Top 10 U.S. and International Cities Poised for Growth

Whether you are looking to move operations to pro-business locations with low barriers to entry or seeking to meet customer demands in growing markets, your mid-sized business needs to seek out places that share certain characteristics: thriving local economies, an availability of educated workers, a favorable tax and regulatory climate, quality infrastructure, and a high quality of life. Consider the ten cities listed below. All offer many opportunities while being relatively bereft of the restrictive taxes and regulations that can choke growth.

These cities - half in the U.S. and half outside it - combine growing economies and low barriers to entry. These are the types of places you should look when you are looking to expand your midsize business.

Charlotte, North Carolina. This Southern city is home to the headquarters of Bank of America and has a long tradition of low taxes and a pro-business climate. Devastated decades ago by the loss of the textile industry, Charlotte has recovered strongly and is now headquarters to seven Fortune 500 companies. It has also seen massive growth in population and is home to a highly educated workforce and a booming high-tech sector. Forbes recently named Charlotte among "The Best Big Cities for Jobs."

Melbourne, Australia. This booming Down Under port city of around 4 million people has a diverse, multicultural population; a vibrant culture; and is geographically located to take advantage of thriving trade with Asia, especially China and Japan. Melbourne has been named "the most livable city in the world" for three years running due to its unique balance of economic opportunity and quality of life. In addition to geographical advantage, Melbourne has a local government that welcomes new business.

Austin, Texas. This thriving city of nearly 1 million is home to both the Lone Star State's capital and its huge state university. It's also a business center with a strong record of innovation and a highly creative workforce. High-tech and scientific/medical research are booming in the Texas capital. Austin's culture is equally famous, renowned for its music scene and its Tex-Mex cuisine. Low taxes and a pro-business regulatory climate means Austin is business friendly, and the city's government works hard to keep it that way

Chengdu, China. Having experienced GDP growth rates of over 10 percent for the last year, China has undergone an economic miracle. This southwestern Chinese industrial city of some 14 million people, the fourth largest in China, has grown even faster than the Chinese average in recent years, due largely to manufacturing growth. Foreign trade has been a huge part of Chengdu's boom, as some 100 Fortune 500 companies are present in Chengdu. China's western center of logistics, commerce, financial services, research and technology, Chengdu is also home to a vibrant culture.

Boulder, Colorado. As The New York Times put it, "Boulder has reached this beautiful sweet spot, where it has many advantages of a university town - tech and talent and openness - but without many of the costs and traffic and congestion that may disadvantage incumbent centers of innovation." Boulder is also conveniently located near Denver and its hub airport, meaning it has both great logistics and a huge local market. Boulder is attractive for businesses, with moderate taxes and regulation and a city government that aggressively works with businesses.

Helsinki, Finland. In a nation that has the best education system in the world, Helsinki is famous for its business innovation. The city is also geographically linked to the growing Eastern European markets and has some of the world's best infrastructure. The city encourages new business and has a low level of bureaucracy. Helsinki shines through as a world-leader in public transparency  and clean government.

Seattle, Washington. Home to Microsoft, Amazon, Boeing, and Starbucks, Seattle is a leader in balancing a thriving business community with high quality of life. The city's economy grew by an impressive 9 percent in 2012, and future trends look good. Opportunities are plentiful in life sciences, high tech, manufacturing, clean energy, and healthcare. One of Seattle's many low barriers to entry is its openness. As one Seattle business owner told Inc. magazine: "One of the great things about Seattle . . . is that it's without pretension. The business community here is very open and they just let you in." 

Bangalore, India. This is India's version of Silicon Valley, a center of software development and the IT industry for this South Asian nation of over 1 billion people. There's so many talented, educated workers here that Google put a Research and Development Center in the city. Bangalore is also a manufacturing center. The city's low barriers to entry include its deep familiarity with western companies, English as its native tongue, comparatively low labor costs, and low-cost real estate.

Minneapolis, Minnesota. Home to both retailer Target and rock star Prince, Minneapolis is consistently ranked among the best U.S. cities for doing business. This Mississippi River city combines a diverse, thriving economy with a highly educated workforce and strong quality of life. Minnesota's level of business taxes are in the bottom third of the nation, and other low barriers to entry include relatively low energy/utility costs (see pg. 23) and high-quality logistics.

BogotÃ, Colombia. The recent U.S.-Colombia Trade Agreement has largely eliminated this thriving South American nation's import duties on U.S. products, making its capital city a great place to do business. The latest Global Cities Index also praises Bogotà for "improvements in infrastructure and reductions in instability and corruption." Colombia's diverse, burgeoning economy, centered in BogotÃ, is based on financial services, mining, manufacturing, oil and gas, and a burgeoning high-tech industry.

Boston-based Chuck Leddy is an NCMM contributor and freelance reporter who contributes regularly to The Boston Globe and Harvard Gazette. He also trains Fortune 500 executives in business-communication skills as an instructor for EF Education. Circle him on Google+