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Growing startup scene, employer loyalty lure tech talent to Midwest companies

Fred O'Connor | Sept. 25, 2014
When Abby Cohen and Andrew Brimer decided to locate their health IT startup, Sparo Labs, in St. Louis, neither one considered a Midwest location as a challenge to attracting top technology workers.

Still, even Chicago's strong technology scene may not prove a challenging enough environment for the most skilled technology workers.

"It's a narrow niche," Williams said of those candidates whose advanced skills won't fit with Chicago's technology companies. "We usually gravitate for innovative startups or we'll make some calls to Silicon Valley and we'll talk to some companies in New York," he added, regarding how his company recruits and places job candidates.

The Midwest may work better for IT professionals who are more interested in solving business problems instead of more consumer-focused projects, like developing video games, said Zach Brandon, president of the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce.

"Consumer technology has taken root and grown on the coasts, but the opportunity for enterprise software is a differentiator for the Midwest," he said.

Madison, Wisconsin, has emerged as a health-IT hotspot given its proximity to Verona, home of electronic-health-record software company Epic Systems. Several health-IT startups have set up shop in Madison, as well as technology heavyweights such as Microsoft, Amazon and Google, which all operate software development offices there.

IT workers who opt for a career in the Midwest will find a culture where employees change jobs less frequently and companies use their stability as a selling feature.

"That does resonate because the IT market has been very volatile in the past 14 years," Williams said. "It's perceived that companies will invest more in you from a long-term basis. I don't want to say that workers are disloyal on the coasts, but I do see that people change jobs more frequently on the coasts."

Developers are generally collaborative because they realize that solving problems sometimes requires another set of eyes, said Sparo Labs' Cohen. Combine that with their desire to grow the Midwest technology scene, especially in St. Louis, and technology professionals will find an environment where "people are committed to developing St. Louis entrepreneurial ecosystem, people want to learn, they want to make it better," she said.

"If you're coming here, you have the opportunity to really excel and get better at your trade," Cohen said.


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