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The 100 best places to live and launch

100 great towns that will feed your soul and nurture your business.

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(FORTUNE Small Business) -- When Peter Gompert, 36, tired of life in sprawling Phoenix, he simply packed up and headed for Boise, which turned out to be the perfect place to launch his software service company. When Nelson Komaiko, 59, could no longer take the Chicago winters, he crafted a list of priorities, such as a warm climate and no state income tax. Komaiko wound up in the Dallas area, where he now owns a tax consulting firm.

Nearly 40 million Americans move every year, seeking a better job, a bigger or smaller house, nicer weather, or quality schools for their children. Nowadays U.S. entrepreneurs have a particular incentive to be mobile. While the digital revolution may have flattened the earth, it has also prompted new appreciation for the pleasures of real local life. Now that broadband communication and widespread, relatively inexpensive air travel have transformed many beautiful but remote spots into viable business hubs, there's less reason to sacrifice lifestyle on the altar of entrepreneurial success. If you're surgically attached to a cellphone and a keyboard during working hours, it's all the more crucial for sanity's sake that the natural surroundings soothe and the downtown energizes.

We scoured the country for towns that combine a great business environment with alluring leisure opportunities. Topping our list of the 100 best places to live and launch a business: Bellevue, Wash. Just outside Seattle, it boasts a burgeoning tech industry, as well as the pristine beauty of Lake Washington and the Cascade Mountains. It's no wonder that Earl Overstreet, one of many entrepreneurs profiled in this package, loves to run his computer-system supply business there.

We built our list by assessing economic conditions, such as local tax rates and startup activity, alongside natural beauty, affordable housing, and easy access to such diversions as museums and hungry gamefish. We also pushed past the statistics and interviewed local entrepreneurs, city officials, and economic experts.

We zeroed in on towns with growing economies and some local gem that offers a respite at the end of a long day, whether it's great hiking within minutes of downtown (as in the case of Manchester, N.H., No. 13) or the intellectual stimulation of a respected university (Iowa City, No. 21). Those advantages are explored in the place profiles here, chosen from up and down the list to offer a diverse selection. You'll find information about the top 100 places on our list and much more at money.cnn.com/magazines/fsb/bestplaces.

Our list tells the story of our times. With energy markets booming, the Houston area (Stafford, No. 36) emerges on the list's top half, while beautiful Sarasota enters only at No. 90 as the result of the Florida real estate bust. Three decades into the computer revolution, it's no surprise that high-tech clusters such as Bellevue and Boise (No. 19; see "The call of the mountains") rank near the top; less expected is the appearance of Bethlehem, Pa. (No. 58), which declined with the demise of Bethlehem Steel but has reinvented itself as a digital hub-thanks, in part, to a resource-rich university.

Still, no list can tell the whole story. Finding your best place means exploring personal likes and dislikes, not just surveying what the country has to offer. So check out the full list on our site - you just may discover that Colchester, Vt., No. 100, with its icy winters but flourishing tech community and terrific sailing, is in fact your perfect place. To top of page

Check out FSB's full list of the 100 Best Places to Live and Launch - and stop by our forum to share your thoughts on our selections.
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