Does Columbus Make the Grade? Results Out on Small Business Friendliness Survey

Since 2012, has been putting a letter grade to small business friendliness across the U.S. The annual survey seeks feedback from thousands of entrepreneurs on the state and local public policies that affect their ability to start, operate, and grow a business.

When it comes to ‘Overall Friendliness,’ a B+ for the state of Ohio showed minor improvement over last year’s B, and put the state squarely in the middle of the pack, ranking 25 out of 50. For the first time since the inaugural survey, Columbus finds itself with average marks, dipping to a C- for ‘Overall Friendliness,’ down from a B in 2016, putting it at 66 out of the 80 cities ranked.

Why the low marks for Columbus? Looking at individual factors, two markers saw at least full letter grade drops: ‘Zoning’ plummeted to a D+ in 2017 from a B- in 2016, while ‘Ease of Hiring’ went from a B- in 2016 to a C- in 2017.

However, Columbus’ grade for ‘Employment, Labor & Hiring’ went from a B up to an A from 2016 to 2017. When it comes to ‘Ease of Hiring,’ the survey asked entrepreneurs if difficulty stemmed from factors like finding qualified workers or matching wages with employee expectations. ‘Employment, Labor & Hiring’ focused on how friendly or unfriendly the state or local government is with regard to employment, labor and hiring regulations. Could the discrepancy come from a skills gap?

Columbus did see a major improvement from its D grade in ‘Training and Networking Programs’ in 2016. Back up to a B+, only 33 percent of respondents had sought such programs, but of those that did, nearly 82 percent were satisfied with their experience, meaning that when opportunities are available, they are generally well-received.

A new category in 2017 asked entrepreneurs to grade government websites. Asking, “Have you used a government website to comply with regulations on your business or to learn information about operating a business in your community?” Columbus’ small business owners responded with a D+. Forty-five percent had used a government website and response was split between satisfactory, 26 percent, and unsatisfactory, 19 percent, experiences.

The city’s overall grades include:

Overall Friendliness: C-
Ease of Starting a Business: B+
Ease of Hiring: C-
Regulations: B-
Health & Safety: B
Employment, Labor & Hiring: A
Tax Code: B+
Licensing: B+
Environmental: B
Zoning: D+
Training & Networking Programs: B+
*New* Government Websites: D+ also measures monthly sentiment in the small business community.

Comments from small business owners indicate that many find themselves in industries that hinge on disposable income. When the economy is good and a client’s income is stable, they will spring for services like music lessons or personal training. Service providers like painters or landscapers that saw a tightening of the belt report some business coming back. However, a sudden loss or change of income normally means the loss of a client for many of these small business owners.

Entrepreneurs also share their top problems in a given month, with acquiring new customers and competition from other small businesses frequently landing at the top two spots.

At the state level, Ohio has shown a steady improvement in overall friendliness from 2012 to 2017 – a D+ to a B+. It was steady B’s across the board in the state, expect for ‘Ease of Starting a Business’ which was down to a C+ from a B in 2016. ‘Ease of hiring’ also appears to be a state-wide problem with a C- grade that’s down a full letter from 2016.

The state’s overall grades include:

Overall Friendliness: B+
Ease of Starting a Business: C+
Ease of Hiring: C-
Regulations: B
Health & Safety: B+
Employment, Labor & Hiring: B
Tax Code: B
Licensing: B
Environmental: B+
Zoning: B+
Training & Networking Programs: B-
*New* Government Websites: B-

For more information on the survey and its methodologies, visit click here.

Learn more about the Columbus results here and state results here