 11% of its workforce is employed by a small business with fewer than 10 employees. The average payroll of those companies is 81% of the metro average. Tampa has seen a 0.1% one-year change in the small business rate.
The metro area’s key industries include financial and professional services, manufacturing, distribution and logistics, life sciences and health care, information technology and defense and security. Tampa Bay is also a popular location for corporate headquarters.
Areas with a lesser impact from very small businesses
These metro areas see less economic influence from local small businesses.
48. Nashville, Tenn.
Nashville has one of the lowest small business rates in our study at 67%. Just 8% of workers in the area are employed by a small business with fewer than 10 employees, which see an average payroll per employee at 79% of the metro average. Nashville has seen a -1.0% one-year drop in its small business rate.
Nashville once had a population growth rate of nearly 100 people per day. That growth slowed this year, according to a report from The Tennessean newspaper, but the area has felt the effects of a rapid influx of new residents, including high tourism, expensive housing and displacement of low-income residents. Large retail chains like Trader Joe’s also continue opening throughout the area.
49. Memphis, Tenn.
The other Tennessee metro near the bottom of our list has a small business rate of 62%, the lowest of all metros we ranked. In Memphis, 7% of all employees work for a small business with fewer than 10 employees with average payroll per employee at 79% of the metro average. During one year’s time, Memphis had a -0.8% drop in the small business rate.
Memphis is among the poorest metropolitan areas in America, and residents face economic barriers such as high poverty as well as segregated and devalued neighborhoods. The Memphis River Parks Partnership, a nonprofit focused on transforming the area of Memphis closest to the Mississippi River, is working to support local businesses. Part of the organization’s efforts include contractor development strategies that position minority- and women-owned businesses for success.
50. Louisville, Ky.
In last place, Louisville has a 66% small business rate and a significant drop of -1.2% in growth during a one-year period, tying with Milwaukee. Just 7% of Louisville employees work for a small business with fewer than 10 employees where payroll per employee is 78% of the local average.
Louisville is working to grow its tech workforce to become an emerging technology hub. The city has invested in job programs and initiatives such as Code Louisville and Bit502, according to The Lane Report. Louisville has also partnered with educational institutions, nonprofits and local businesses to boost the city’s tech output.
To rank the places where very small businesses dominate, we looked at data for 50 of the largest metropolitan areas. Specifically, we evaluated these four metrics:
- Small business rate. This is the percentage of businesses with fewer than 10 employees.
- One-year change in small business rate. This is the change from 2015 to 2016 in the small business rate.
- Percent of workforce employed at small businesses. This is the percentage of all paid employees who work in small businesses with fewer than 10 employees.
- Relative pay of small business employees. This is average payroll per employee of these small businesses divided by the metro area average payroll per employee.
We then ranked each metro in each of these metrics. Each metro area was scored based on the average rank received across the four areas. Data for all metrics comes from the Census Bureau’s 2016 and 2015 Survey of Entrepreneurs.