The day after Braden Black finished high school in Amarillo, Texas, he packed a suitcase, hopped in his car, and left, not sure if he'd never come back. He went to Dayton, Ohio, where, in 2001, he started his own business, a staffing construction company called Skilled Corp. At the time, the economy was booming and skilled labor was in demand, but companies had trouble filling positions. Black saw an opportunity to connect workers with the businesses that needed them.
Over the next several years, his company took off. By 2008, he had 15 employees and about 400 temp workers under his purview. Then the recession hit. Work slowed dramatically, and while he could have plowed through the downturn, he began wondering if maybe there were greener pastures elsewhere. "It was a tough time," he says about the financial crisis. "And with three of my competitors in Ohio, I had to make a move. We had to go south or west."
As he pondered relocating his business, he remembered his home town of Amarillo. The business community was thriving--the downturn was only a blip there--and it was hard to argue with the laid-back Texas lifestyle. Even though it was 1,000 miles away from Dayton, relocating starting making a lot of sense. "The more I looked into Amarillo, the more excited I got," he says. "The business environment was healthy, there was quality staff to hire, and the banks weren't struggling."
Black is far from the only entrepreneur who has wanted to uproot an established business and move it elsewhere. As the cost of living climbs in big cities like New York, San Francisco, and Chicago, and as technology has made working from anywhere easier to do, more people are thinking about moving to smaller locales, says Jennifer Martin, founder of Ojai, California-based Zest Business Consulting. "We all work so hard that it's becoming important for us to feel relaxed in our time off, which might include living in a place that we really enjoy," she says.
If more entrepreneurs thought about it, they'd see that relocating makes sense for several reasons. First of all, smaller-town living is a lot cheaper and less hectic than being in the big city. The median house price in Amarillo, for instance, is $116,200, according to online real estate marketplace Zillow. That's about $300,000 less than what you'd find in Dallas, which is only five hours away, and about $540,000 than New York City's median price.
Smaller cities are also easier to get around and the pace is more relaxed, which helps with work-life balance, says David Terry, director of entrepreneurial outreach for Amarillo's WT Enterprise Center, a combination incubator, co-working space, and business accelerator. "Amarillo in particular is an extraordinarily welcoming community, with a vibrant arts scene, eye-popping scenery--the Palo Duro Canyon is a local favorite--and an in-this-together attitude," says Terry. "Everyone plays in the same sandbox. It's a community where everyone wants you to win."
The business community in many smaller cities can be more welcoming, too. In Amarillo, everyone wants to help their city thrive, and that might mean sharing resources, encouraging customers to work with fellow entrepreneurs, ensuring newcomers know the best schools and areas to live in, and more. "If you're a small-business owner in our community, you're going to get involved," says Terry.
Because of the low cost of living, the community support, and the vibrant business climate, Black has been able to grow Skilled Corp bigger than he ever could have imagined. His company now has 35 employees--all from Amarillo, though there are still sales people back in Dayton--and operates in 28 states. On top of that, Black has started a mortgage firm, an aviation company, and a real estate investment operation, and he just sold a consulting firm that was doing all its work in the city.
Relocating is not without its challenges, of course. Black said it felt like starting from scratch from a staffing perspective. He also had to endure criticism from people who couldn't understand why he was moving.
On the other hand, he still had plenty of clients who didn't care where he lived. So long as he was able to meet their needs, that was all that mattered.
The bottom line is that it has worked out better than he could have expected. "It's been one of the best decisions I've ever made," he says. "I needed a strong staff and a good community. It was a home run for me."