High salaries, low unemployment, and a lack of cheap housing and office space have driven some companies to look beyond the traditional San Francisco–San Jose corridor for talent and office space. While other large U.S. cities have their own tech and venture capital ecosystems, unemployment and affordability are often comparable. JLL’s latest report, Cracking the Hardest Code: Where to Find Tech Talent, analyzes markets with a high concentration of in-demand, affordable tech talent and available real estate, much of which is located near research universities that can be tapped for new employees.
“The top tech hubs are widely documented, and their popularity comes as little surprise. So we took a look at what’s next by focusing on the key factors shaping the new, emerging tech hot spots,” said Steffen Kammerer, senior vice president and leader of JLL’s technology group. “A ‘hidden gem’ city has a strong tech ecosystem, with a deep concentration of jobs in one or more technology professions, such as computer programmers and software developers.”
Albany (computer programmers) – The capital of New York state put an early focus on creating the “Tech Valley” with support from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and State University of New York Polytechnic Institute. That focus, combined with a handful of Fortune 500 company locations, has helped the Albany metropolitan area achieve the second-highest concentration of computer programmers nationally. As of 2016, Albany is home to 5,880 computer programmers at an average salary of $76,000 per year. With an unemployment rate of 4.6 percent, it is low enough to showcase a strong economy, but higher than the national average.
Sacramento (computer programmers) – Thanks to spillover from the San Francisco Bay area, Sacramento is becoming an attractive option for homebuyers and a talented workforce that wants to tap into lower-cost living. With a computer programmer talent pool of more than 11,000 people with an average annual salary of $84,000, Bay Area companies looking to expand an hour north will benefit from a 21 percent discount on wages and significantly lower office rents.
Columbus (computer programmers) – Looking for midwestern charm with urban appeal? Look no further. With a nearby talent pool from Ohio State University plus an incredible amount of corporate headquarters including Abercrombie & Fitch, PNC Financial, and Nationwide Insurance, Columbus packs a surprising punch. And it doesn’t stop there. With more than 11,000 computer programmers, it rivals both Sacramento and Austin, but the wages are more favorable for employers. The city’s talent pool for software developers, though not a part of our top ten, totals 13,700 people. What’s more, Columbus recently won the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Smart City contest.
Colorado Springs (software developers) – With a high quality of living plus access to the great outdoors, Colorado Springs offers a talent pool and average wages for software developers that are virtually equal to Boulder’s 6,000 people, but its cost for commercial office space is half that of Boulder. Supported by the University of Colorado–Colorado Springs, plus a significant military-based economy, companies like Microchip Technology, Northrop Grumman, and Lockheed Martin have found a home here.
Madison (software developers) –Long hailed a midwestern enclave for the creative types, Madison is a little-known secret to existing tech companies. Fueled by the University of Wisconsin–Madison, its tech ecosystem is also supported by maker and innovation organizations like Sector67, a nonprofit dedicated to the development of the next generation of technology. And though its total number of software developers is just under 9,000, it has the tenth-highest concentration of software developers in the country, relative to its size. Not only that, but wages are 40 percent lower than those in the highest-wage market (Silicon Valley).
“When determining if a city is right for your business, focusing on the ecosystem of a market can tell you if the city is viable over the long run,” says Julia Georgules, vice president and director of research for JLL. “The concentration of tech jobs, not just volume of tech jobs, is a sign of hidden tech talent and speaks to the stability and sustainability of the ecosystem. If there’s already a community of specific occupations in place, future job creation will likely be easier and the location should stay strong regardless of the economic cycle.”