Luring tech talent to the heart of the U.S. — the Silicon Prairie — requires companies and recruiters rid candidates of the mindset that innovation only exists in the Silicon Valley. Tech innovation is happening everywhere, especially in those “flyover” states, and now is the time for organizations to take advantage.
How the Prairie Compares
It’s become a repetitive narrative — that of the millennial techie moving to Silicon Valley with the hopes of making it big. However, creating or joining a tech giant in the Silicon Valley is no longer the only option. Startups are increasingly choosing to plant their roots in the Midwest, giving IT professionals plenty of reasons to live and work in the Silicon Prairie (which depending on your definition spans cities like Omaha, Lincoln, Des Moines, and Kansas City).
Here are just a few of the reasons why:
An Industry Hub
The Midwest is (quite literally) at a crossroads, with almost every major transit line and industry running through the area. This allows for maximum exposure and opens the Silicon Prairie to a wide array of skillsets, serving as a catalyst for innovation. The old-school notion that tech entrepreneurs have to be located in the Silicon Valley to reap the benefits of innovative surroundings is no more. Tech hotspots are popping up all over the country in cities like Chicago, Minnesota, and Omaha, and now is the time for both companies and job seekers to take advantage.
Top talent with Midwestern values
For a recruiter, the Midwest is the place to look. Employers in the Silicon Prairie face less competition for local talent. At the same time, some of the top universities are located in the Midwest. For example, the University of Illinois-Urbana/Champaign’s engineering program is ranked fourth in the world and the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor’s eighth, offering the area a pool of highly skilled graduates. Meanwhile, the cost of hiring in the Midwest is significantly less than in the Silicon Valley. To afford a comfortable life in Omaha, Nebraska, or Des Moines, companies can hire someone for $60,000 or $75,000. Contrarily, that same lifestyle in the Silicon Valley would require a salary of about $125,000.
A source of pride for many Midwesterners, and a quality that cannot be talked about enough, is their strong work ethic. Workers in the Midwest aren’t afraid to roll up their sleeves and get the job done. The talent and business cultures in the area reflect those values.
According to a 2015 study by Dice.com, the fastest-growing states for technology jobs this year are not California or New York, but Minnesota, Utah, and Nebraska. These states feature a combination of startups, service providers, and major corporations in need of tech talent. In Minnesota, hiring for technology workers increased by 8.36 percent in the past year alone. Meanwhile, Nebraska saw a tech hiring boost of 5.22 percent. These figures show that demand for tech talent in between the country’s two coasts is growing.
Challenges facing Midwestern recruiters — and tips for combatting them
The main hurdle Midwest recruiters face is a lack of awareness of the Silicon Prairie. Many people, particularly young graduates, tend to write the area off, so getting talent to consider local companies can prove challenging. Sometimes, however, the key is in garnering initial interest. From there, it’s an easy sell.
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Here are some of the Silicon Prairie’s major selling points:
- More bang for your buck. While Silicon Valley remains the tech industry’s flagship region, the West Coast’s high prices are making heartland hubs more attractive to techies. Economic factors like cost of living, education and healthcare, are all motivators of living and working in the Midwest. Affordability in Silicon Prairie communities allow for lower-priced office spaces, which in turn, allows more money to be allocated toward company growth. Recruiters need to educate candidates on how far their dollar goes in the Midwest. According to this year’s Zumper’s National Rent Report, San Francisco reached a new record of $3,670 for a one bedroom. In Omaha, a one bedroom costs on average $730.
- Not just farmland and cows. Despite what some may think, the Midwest has plenty to offer in terms of culture and diversity. Many Midwest cities offer great restaurants and nightlife, as well as the fun of professional sports. In a NerdWallet study on the best cities for quality of life, six of the top 10 are in the Midwest, including two each from Minnesota and Nebraska. Recruiters should be sure to show off their city to potential candidates and debunk the farmland stereotypes.
- Opportunity for growth. With accelerators, meetups, startup events, and hackathons, the Prairie is growing more and more like the Bay area. As the community grows, there will be more opportunities for advancement in the Prairie. Recruiters need to highlight such opportunities, as well as how their company cultures are encouraging such growth. The array of opportunities in the Midwest also gives candidates greater exposure so they’re not limited to one area of expertise.
Supporting the Long Term
Even after you’ve recruited your candidate, make the case for your company and the greater Silicon Prairie area in order to promote long-term retention.
When a candidate gets in with a company that is committed to the development of their workforce, employees can write their own ticket, and this is no truer than in the Silicon Prairie. Those who understand how to make things happen and move the needle will absolutely find a long-term career path.
With the cost of living in the Silicon Valley astronomically higher than it is in the Silicon Prairie, it’s inevitable that more techies will be drawn to the Midwest’s more affordable arrangements. Recruiters should seize the opportunity to educate candidates on the bright future and opportunities for growth in the Silicon Prairie.