The most interesting thing the OP said was that they knew how important friends were.
I may well judge friendship very differently from others, but it is something rather 'special' in my life and not easily come by.
I know lots of people, with friends it is easy, but I have helped people to whom I am indifferent, even not particularly liked, so help can come from
Still, the OP has the internet these days, so just reading the local papers from their chosen area will be a good indication of what is happening. And as they are thinking of a business, then maybe chatting up the folks in the Mairie and seeing the lay of the land re businesses, as someone in the Mairie will know about businesses and if they are making a go of it, or failing, or have simply gone out of business.