In the past, creatives and freelancers looking to make it on their own turned to the Holy Trinity of New York, Los Angeles, or San Francisco. But rising rents, state taxes, and other general cost of living increases have made it harder to survive in these cities, driving many freelancers to look for other options.
This shift has been a boon for smaller U.S. cities looking to attract a more diverse, more creative, and more flexible workforce to add some spice to their economies. By offering opportunities and a quality of life that is no longer possible in New York or LA, many of these cities are now poised to enter the world stage.
Here are nine cities to consider if you want to make it as a freelancer in 2018.
By Yinan Chen (www.goodfreephotos.com (gallery, image)) [Public Domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Average rent (2 bedroom apartment): $1,096/month*
Job growth in 2017: 1.59%**
When combined with The Woodlands and Sugar Land, Houston has one of the largest metropolitan areas in the country. Add to that cheap rent, a pretty solid economy, and the fact that the area is home to a huge number of Fortune 500 companies, and you’ve got a pretty heady cocktail of opportunity for the enterprising freelancer. The icing on the cake here is the fact that there are no state income taxes in Texas. If this comes as a shock, perhaps it’s time to move into a different tax bracket!
Thousand Oaks-Ventura-Oxnard CA
Average rent (2 bedroom apartment): $1,950/month
Job growth in 2017: 2.12%
With rents and house prices continuing to rise in Los Angeles, many middle and lower income people are starting to look to cities like Las Vegas, NV, or Portland, OR for a lower cost of living. The good news is, you may not have to travel that far! For freelancers, it can be important to be close to the action. The Thousand Oaks-Ventura-Oxnard area gives you easy access to all the benefits of LA (it’s just an hour’s drive) and the coastal lifestyle with rents much lower than many places in LA. (For a two bedroom apartment in beachside Santa Monica, the average rent is a staggering $4,215, compared to half that in Ventura.)
Average rent (2 bedroom apartment): $1,396/month
Job growth in 2017: 2.2%
Austin is the fourth largest city in Texas, and along with a thriving food, music, art and culture scenes, it has become something of hub for young urban professionals in the tech industry. With many major events like the Freelancers Conference and South X Southwest, there are plenty of opportunities to network with industry rockstars (or even real rockstars) and keep up on cutting edge trends, without the added costs of cities like San Francisco or New York.
By Eric Fredericks (Flickr: CIMG4419) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Long Beach, CA
Average rent (2 bedroom apartment): $2,184/month
Job growth in 2017: 0.8%
While confusion over whether Long Beach is a suburb of LA or a city in its own right (it’s a city!) often leads to it being overlooked, this thriving part of Southern California is a little more urban and sophisticated than you might expect. In fact, it has a high concentration of self-employed workers on par with cities like San Francisco, an active startup scene, and some of the best street tacos in the country. While the short commute to LA and amazing whether are nice advantages, it is still relatively expensive.
By dconvertini (Nashville, Tennessee, USA) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Average rent (2 bedroom apartment): $1,304/month
Job growth in 2017: 2.72%
Although best known for its country music scene, there’s a lot more going on in Nashville than meets the eye. Recently there have been large investments in the city’s tech industry, with a focus on health care IT. The city also has a number of incubator programs such as the Nashville Entrepreneur Center (supported by Google) and the Nashville Business Incubation Center (a project of Tennessee State University) that are fostering growth across a number of industries like music tech, health care, and publishing.
Average rent (2 bedroom apartment): $1,628/month
Job growth in 2017: 0.98%
With a low unemployment rate and high-paying, high tech industries like aerospace, Denver has become a magnet for job seekers and freelancers looking to escape the higher cost of living on the West Coast. Other factors, like the legalization of marijuana in Colorado, have also had an effect, leading to job creation, along with new opportunities for entrepreneurs.
By Flickr user: Anne Hornyak Chicago, Illinois http://www.annehornyak.com [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Average rent (2 bedroom apartment): $2,193/month
Job growth in 2017: 2.37%
America’s coffee capital, Seattle is home many large companies like Starbuck’s, Redfin, Zillow, and Microsoft, and it also has one of the highest concentrations of small businesses per capita in the U.S. While rent isn’t quite as cheap as some cities on this list, there is plenty of arts and culture to keep you creatively stimulated, and its tech startup scene is nipping at the heels of Silicon Valley.
By Evilarry at English Wikipedia (Original text: David Selby) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Average rent (2 bedroom apartment): $1319/month
Job growth in 2017: 2.41%
With a booming construction industry, a low cost of living, and the 9th biggest metropolitan area in the U.S. (with the world’s busiest airport), Atlanta’s bustling economy has plenty of room for entrepreneurial minds looking to make a buck. There’s also been a lot of hype in recent years about the city’s booming tech scene, with some arguing that Atlanta is poised to become one of the U.S.’s biggest “tech Meccas.”
Jörn Menninger at the German language Wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons
Average rent (2 bedroom apartment): $1234/month
Job growth in 2017: 2.65%
The Dallas Fort-Worth area is currently experiencing a boom in tech jobs, and its thriving startup scene is being hyped to take on cities like Seattle, and even Silicon Valley itself. With one of the biggest airports in the world, an affordable cost of living, and a diverse, pro-business community, Dallas is well on the way to becoming a heavy economic hitter. Culturally, it’s not all rodeos and football, Dallas also features a vibrant arts scene and a growing number of world-class restaurants and bars.
* Average market rent as of December 2017 as reported by rentcafe.com
**Jobs growth between October 2016 and October 2017 as reported by the Bureau of Labour Statistics