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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.

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.

"You can grow a great company anywhere as long as you can get the right people as part of your team," said Cohen, whose company is developing hardware and software that allows people to track and monitor their asthma in real time using a smartphone.

This theme is echoed by other Midwest technology and hiring professionals. While the central part of the U.S. may lack the technology cachet of its coastal counterparts, IT professionals are attracted to the region's burgeoning startup movement, its abundance of top-tier companies, sense of employer loyalty and more affordable cost of living.

To challenge the notion that technological innovation happens primarily on the coasts, companies based in Midwestern suburbs are opening offices in cities to attract young employees interested in working with trendy technologies.

Cohen considered setting up in San Francisco or New York. But the opportunity to contribute to St. Louis' developing startup scene, a pipeline of talent provided by area schools such as Washington University and the chance to help people in a part of the U.S. with high asthma rates kept the company in Missouri.

Employees are attracted to the company's mission and its projects, she said, and "location, while it's important, it isn't the limiting factor."

Selling job candidates on Whirlpool's small-town location can prove challenging, said D'Anthony Tillery, director of talent acquisition at the appliance manufacturer based in Benton Harbor, Michigan, which is located on Lake Michigan approximately 90 minutes from Chicago.

To overcome this issue, the company emphasizes its growth, soft factors such as area schools and cultural diversity and Whirlpool's use of leading technology.

"We recently launched Google as our email platform, which I think is more progressive than Microsoft Outlook," he said. "We're looking to drive collaboration and help us continue to move fast in the marketplace. That attracts IT talent because they want to be on the cutting edge."

Still, a marquee technology company, which the Midwest lacks, would help attract attention to IT jobs in that part of the country, Tillery said.

"You don't have larger brands that are recognized in the marketplace from a technology standpoint," he said.

The area has major companies that employ tech workers, including heavy-industry equipment maker Caterpillar in Peoria, Illinois, a plethora of automakers in Detroit and health IT vendor Cerner in Kansas City, Missouri. What's missing, Tillery said, is a business synonymous with IT, a company akin to Apple. Google has a Chicago office and that presence helps highlight Midwestern technology jobs, he added.

 

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