By Kalli Damschen
Business is booming in Waco, with over 400 new businesses starting in the area within the last three months alone.
Forbes ranked Waco 53rd on a list of the 100 best small places to start a business. In recent years, job growth in Waco has been on the rise, with unemployment steadily decreasing. Many new businesses are coming into the area and setting up shop.
“We’ve been very lucky that the growth has not segmented to just one area,” said Whitney Richter, business development and marketing manager for the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce. “Across the board, the county is seeing growth.”
The Greater Waco Chamber reports that unemployment in Waco has decreased from 5.2 percent in December 2013 to 4.1 percent in March 2015. According to Forbes, job growth in Waco was 0.9 percent in 2013, and the projected annual job growth has increased to 2.9 percent.
“There’s a lot of opportunities to start businesses here,” said Steve Surguy, director of the McLennan Small Business Development Center. “There’s a lot of growth in downtown Waco, particularly with the expansion of Baylor. It provides a lot of opportunities for small businesses to get in on the ground floor.”
Small business owners are drawn to the area for a variety of reasons including Waco’s prime location in Central Texas, the growing population and the “talent pipeline” of students coming out of educational institutions such as Baylor, Richter said.
Richter also said there are some benefits to establishing businesses in smaller communities, compared to expansive cities like Dallas and Austin.
“We don’t have the transportation congestion problems like the major markets have,” she said. “You’re able to get the publicity or marketing you need to grow and be a community-based business.”
Richter said the affordability of the greater Waco area also makes Waco a desirable location for small businesses.
“It’s an area for a low cost of doing business, as well as a low cost of living,” Richter said.
Waco has a number of community resources to help businesses start such as McLennan Small Business Development Center, Maker’s Edge and Thinc Space. McLennan SBDC offers resources, training, business mentorship and technical assistance to small businesses in McLennan County.
Maker’s Edge is a makerspace, or a community center that provides manufacturing equipment and tools for a membership fee.
Thinc Space fosters startups and entrepreneurs in the community and describes itself as “part incubator, part community gathering place and part professional support network.” It is also the headquarters for the Baylor Accelerated Ventures program.
“Overall, it’s very much the community-based focus that helps businesses thrive here,” Richter said.
Thriving businesses in Waco can benefit the community in a number of ways, said Gib Reynolds. Reynolds graduated from Baylor with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and then went on to receive a master’s degree in business administration. He is now an adjunct lecturer at Baylor, where he works with the Accelerated Ventures program.
“With every new business that comes or opens a new location, there are more jobs being created,” Reynolds said.
Development in Waco can bring more traffic into the area, which also benefits already established businesses. Additionally, more businesses Waco adds to the diversity and opportunities available in the city.
“For someone in Waco, especially when you look at the growth of restaurants, it adds more variety and options,” Reynolds said.
With the continued development of the community in Waco, the future looks bright for businesses in the area.
“As the Waco community continues to grow, the opportunities for small business to grow along with it is there,” Surguy said.