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Jax Daily Record Thursday, Oct. 26, 201707:00 AM EST

The Cawton Report: Yelp ranks city No. 2 for business opportunity

Report author says affordable rent helps separate Jacksonville from other cities.
by: David Cawton Staff Writer

After charting economic opportunity for small businesses across the country, the author of a Yelp report said the company wants to expand its focus to what makes economies tick on a local level. 

The report, released last week, listed the top 50 cities that provide the best economic opportunity for new businesses, based on Yelp’s website reviews, interactions and other data it collected from July-September. 

It also takes into consideration how existing businesses are faring and how that data has changed from the same time a year ago. 

Jacksonville ranked second behind Charlotte, North Carolina, Orlando, Miami and Tampa made the top 20. 

The report’s data editor, Carl Bialik, said now that the first report has been released, “it’s time to start dialing down to each of these cities,” since the rankings lack a level of specificity. 

“It’s hard to get too specific beyond what we’ve released so far,” said Bialik when asked about Jacksonville. 

“What we do know about Jacksonville is that the Riverside neighborhood seems to be the most improved area for new businesses to locate to,” he said.  

Bialik said Jacksonville scored high in most of the top 10 business categories Yelp used in the rankings, primarily the food and medical categories. 

The categories were restaurants, nightlife, beauty and spas, event planning and services, health and medical, automotive, food, shopping, home services and active life businesses. 

He said Jacksonville outranked other Florida cities, “mainly because we found that rent was more affordable.” 

“However, the gap between Jacksonville at No. 2 and Orlando at No. 4 is not very wide at all,” Bialik said. 

He said Florida cities are more competitive because there’s no state income tax.

Like other cities on the list, the data set includes information collected from all municipalities within a 33-mile radius of Jacksonville. 

“I think the next step is to look at how maybe the Beaches or St. Augustine, in the case of Jacksonville, compares to the bigger hub,” he said.  

The study found “there’s particular strength in the Southeast, as more Americans move from Northeast metro areas to warmer cities.” 

Bialik said large cities like New York, San Francisco and Boston tend to be the toughest places to start a new business, “with higher rents and wage demands.” 

“In a place where there’s already a dense business community, it can be harder to start a new business, than say a place that has a lot of room to grow,” he said. 

Bialik said that while Yelp is probably best known as a site to review restaurants, “we have an enormous data set that reaches far beyond that.” 

He said the study takes into consideration how customers interact with businesses on the website when they look for directions, send a direct message or make a reservation or an appointment. He said some customers don’t make reviews at all. 

“We’ve been doing this since 2004 and we have more than 100 million reviews, and way more than that when it comes to interactions,” he said. “It’s an ongoing project.” 

Money approved to speed Hart Bridge ramp removal

City Council members approved $1.5 million to begin removing the exit ramps connecting the Hart Bridge to Downtown. 

The money is for surveying, geotechnical investigations and preparation of a design criteria package to make the project “shovel-ready.”

The city is vying for a $25 million infrastructure grant from the federal government to offset some of the costs. 

If approved, Mayor Lenny Curry said the Florida Department of Transportation has agreed to split the remaining $25 million for the project with the city after completing a study earlier this year. 

“The FDOT study found that removing these ramps would make it easier to carry freight to the port, and because of that, we now qualify for this grant,” Curry said Wednesday at a JAX Chamber Arlington Council meeting. 

Council approved the expenditure at its meeting Tuesday.

Curry said the city and two other Florida municipalities applied for the grant. 

“In the near future, I’m sure I’m going to have to head to Washington, D.C., to fight for that money,” Curry said. 

If approved, the project could take 30-36 months to complete. 

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