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3. Buford, Ga.
Population: 13,576
Pros: Affordable housing, scenic environment
Con: Aggressive competition for labor force

Safe neighborhoods, affordable real estate and a relaxed pace, along with easy access to major highways, draw Georgians to lakeside Buford, 35 miles northeast of Atlanta. Besides being home to an artist colony with 40 working painters, photographers, sculptors, and other creative types, Buford also draws entrepreneurs: about 30 new startups launch every month in this 16-square-mile city, according to Buford's occupational tax clerk.

As part of Gwinnett County, Buford is involved in the region's greater effort to develop its presence in industries such as healthcare, information technology, distribution and trade, and advanced communications. Depending on the business, owners may find tax exemptions (for instance, a 100% sales tax break for qualified manufacturing equipment), tax credits (such as the job tax credit for certain tech industries creating at least 25 jobs in a single year), and assistance in permit acquisition and hiring. Active small business organizations, such as the nonprofit Buford Business Alliance, bring member owners together for networking events and to promote tourism in the area.

Besides lakeside activities such as boating and fishing, the area downtown bustles with restaurants, boutiques, and art galleries. There's also the Mall of Georgia, the largest in the Southeast, with 15 million visitors a year. -Peter McDougall

Interactive map: Buford, Ga.
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Last updated July 02 2008: 11:16 AM ET
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