Looking to create more startup culture here and showcase the low cost of living an central location as an attractive feature for tech startups, what else would you do to try and get people to consider relocating to our area?
To answer - Here is Fort Smith, Arkansas
I recently had the City of Fort Worth ask me this same question. For a city as big as fort worth their entrepreneurial competence and vision was ridiculously weak. City incentives are great but are primarily going to be limited to businesses that offer something back to the city in terms of sales tax revenue and jobs. Incubators are a dime a dozen and most feel shlocky. Most incubator CEO's are nothing near entrepreneurs or innovators. They are real estate professionals selling a dream with no core experience or center to facilitate the dreams of start up entrepreneurs. So if you go that route, do the world of entrepreneurship a favor and create a foundation that will actually breed and encourage growth entrepreneurship and innovation. "If you build it they will come" is something to adopt. Who cares whether it is in Arkansas or Silicon Valley. Every region has strengths that can be built upon. So tech is weak in Fort Smith. Find a way to turn that weakness into a strength. Several people keep stating that startups wont move. That is ridiculous. If you have funding, people will move. Now if you are saying "Hey you can live in a custom 4,000 sq foot home for $365k whereas that same house would cost $1.8-$3M in CA but that is all we can offer" probably a tougher sell. However, you are right to suggest that could be incentive in itself..and we see that in Texas where so many have ditched CA to live like kings in Texas. (Unfortunately it is also screwing up traffic).
But overall, there are a lot of questions to answer. Is the culture more social for you or to actually profit financially? If that is the case and you are building it, you can go recruit investors yourself. Nothing wrong with working with local city government, but you may not find much financial support. But cities across the country have, in recent years, tied into the buzz of entrepreneurship. If your city's economic development does not do much of what you are wanting, it could be worth that. Local universities might be a source, though likely very small and most business professors are terribly inexperienced outside of book theory.
Look to investors from your area who have made it big, and try to establish a base with them.
You should start at the UofA and investigate what, if anything, they have done, and build your vision around "local" tech and startup opportunities. When you look at other hubs (ex SV for different reasons) you see a thematic strategy supports the majority of activity. E.G. if you want to finance a FinTech, NYC is your target. If you want ad-tech, LA is big.
You need to engage, as others mention, the local business community. You are not that far from Bentonville and it may be of interest to WalMart to assist.
Mostly, this needs to be a calling and labor of love. If you are not totally committed to it changing, it will not. Even then, it takes time.
In my opinion you should create an innovative environment and it isn't something you do from night to day. Even Silicon Valley didn't happen like this. It was a convergence of factors that have created a inviting environment for this kind of company. Try finding some books about SilValley history, but be patient, for sure it will take a couple of years...
I was working for a startup and a city offered us money to relocate (which we did). Some cost effective things you can offer are: Free office space for a year, tax incentives, free membership to chamber of commerce etc. In our case, they also offered a significant amount of cash as well.
The company has since dissolved, but many of the people from that company have remained in the city and are working with other businesses in the same field.
Ok, I'll bite. Most of the answers here are referring to much larger startups. If that is what you are looking for, then there is some great suggestions here. But, like mentioned, most startups don't really "move". Also, you mentioned small, which by the way is how all startups start, so you are on the right path there.
I would start a couple really awesome Co-Working spaces that maybe specialize in different industries. Run some super fast and super inexpensive internet and invite people to come and play. If you want tech startups, we are all geeks and the easiest way to attract geeks is give them a place to play with cool top end gadgets.
Also, a tech startup isn't really a "thing", we need some industry to revolutionize, or some process to automate to make it better and faster, and then charge money for that. Which is the reason that I suggested a couple of co-working spaces. A tech business needs some other business to feed off of. So, you really need to also attract those, so the tech companies have problems to solve. Get a tech company to better manage logistics at some company in your town, and then sell that product to other companies that might be struggling with the same problem. Get a tech company to come up with some cool new take on a kiosk for a local business and then find others that might need that service.
You also always need some sort of education support, although a lot of that can be found online. But, something.
But, again in my opinion, tech needs problems to solve and people willing to pay to solve those problems. Attract those business to discuss improving business in a co-working place with the fastest internet in town and somebody will be there to solve the problem with tech.
I agree with Andy Freeman. Look at communities that have successes in their startup communities: it's all homegrown.
You need to rethink entrepreneurial ecosystems. Most communities do it totally backwards, treating startups like they're franchises of proven business models. Case in point: Here's the #1 mistake communities make: they try to treat their own startups as profit centers. They're WAY too quick to declare a homegrown startup a failure when that startup is a freakin' startup ... it's like declaring a child a failure because they're not an adult yet.
You need to somehow get the business leaders to realize that when startups in the community go big, it's good for them, then get the whole city to make startups a first priority, even though those startups are not them. They (the city and those with successful businesses, and the purse strings) have to be willing to pour a lot of money into it. They need to see the startup as an investment into the community, and eventually in themselves ... though accepting that they might not see the results of that for a few years.
And when a startup needs help, don't let it starve to death ... help it ... help it pivot, help it make changes, get someone on the inside, or scour your resources and get some good mentors in there. Help them with fundraising and teach them as if they're your community's Olympic athletes on the world stage competing for the gold. Because they are, and they can bring home the gold (quite literally) for your community.
Sprout as many startups as possible from within your own ranks. I call it Venture stacking. Use tranche funding (hey, they're newbie startups and would be dumb to turn down even tranche funding) ... and then use that process to hone the teams and focus their efforts.
Then create a pipeline which efficiently and cheaply helps these ventures get from 0 to 1.
It's not an overnight fix ... lots of work to be done, and you'll probably do it wrong (most communities do, because those who have a vision how to do it right usually aren't those in charge), but who knows ... maybe your community will be the exception.
But you're not likely to attract preexisting startups there who are already successful. There are diamonds in your backyard, but they look like rocks.
Where is here?
Not knowing your current means, I think a program like Chile's startup program would make anyone excited to move it there.