In 1985, telecommunications expert and consultant Bill Lewis wrote a news article in which he first coined the term ‘networking’ to describe interactions between individuals looking to strengthen their businesses. The term caught on, as it gives a name to one of the most important steps for the success of both companies and professionals. And, in light of the growing trend towards hybrid work, being purposeful about one’s networking efforts has become even more crucial in career advancement and a company’s success.
So, because cities play a big part in nurturing a business-friendly environment and creating the spaces and opportunities that incentivize people to come together, we decided to look at the top 20 U.S. cities for networking.
However, our aim was to look beyond the obvious pull of New York City for all things business related. To that end, we looked at cities with more than 200,000 residents and ranked these across three compound metrics – networking opportunities; social and economic; and event-hosting capabilities – each of which in turn had various points allocated to their specific indicators. For more details, please read our methodology section.
Notably, the nationwide ranking revealed a few interesting highlights, such as Houston leading the list with a total of 66 points. However, looking at the highest-ranking entries for each of the compound metrics, we find Denver in first place for the networking category; San Francisco leading the social and economic index; and Houston dominating the list for event venues.
Breaking down each of these three broad metrics, there’s a wide variety of cities occupying the top spots for each individual indicator. For instance, while Denver ranked first for its number of networking events, it was Houston and Los Angeles that ended up with the highest score for the other metrics in this group – job openings and active firms within the larger metropolitan area.
Meanwhile, the study also included a social and economic compound metric as professionals rely on information about what a city has to offer in terms of average wages, employment and the vibrancy of the local business landscape and talent pool to gauge some of the benefits they could gain through their networking efforts.
San Francisco was at the top of the list for the average annual wage, while the unemployment rate – another indicator within the social and economic category – was the lowest in Charlotte among entries in our list. On the opposite coast, Seattle landed in first place for its percentage of residents older than 18 with a bachelor’s degree, while Las Vegas outranked important business powerhouses – and went head-to-head with the darling of the startup scene, Austin, Texas – for the percentage of new companies (up to five years’ worth of activity) within its overall business landscape.
Finally, as if a reminder of Southern hospitality, the event venue index was dominated by Houston. The city not only collected the highest number of points for the overall category, but it also ranked first for three of its component metrics – hotels, coworking spaces and restaurants. The only metric in which Houston was nowhere near the top spot was the total number of event promoters, in which case Los Angeles led the list.
Keep reading for more highlights on the top 20 best cities for networking across the U.S. as we zoom in on various regions and examine the performances of each entry across our metrics.
Houston, Austin, Dallas & San Antonio Provide Top Networking Hubs for Companies & Professionals Across the West South Central Region
Houston was the highest-ranking member of the Texas quartet that made its way into the nationwide top 20. Specifically, the city garnered a total of 66.1 points, earning a first-place finish for its wealth of spaces that people looking to network can use – with roughly 630 hotels, 147 coworking spaces and more than 6,000 restaurants and bars – and second place for the networking opportunities available locally.
While Houston was among the top 10 in terms of its percentage of startups (with 39% of businesses registered currently having fewer than five years’ worth of activity) the city’s remaining performances across the composite social and economic indicator resulted in a much more modest 17th place.
Next, although Austin ranked fifth in the top 20 and Dallas ended up three places further down in eighth place, the race between these two Texas cities across the three composite metrics has been rather fierce. In fact, Austin only managed to garner a 0.6-point advantage over Dallas for its networking opportunities.
Moreover, the margins were even thinner in terms of the various dedicated spaces for networking events within the two cities. However, this time, Dallas enjoyed a slight advantage as it managed to outrank Austin for the number of coworking places, hotels, restaurants and drinking places that can host or be the impromptu location for networking.
Eventually, the two entries’ performances across the composite social and economic metric ended up being the deciding factor. As a result, Austin boosted its total score with an additional 21 points (out of a maximum of 30 points for this indicator) – to finish with 56.7 points.
Professionals trying to assess future career opportunities in their city will be delighted to know that Austin had the second highest percentage of startups and new businesses within the ranking (43%), as well as the third lowest unemployment rate (5.3%). Austin also placed fourth in terms of its residents’ educational attainment levels, with nearly 56% of its population older than 18 having earned at least a bachelor’s degree.
The last member of the Texan foursome in the ranking was San Antonio in 19th place. The city’s best showing was for its event-hosting capabilities, where it ranked 11th, with the second highest number of hotels among entries in the top 20. It also claimed more drinking and eating establishments that were able to accommodate networking events than both Austin and Dallas.
Atlanta Leads Among South Atlantic Entries; Washington, D.C. Narrowly Misses Nationwide Top 10
Despite finishing fourth among top 20 cities for networking, Atlanta was the highest-ranking entry across the South Atlantic region. More precisely, the city bagged 57.9 points, by earning fourth place across its networking and event-hosting indicators and a fifth-place finish for its social and economic metric.
