Leading a business in the heart of Silicon Valley forces you to think in a very specific way about what it means to be an entrepreneur. Around here, they’re a dime a dozen: young, sharp, venture-backed, full of big ideas and even bigger visions of how they will use technology to change the world. But in the cities and communities across America, true entrepreneurship takes on an entirely different meaning, and you only have to look as far as eBay’s seller community to see it come to life.
In the seven months I’ve been at eBay, I’ve talked to them every day: the full-time working mom that walked away from an accounting career to follow her dream of starting her own business; the Brooklyn guitar shop owner who saved his store by bringing it online; the Boulder-based cyclist who turned his passion for riding into a thriving international bike parts business. They are a constant source of inspiration, and they remind us that there are no entrepreneurs out there that are more hardworking and innovative than the small business owner.
Yet, the stories by themselves don’t tell the complete story. This year, we looked back into our data archive and made a powerful discovery: that despite widespread concerns of lagging job growth and new business creation, the U.S. has experienced a rise in budding – and sometimes surprising – entrepreneurial “hotspots” over the past four years. The diversity of these communities – ranging from rural areas to urban commercial hubs – indicate that access to capital and urban infrastructure are posing less of a barrier to entrepreneurship than they historically have. You can see an interactive map of these communities here: www.ebayinc.com/sellerhotspots.
Small Towns, Big Impact
We’re seeing the most significant growth coming from two of the least populous counties - Essex County, Vermont and Fulton County, Ohio.
These counties are first and second as entrepreneurial hotspots and are the home to the top per capita eBay seller activity in the U.S., based on a ranking of the top 20 U.S. counties by number of eBay small business and entrepreneur sellers and their sales measured on a per capita basis.
Suburbs Bursting with Small Business Activity
Things aren’t quiet in the suburbs either. The commuter counties of some of the country’s biggest metropolitan hubs are actually outpacing the activity within the big cities themselves. For example, in the Tri-state area around Manhattan: Rockland County, Kings County, Middlesex County and Bergen County all outpace Manhattan. And after spending the past 15 years in Atlanta, I was personally pleased to see Gwinnett County sneak into the Top 20 at #19.
The Entrepreneurial Spirit Is Thriving in Superhubs, Too
Bolstered by their large populations, the nation’s two biggest cities, Los Angeles and New York City, as well as the Tri-state region, are leading the country in online small businesses.
In terms of sheer volume, Los Angeles and New York are standouts, with Los Angeles as the biggest and most active region for eBay sellers in the U.S., and six counties in the New York Metropolitan Region making the Top 20 list.
New York City, the Tri-state region, Los Angeles and Orange County emerge as superhubs, showing that this phenomenon of people being commercially engaged in digital business spans from East to West across America.
Not far behind is Florida, especially the major suburbs around Miami, Tampa and Orlando. As a nascent Superhub of entrepreneurial activity, the activity here indicates that these three suburbs are fast approaching the level of seller activity of the Tri-state area and the Los Angeles basin.
Technology Has Leveled the Playing Field…and Opened up Borders
With access to technology, more sellers, regardless of their location, have the opportunity to start and grow their own businesses online. The top 20 seller counties are located in just 12 states, and while more populous states like Ohio, Florida, New York, Pennsylvania and California make the cut, less expected states like Vermont, New Jersey, Kentucky, Washington, North Dakota, Georgia and Oregon round out the list.
What is driving this growth? Not just access to consumers across the country, but access to the world. Our most recent data indicates that a whopping 97.2% of commercial sellers* in the U.S. sell overseas and 63.7% of them sell to four or more continents. In a technology-enabled world, borders are disintegrating faster and these small businesses have more opportunity than ever to reach consumers anywhere and everywhere…and they are doing it.
These numbers – and the stories behind them – give us something to applaud, honor, and support this weekend as we recognize Small Business Saturday: the heroes of the digital retail economy, popping up in the corners of America that you’d never expect.
*Commercial sellers are defined as those that do >$10,000 per year in eBay sales.