How to judge whether a city fits your business

So you're thinking of moving your company or starting a business in a location that's new to you. Before you hire the moving vans, take time to examine the place. We've compiled a list of the key issues to keep in mind when you're deciding whether a new city is right for you.

1. Workforce. In today's labor-tight, knowledge-based economy, this is far and away the single most important factor to examine, according to relocation experts and several executives who have recently moved their companies. "If the location doesn't support your ability to recruit and retain a world-class workforce, everything else is secondary," says Dennis J. Donovan, a principal at the Wadley-Donovan Group, a New Jersey-based relocation consulting firm.

Will your company be able to offer employees salaries and benefits that are competitive in the region? If not, you may not be able to recruit the best talent. Remember that people often have families. Is the local economy deep enough and diverse enough to support careers for employees' spouses? How is the quality of life in the area? How are the schools?

2. Sources of funding. "Venture capital is a contact sport," says Daniel Malachuk, director of business-location services at Arthur Andersen. "Be near sources of financing." Is there a venture-capital or angel-investor community in the region? Is there a network of lawyers, accountants, or other professionals that can help you develop a business plan and market it to potential investors? Are there formal and informal networking opportunities in town? Are low-cost loans available from banks and other lending institutions?

3. Economic-development incentives. Does the city or state you're looking at have aggressive policies -- including tax incentives and low-cost loans -- to recruit and retain businesses in your industry or start-ups in general? "Be on the lookout for places that have developed economic strategies for attracting the kind of business you're in," says Malachuk.

4. Transportation. Air service is particularly important in today's economy. How many flights go into and out of the nearest airport? Is there a hub airport nearby, making it easy for customers and clients to get to you?

Manufacturers should check out trucking routes and other transportation needs that support their companies' logistics. What will it cost to get the supplies you need to your new location and to ship your product to your customers? Will you be able to deliver your product at a competitive price?