I lived in or near cities for 30 years because that’s where the jobs are. I left southwestern Pennsylvania in 1977 as the closing of coal mines and steel mills wrecked the local economy. It cost almost $1,000 per semester to attend the state college, many times that for the state university. There were no opportunities for a young person. I moved to California where residents received free tuition at state universities. I earned 2 college degrees in California and advanced my career from Prudential Insurance through the Federal Reserve Bank and to the Pacific Stock Exchange. When the stock exchange closed my subsidiary, I was hired by the Depository Trust Company and moved to New York. Working in the city gave me the opportunity to further advance my career and my education. In 2000 I graduated with a PhD in economics and was hired by a think-tank in Santa Monica. In 30 years, I moved cross-continent 3 times, worked in 5 countries on 4 continents, and earned 3 college degrees.
In 2004, I started my own business in Santa Monica to provide research and consulting in economics and finance. I attended a lot of local networking meetings for the financial services industry, chambers of commerce, economic development groups, etc. After 3 years, my business was proving quite successful, but I didn’t have any clients in Southern California. My clients were in Houston, New York, Washington DC, Chicago, London, Cairo and Taiwan. It occurred to me that I didn’t need to live in or near a city anymore. I might be able to work from anywhere that had phones and internet access.
In May 2007, I went to Honolulu for 5 days. The time difference allowed me to work in the morning, answering emails and writing research reports. In the afternoon, I took conference calls on the beach and set up business meetings in DC for the end of the month. Pretty cool. In August 2007, I considered a job in Santa Barbara and that was the jumping off point. I didn’t take the job but I realized I could leave Santa Monica. I spent five or six months looking around in Southern California before I realized I couldn’t afford to expand there. I couldn’t increase revenue without getting more office space and bringing on staff; and I couldn’t afford the office space and staff without increasing the revenue. Call it the SoCal Catch-22: it’s just too expensive to do business there.
In December 2007 I started looking around for a city with a lower cost base and an educated workforce. I have relatives and siblings spread around the country, so it could be any one of a dozen cities that have universities, military bases and research hospitals. I was looking for a city that understands that small-businesses are the fundamental driver of economic development. I found it in Omaha. Because my clients are outside the area, my small business also provides a layer of insulation to the local economy.
Omaha has several universities, including the University of Nebraska and Creighton University. Offutt Air Force Base, home of Strategic Command (and the bunker where they secured the President on 9/11) is in Sarpy County, just twenty minutes to the south. Omaha ranked #22 by CNNMoney for best places to live and launch a business. The “Nebraska Advantage” tax incentives reach down to businesses of my size. By investing $75,000 and creating 2 jobs, my business receives tax incentives that can be used to recover sales tax and/or to offset my personal income taxes.
Instead of a 6 hour flight from Los Angeles, I can reach my New York clients with a non-stop flight under three hours. I’m still only twenty minutes from the airport. For what I was paying just for a residence in Santa Monica, I have a residence, a 3-office suite and 2 assistants in Omaha. That means I can grow my business. As my business grows, the local economy will come with it.