The old adage "location is everything" is truer than it's ever been for pizzerias looking to start or expand in this age of 10 percent unemployment. There are enclaves of reprieve, however, and some of them are in the most unlikely places. For example, you might guess that Texas's large, insular economy and comparatively favorable tax system makes it a great place to do business. But you might not know that North Dakota is among the states with unemployment rates closer to what you'd see in "normal times" – 4 to 6 percent as of October 2009.
Of course, a highly employed state is one whose members have more disposable income, one of the biggest factors we took into account when compiling this list of best places to expand your pizza shop in 2009/2010. Texas dominated the upper echelons of many of the "best places for business" lists we examined. The state also received recommendations from operators we tapped for feedback and from the U.S. Census Bureau's numbers on a bevy of economic indicators. No wonder Cici's Pizza, Gatti's Pizza and the quickly expanding DoubleDave's Pizzaworks are among the top 100 in the industry to call the state home. Read on for more winners.
Austin, Texas – This mid-sized metropolis in Central Texas snagged the No. 1 spot because there's not a growth or hot list in 2009 in which the city hasn't been ranked among the top 10. In recent "best cities for jobs" list, Austin has been No. 8 in Kiplinger and 6 on Forbes'. That means more disposable income for meals out. But the host of the world-famous South by Southwest multimedia conference also has an eclectic mix of culture-savvy people. Residents include families and professionals drawn to the technological startups in this Silicon Valley of the South. Young citizens from the area's many colleges, including the University of Texas at Austin – one of the largest universities in the nation – also boost the population. Family friendly fast casual pizzerias and campus-ready pizza truck startups should take note.
Grand Forks, N.D. – Surprised North Dakota is on the list? The chilly city has actually enjoyed some of the smallest hiccups of our recent depression. North Dakota has come out above all other states in personal income growth this year. The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis said personal income grew to 8.7 percent in the state in the second quarter of the year. Why Grand Forks? That city has enjoyed salary growth at an unprecedented 16 percent. But it's also home to the eager palates of the University of North Dakota's students. The namesake local Air Force Base gives restaurateurs the opportunity to enter a new restaurant growth market: Military installation dining.
Boulder-to-Denver, Colo., corridor – It's no wonder that industry-dominating Chipotle was founded in the state – it's a mecca of innovation and eco-friendliness. Perhaps that's because of its highly educated workforce. Forbes called Denver and Boulder the 14th and 20th best places, respectively, for business and careers this year, and Boulder the No.1 for educational attainment (university restaurant operators take note). Colorado is also among the top 10 states with favorable business tax laws, according to the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council.
The state also is home to one of the biggest craft and microbrewery markets, a growing American industry. Eco- and beer-friendly chains like Brixx Pizza or Naked Pizza would do well to keep their eyes here.
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Plano, Texas – Many corporate headquarters dot this wealthy Dallas enclave: Frito-Lay, Dr Pepper Snapple Group and high-tech Siemens subsidiary UGS are among the companies that call the suburb home. But its high-paid executives spend their big bucks in the big city because of a still relatively underserved entertainment landscape.
The U.S. Census Bureau called Plano the wealthiest city in the nation in 2008. Forbes also deemed the locale the last great "reloville" – place to which people relocate for corporations – in the nation. If you're looking for a place to serve the tastebuds of wined and dined executives – say, the California Pizza Kitchen kind – look no further.
Houston, Texas – None other than Pizza Hut founder-turned-Papa John's major franchisee Frank Carney has called Houston a top 20 market in this economic downturn: He said his Papa John's stores in the area have done phenomenally this year (with the help of a good partner, of course). Forbes recently ranked the Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown area as the 8th fastest recovering city in the nation – mainly due to the incredible value area homes still possess, which draws transplants from the world around. That influx has helped the city add 500,000 jobs in the last five years. But do research thoroughly before deciding where to place your concept in this competitive restaurant town. There's likely a specific neighborhood for many concepts.