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8: Charlotte, N.C
Population: 596,123
Pros: Steady influx of young educated workers, business-friendly banking community, local sports entertainment
Con: Housing costs spiked in recent years

This national financial hub is home to big names like Wachovia and Bank of America, but the oak-tree-lined city is also a great place to launch and grow a small business.

Regional organizations such as the local Small Business and Technology Development Center, the Inventors Network, and the Central Piedmont Community College's Center for Entrepreneurship supply a mix of mentoring, networking and technical assistance to innovative entrepreneurs, especially those in the finance and technology fields. To help develop the city's biotech industry, a research complex sponsored in part by the University of North Carolina at Charlotte is set to open its labs this year to scientists and startups involved in healthcare and nutrition research.

Charlotte's vibrancy and employment opportunities attract young professionals from around the state and help the city retain many of the graduates streaming out of 19 nearby colleges and universities. But as the city's population has increased, so has its cost of living. Some neighborhoods like Ballantyne, Cotswold, and Plaza Midwood offer affordable options.

For sports entertainment, Charlotte residents can snag tickets to Carolina Panthers football games and Nascar races. The city also features a number of premier golf courses including the exclusive Quail Hollow club, where Tiger Woods has played. The Blumenthal Arts Center hosts touring musicians and Broadway shows throughout the year. For those who prefer outdoor recreations, the Great Smokey Mountains offer hiking, rock climbing and white-water rafting, while residents turn to Lake Norman for fishing, sailing and water skiing. -Brandi Stewart

Interactive map: Charlotte, N.C.
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NEXT: 9. Fort Worth

Last updated July 02 2008: 11:16 AM ET
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