Are you trying to figure out where to live--or, even more important, where to start a business? Climate, culture, and proximity to others in your industry and/or investors are all great things to consider. But cost of living may be even more important.
San Francisco has been a magnet for startup founders and venture capitalists, but in the last few years I've lost count of the entrepreneurs I know who moved away because of the expense. The same thing is also happening in New York City, where I grew up. (I left after a disastrous marriage, but the priciness kept me from ever considering moving back.)
Choosing a lower-cost location can make a big difference when getting a new business off the ground. For one thing, whatever funding you have to start with, you'll get a longer "runway" in a place where everything from rent to insurance to groceries to gas is more affordable. If you're still not convinced, consider that many successful businesses, including Zappos, got extra mileage from starting in a lower cost locale.
And if you're wondering where that is, the federal government recently came out with some very helpful research that literally measures where in the United States a dollar buys the most, and where it buys the least. Using $100 as a yardstick, the Bureau of Economic Analysis identified states where it would cost $115 or more for $100 worth of goods, and also some where that $100 worth of products would only cost $90 or less. Consider whether any of these lower-cost states would make sense for you:
Mississippi is the lowest cost state in the nation, according to the BEA: You can get $100 worth of goods for only $86.70 there, according to the BEA. The state flag actually incorporates the Confederate "stars and bars," despite having the highest African-American population of any state. If that doesn't scare you though, Mississippi is a good place for manufacturing (Nissan builds some models there), agriculture, and tourism or entertainment, buoyed by the state's legalized gambling.
You can get $100 worth of goods for $87.50 in Arkansas, according to the BEA. According to CNBC, this state has the second-lowest cost of doing business in the nation. It has traditionally had high unemployment, which is bad news if you're looking for a job, but good news if you're looking to hire.
In Alabama, you can get $100 worth of goods for $87.80, the BEA says. The state has grown in automotive manufacture, as well as aerospace and electronics, especially since NASA operates a space flight center there. Iron, steel, paper, and other wood products are also big industries there.
4. South Dakota
Tourism is a big industry in this state, where you can buy $100 worth of stuff for $88, according to the BEA. Mount Rushmore, Deadwood (a carefully restored historic city) and the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally bring hundreds of thousands of visitors a year.
This is obviously the state for you if you're a bourbon fan, and you'll be able to buy $100 worth of goods for $88.70 here, according to the BEA. It's known as the "Bluegrass State" because a lot of bluegrass grows in its fertile soil, making it a great place for raising horses, goats, and other livestock.
6. West Virginia
A hundred dollars worth of goods costs $88.90 here, according to the BEA. The state is known as the "Mountain State" for its rolling mountains and its cave systems which draw both spelunkers and scientific researchers. Skiing, whitewater rafting, and other outdoor sports are abundant here.
You can get $100 of goods for $89.30 in Ohio, according to the BEA. If you can handle a little lake-effect snow, Cleveland is a gorgeous and cosmopolitan city that boasts the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (or "Rock Hall" as locals call it). The state also has robust manufacturing and financial sectors and unlike some of the other low-cost states rates high in education as well, with three of the top 100 colleges in the country located here, according to U.S. News & World Report.
In Missouri, you can get $100 worth of goods for $89.40, according to the BEA. Aerospace is a growing industry here, as are transportation and chemicals, but also publishing/printing and beer. The geographical center of the U.S. population also falls in this state, making it a good choice for shipping to consumers nationwide.
Oklahoma has had one of the fastest growing economies of all the states in the past few years, but you can still get $100 worth of goods for $90.10, the BEA says. Aviation, biotech, and telecom are all big industries here, as well as energy, since the state is a major producer of natural gas.
There are a lot of great reasons for starting a business in Tennessee, but one of them is that you can get $100 worth of goods for $90.20 here, according to the BEA. If your startup involves music in any way--or if you just love music--this is the state for you. Tennessee is among the top ten destinations in the U.S., with visitors from the world coming to Graceland, the Grand Ole Opry, Ryman Auditorium, and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Most expensive places.
So where does your dollar buy you the least value? The most expensive state, according to the BEA, is the District of Columbia, where $100 worth of goods will cost you $118.10. This may reflect the fact that DC is comprised entirely of a major city, while other states have more rural and lower-cost areas to balance high urban prices.
Second priciest is Hawaii, where $100 of stuff costs $116.80, perhaps because it must be shipped in from far away. Then come the usual suspects: New York, New Jersey, and California, where $100 of goods cost $115.70, $114.50, and $112.40, respectively.
Keep these numbers in mind when deciding where to live--and where to start a business.