Forbes ranks Winchester 53rd in business

By Ryan Cornell

Forbes.com has named Winchester as one of the best small places in the U.S. for businesses and careers.

Winchester placed 53rd out of 184 of the nation’s smaller cities — populations ranging from 54,800 to 257,600 — and was ranked third in Virginia, behind Blacksburg (39) and Harrisonburg (43)

Leading the list was Sioux Falls, S.D., Fargo, N.D., and Manhattan, Kansas.

According to the website, 12 metrics were considered for the rankings, including those related to job growth, educational attainment, income growth over the past five years, projected economic growth through 2014 and the costs of living and business.

The apple capital owns real estate on other Forbes lists, ranking 68th in job growth, 70th in education and 136th in the cost of doing business.

Bill Sirbaugh, executive director of the Lord Fairfax Small Business Development Center, said the Winchester metropolitan area was able to dodge the recession pretty well.

“It doesn’t surprise me at all,” he said about the high ranking. “When I look at statistics for the center, we see a lot of interest in activity here.”

He said the center had an average of 300 clients in 2010 and 2011 and fielded about 1,000 inquiries through phone calls and emails in each of those years. He said they saw a 30 percent increase in interest in 2012, with 427 clients and 1,351 inquiries.

Sirbaugh said Winchester’s central location on Route 50 and Interstate 81 make it a prime spot for business.

“There’s not much difference going to Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C.,” he said. “When you’re in Frederick County, you’re within three hours of a major part of the population of the country.”

He said the city will become even better for business as land to the east of Winchester is developed and the metropolitan area grows. Blacksburg and Harrisonburg are listed higher because of their universities, he said, but Winchester can attract more prestige along with its university, too.

“As Shenandoah University grows, I think our visibility is going to grow as well,” he said, adding that the county could take a more aggressive approach on marketing itself.

According to Sirbaugh, the area is especially fertile for small businesses. He said 86.6 percent of businesses in the Northern Shenandoah Valley have fewer than 20 employees, while 97.9 percent have fewer than 100 employees.

“We’re on the leading edge,” he said. “We’re where it’s going to happen.”

Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rcornell@nvdaily.com