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20. Raleigh, N.C.
Population: 316,978
Pros: Thriving tech industry, central location amid major research and business centers
Con: Raleigh's infrastructure is struggling to keeping up with its population growth

North Carolina's capital has a growing tech industry, thanks in part to its close proximity to Research Triangle Park, a business campus that fosters the growth of tech, biotech and pharmaceutical research companies, among others. Within its city limits, Raleigh is experiencing an expansion of two niche industries: digital gaming, and non-woven textile manufacturing.

Raleigh takes entrepreneurship seriously: 20 regional organizations provide guidance and financial support to small-business owners. Entrepreneurial enclaves are even starting to spawn in some of Raleigh's suburbs, such as Garner and Holly Springs. The state has introduced an income tax credit that encourages private investors to fund growing companies and offers matching grants to small firms that receive federal funding through the Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer programs. Entrepreneurs also like the fact that Raleigh has no local income tax.

Wake County is the fastest growing area in North Carolina, but Raleigh's infrastructure is having a hard time keeping up with its population growth: the city is feverishly working to expand a number of two-lane roads that now attract highway-level traffic. But one area that welcomes drivers is Raleigh's downtown, which has become more car-friendly as it undergoes a $2.5-billion renaissance. The City of Oaks has a healthy offering of museums, performing arts and golf courses, and is conveniently nestled between the Blue Ridge Mountains and the beaches of the Carolina coast. -Brandi Stewart

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Last updated July 02 2008: 11:16 AM ET
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