“The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.” -- W. B. Yeats
I met this guy in an airport recently who was holding his guitar like a holy vessel; said he carried it everywhere. He was on his way to Seattle, because, he explained, “It’s where things happen.” He didn’t have a plan for stuff like food and shelter and, you know, work. All he had was a ridiculously invincible spirit about where he needed to be.
I understood what he was going through -- to be carrying around an entrepreneurial passion like it’s a hot potato, and feeling like you cannot set it free until you’ve reached the ideal ground. Everyone has their ground. Some seek out new ground, traveling great distances to find a community of like-minded creators and an environment that encourages their success. Others alter the ground beneath their feet -- creating a business or a community where nothing like it existed before. We are the product of where we put our roots, and these places become a product of us. Symbiosis.
That’s why, for this issue, we went to great lengths to answer this question: Where is your ground? To help you find the answer, we crunched a mountain of data -- looking at everything from tax rates to commute times -- and came up with a list of America’s 50 greatest small and midsize cities for entrepreneurs. These are the places full of people like you -- who are bold, adventurous and obsessed with building something special.
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Of course, Boulder, Colo., tops the list. I lived in Boulder for years, and I completely understand the brilliance of its community, relationship to the University of Colorado, weed smoking and policy melding. Austin is in there -- keep it weird, guys. And Fargo is, too, because, well, you have to read on for the excellence that is Fargo. This list has 50 different ways to surprise you.
The entire issue, in fact, is imbued with the entrepreneurial possibilities of place. We look at how artisans build big businesses -- like a salt maker in Oregon who was inspired by his local food scene and began plumbing his local seas. We profile a man who launched his startup in Kabul, Afghanistan, and discovered that the harshest cities can become the best testing grounds. Then we shake our sense of place entirely -- going inside the strange, dark world of online arbitrage, where a New York cat-toy maker can have no idea who is selling his products, or where in the world they are.
Where you are is what you stand for -- it is your community, and it is yours to shape and encourage and energize. But if new ground beckons you, then heed the call, like my guitar-carrying friend. He didn’t have a plan, but he had a place that inspired him. The rest will follow.