Riding a surge in population and tourism, Las Vegas topped the nation in small business growth from 1998 through 2003, according to a new report.

The Nevada city saw its number of small businesses expand from 46,170 in 1998 to 73,163 in 2003, an increase of 58.5 percent, according to the State of Small Business Report by Sales Genie, a database company. The report ranked the rate of small business growth among the 100 largest US metropolitan areas during the six-year period.

Riverside, California came in a distant second, posting a growth rate of 39.2 percent during the same time frame. Florida claimed the next seven spots on the list, with Fort Lauderdale, Daytona Beach, Melbourne, West Palm Beach, Sarasota, Orlando and Fort Myers all posting growth rates of over 33 percent. Overall, the report showed that Florida, California, Texas, and the Carolinas accounted for 30 of the top 50 markets for growth of small businesses, defined as companies with between one and 500 employees.

Giovanni Coratolo, director of small business policy for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, attributed some of the growth to local business conditions, noting that efforts by state and local governments can have a profound impact on the number of small businesses and their survival rate.

"Fundamentals like regulation, tort reform, taxes, and a business-friendly climate always matter," Coratolo said in the report. "Entrepreneurs will try to eliminate as much downside risk as possible when choosing where to locate their next venture."

While small business growth remained mostly steady from 1998 through 2002, the report noted that the 100 cities actually lost a combined 46,000 small businesses between 2002 and 2003, with 55 cities registering a decline. Among the nation's 25 largest markets with 100,000 small businesses or more, only seven showed growth every year from 2000 through 2003. Four were in California -- Los Angeles, Orange County, Riverside and San Diego -- while the others were St. Louis, Tampa and Washington D.C.

On average, the report said that number of small businesses in the nation's top 100 metropolitan areas grew by 18.6 percent. Buffalo, New York placed last in the report with an overall growth rate of 0.5 percent.