MSA: Hattiesburg, MS
Best places ranking: #9 among small metro areas
Hattiesburg prides itself on a long-standing tradition of entrepreneurship — a legacy it’s working to carry forward by supporting companies in expanding industries and encouraging young, educated workers to stay in the city.
In 2005, Hattiesburg’s Area Development Partnership and the University of Southern Mississippi (USM) opened Business Launchpoint, an incubator that supports small businesses with high growth potential. A half-dozen companies are located within the incubator, and a previous tenant, Town Square Design Co., was acquired by Eco-Systems Inc. in March.
Hattiesburg has a large pool of young talent thanks to USM, William Carey University and two area community colleges. One of Hattiesburg’s biggest challenges is creating an atmosphere that encourages recent college graduates to stay in town while catering to the area’s significant retired population — an issue that business leaders are studying.
Small-business owners in Hattiesburg say they enjoy year-round warm weather, arts and recreation opportunities, a low cost of living and affordable real estate. Hattiesburg, which is known as "Hub City," is also within a couple hours drive of cities such as New Orleans and Jackson, Miss. — a big perk for companies selling goods and services out of town.
Despite a local unemployment rate that hit 8.9% in July, Hattiesburg’s small businesses have held steady through the recession. While area customers have been more cautious with their money, shop owners say they see customers returning to mom-and-pop stores where they have established relationships. -Sheena Harrison