Since their inception, coworking spaces have prided themselves on their ability to increase collaboration, as well as facilitating networking. And Atlanta is primed to offer plenty of these benefits to professionals and businesses alike as it boasted the second-highest number of coworking spaces across the top 20, outranking locations such as Chicago, Los Angeles, and Dallas. Atlanta also has the fifth highest number of networking events for entrepreneurs and businesses in search of talent. Clearly, A-Town is doing a great job at linking up professionals with employers as the city also had the second lowest unemployment numbers across our list.
At the same time, Washington, D.C. just missed the top 10 at the national level, occupying 11th place with a 47.6-point total. While its performances across the aggregated indicators were solid, they weren’t particularly outstanding as its best showing being a sixth-place finish for its social and economic metric.
However, a more in-depth look at the individual items that made up these composite indicators revealed some noteworthy highlights. For instance, those earning a living in the nation’s capital can look forward to having the second-highest average annual wage as a reference point ($83,900). Additionally, Washington, D.C. also ranked third in terms of its percentage of residents with at least a bachelor’s degree (58%), as well as fifth for the total number of active businesses at the city and metro level.
Charlotte ranked 14th with a total of 41 points collected for its performances across the three composite metrics we analyzed. The city’s best showing was in its social and economic indicators – which included a first-place finish for the lowest unemployment rate in the ranking – and provided a significant share of Charlotte’s final score.
Three Floridian cities from the South Atlantic region made the cut with Tampa as the highest ranking of the lot. With an average annual wage around the $58,000-mark, the fifth lowest unemployment rate on the list and 39% of its business ecosystem consisting of startups and new enterprises, the city secured 15th place.
At the same time, Miami was in hot pursuit of its in-state neighbor. But due to the tight race in the lower half of the top 20, it lost out to Las Vegas and ended up in 17th place. Unsurprisingly, Miami performed really well in terms of its event-hosting capabilities: it was the home of fourth-highest number of event promoters, ahead of cities such as Atlanta, Austin or Houston. Across the social and economic composite metric, Miami did well for its percentage of startups within the local economy – the fifth highest, at 40%.
Finally, Orlando landed in 18th place, garnering 37.8 points. Once again, despite ranking in the lower half of the top 20 across the three aggregate indicators, the city showed glimpses of top-level performances for individual criteria. For instance, in terms of event venues that could host planned or ad hoc networking, Orlando boasted nearly 300 such places, earning the Floridian a fourth-place finish for this metric.
Los Angeles Earns 3rd-Place Finish Among Top Cities for Networking; San Francisco Tops Social & Economic Index
The Western Pacific region contributed the second highest number of entries to the list of top cities for networking. Namely, among the five cities from this part of the United States, three were from California, with Los Angeles ranking the highest. The city landed in third place overall, with a total of 59.3 points.
Notably, Los Angeles was the runner-up behind Houston for the compound event-hosting indicator. In this case, its place near the top was cemented by great performances for its number of event promoters (first place), hotels and restaurants (third place for both). What’s more, coworking spaces in Los Angeles provide yet another platform for hosting business and entrepreneurship-related events.
Then, in terms of networking opportunities, Los Angeles landed in fifth place, thanks to its robust business landscape – with roughly 281,000 active companies within the Los Angeles metropolitan area. In addition, the city provides attractive employment opportunities, as Los Angeles had the fifth highest number of job openings across the top 20.
To the north, Seattle secured seventh place after garnering 53.4 points, with the city’s showing across the social and economic indicators playing a key role in the final tally. Specifically, Emerald City ranked third for this compounded metric, within a hair’s breadth of San Francisco and Austin. Seattle had the highest percentage of residents with at least a bachelor’s degree within the top 20 — as well as the fourth-most generous average annual wage — which is sure to make this an enticing prospect for career-minded professionals. While the city came in second for the number of networking events it hosted, its more modest showings for the remaining components of this compounded metric meant that it ended up with a seventh-place finish for its networking opportunities.
Back in California, San Diego’s ninth-place finish was marked by a “never too high, never too low” performance across the three main categories. Here, the city’s best finish was for the social and economic compound metric with its average annual wage of approximately $71,000 being among its more remarkable showings (to be precise, the sixth-highest among top 20 entries). And, for the networking opportunities category, San Diego managed a fourth-place finish.
By contrast, San Francisco (in 10th place overall) had a much more up-and-down trajectory. For example, for its networking opportunities indicators, San Francisco only managed 15th place, while simultaneously acing its social and economic index list. This was due mainly to it claiming the highest average wage within the list ($94,000 per year), as well as the second-highest level of educational attainment with 59% of people older than 18 having at least a bachelor’s degree. Lastly (and somewhat surprisingly given its reputation as a startup magnet), the city was only 16th in this category, with new companies making up 36% of the metro’s economy.
The last entry from the Western Pacific region was Portland, Ore., in 13th place with a total score of 42.4 points. Within the networking opportunities category, the city’s highest-ranking indicator was for its number of events, while across its social and economic index it was its educational attainment performance that stood out (seventh-highest).
Denver Leads Nationally for Most Networking Opportunities; Phoenix & Las Vegas Occupy Lower Half of Ranking
The West Mountain region had three entries spread across different rungs of the tier list. At the higher end, Denver challenged Houston for the title of the leading city for networking, while Phoenix missed the top 10. Conversely, Las Vegas occupied its place in the lower half of the ranking.
Denver snatched second place by scoring 60.7 points as the top earner for networking opportunities within the list, as well as the fourth highest-ranking entry across the social and economic index. Going more in depth, Denver’s $71,790 average annual wage puts the city’s residents among the highest earning on the list. And with nearly 40% of businesses in the wider metropolitan area being less than five years old, there’s robust demand for a highly skilled workforce, which Denver’s educational attainment levels are primed to meet (52% of residents older than 18 have at least a bachelor’s degree or higher).
In twelfth place, Phoenix racked up important points across its networking and social and economic indexes, as well, although it was below average for its event-hosting metrics. The city had the seventh-highest number of job openings within the ranking at the end of the second quarter of 2023 to finish ahead of the likes of San Francisco, Denver and Boston. Additionally, the unemployment rate hovered around the 6% mark in Phoenix — the sixth-lowest in the top 20.
Perhaps surprising given Las Vegas’ position in 16th place, the city boasted the same percentage of new businesses within its local economy as Austin – a leading U.S. startup hub for several years now. According to data provided by the U.S. Census’ Business Dynamics Statistics, just over 43% of the companies operating in the wider Las Vegas metro area were startups and new businesses (active for less than or up to five years).
Chicago Lands in 6th Place for Great Networking Opportunities & Event Hosting Capabilities
The Midwest and Northeast managed only one entry each in this ranking: Chicago was comfortably in sixth place with 55.5 points, while Boston closed out our list with a 37.4-point tally.
In Chicago’s case, it was the points picked up for its networking and event-hosting capabilities indexes that helped it nab sixth place. What’s more, with roughly 174,000 companies active within its greater metro area — the second-highest number among the 20 entries — Chicago is also generating plenty of employment opportunities. In fact, there were 59,688 job openings as of Q2 2023, with Houston being the only other entry on the list outranking the Windy City in that category. Chicago was also spoiled for choice when it came to event venues as it had podium finishes for its number of event promoters, as well as coworking and restaurants spaces available for networking.
Finally, although Boston ended up in 20th place, it boasted the third-highest average wage in the ranking ($80,810 per year) and a top-half finish for its educational attainment levels with approximately 48% of its residents older than 18 having a bachelor’s degree.
We ranked the top 20 cities for networking in the U.S. (outside of New York City) based on 11 select indicators grouped into three compounded metrics. Each city could score between zero and maximum points across each category. Points were awarded directly proportional for each metric, apart from the unemployment rate, for which lower values received higher marks.
Our study excluded cities with populations below the 200,000 mark (per U.S. Census data as of December 31, 2021).
The three compounded metrics were as follows:
Networking Opportunities – maximum obtainable score of 45 points spread across the following three indicators:
- “Networking events” shows the number of listed networking events during the month of July (data pulled from Meetup on July 6). The maximum weight for this metric was 25 points.
- “Job openings” indicates the total number of open job listings as of Q2 2023 (data pulled from Glassdoor on June 30). The maximum weight for this metric was 15 points.
- “Firms within metro area” represents the total number of companies within a city’s metro area, as recorded in the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2020 Business Dynamics Statistics. The report provides annual measures of business dynamics (such as job creation and destruction; establishment births and deaths; and firm startups and shutdowns) for the economy overall and aggregated by establishment and firm characteristics.
Note: For the “Firms Within Metro Area” indicator, if two or more cities were part of the same metro area, they received the same number of points.
Social & Economic – maximum obtainable score of 30 points spread across four indicators:
- “Annual mean wage” was per 2022 Bureau of Labor Statistics records. The maximum weight for this metric was 10 points.
- “Educational attainment” shows the percentage of the population older than 18 with a bachelor’s degree or higher, per the U.S. Census Bureau (2021). The maximum weight for this metric was 5 points.
- “Unemployment rate” represents the percentage of unemployed people 16 years of age or older, per the U.S. Census Bureau (2021). This indicator is inversely proportional (the lower the value, the higher the score). The maximum weight for this metric was 5 points.
- “% new businesses” indicates the share of firms that have between zero and five years’ worth of activity out of the total number of companies within a city’s metro area, as recorded in the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2020 Business Dynamics Statistics. The maximum weight for this metric was 10 points.
Event-Hosting Capabilities – maximum obtainable score of 25 points spread across four indicators:
- “Hotels” indicates the number of hotel establishments, defined by NAICS code 721110: Hotels (except Casino Hotels and Motels). Values sourced from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2021 County Business Patterns. The maximum weight for this metric was 5 points.
- “Coworking spaces” represents the number of coworking listings per the latest CommercialEdge data. The maximum weight for this metric was 10 points.
- “Restaurants & drinking places” is defined by NAICS codes 7224 – Drinking Places (Alcoholic Beverages), and 7225 – Restaurants and Other Eating Places. Values sourced from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2021 County Business Patterns. The maximum weight for this metric was 5 points.
- “Event promoters” is defined by NAICS code 7113 – Promoters of Performing Arts, Sports and Similar Events. Values sourced from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2021 County Business Patterns. The maximum weight for this metric was 5 points.