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Inside the Land Grab to Establish the Next Hot Spot for Startups

Silicon Valley and Silicon Alley were just the beginning. Economic development groups are the new prospectors, claiming their cities as specialized technology and startup ecosystems.

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BY Nancy A. Shenker - 08 May 2018

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

As start-up incubators and technology-based businesses abound, cities nationwide -- and across the border -- are divvying up the map and claiming their geographies as specialized sites for innovation.

When Amazon announced its search for a location for its new headquarters, 238 cities and regions stepped up to woo the online giant, according to the New York Times, claiming that they would make the best hub. One writer cited Chicago as the best start-up city and another listed Pittsburgh as first. Venture Beat also suggests you keep an eye on Indianapolis, Ann Arbor, and Raleigh.

Toronto has even built its own "planet" -- a fully-integrated 1.5 million square foot innovation center aptly named MaRS, which offers everything from office and lab space to workshops to funding sources. Attracting a global population, Toronto was recently chosen as the site for the next Collision conference, which attracts close to 30,000 international attendees.

However, as technology becomes more pervasive and specialized, cities and regions have taken on a new strategy -- focusing on specific types of technologies and companies and establishing themselves as hubs for innovation in a particular category.

They promote themselves at tech conferences like Collision and SXSW and travel to other geographies for structured sessions to attract growing businesses. They give away swag and glitzy promotional brochures and compete for big brands and tech talent. Just a few of the specialties that cities are claiming:

  • Arlington, Virginia wants to be known as the cyber security "capital" of the U.S. Its proximity to Washington, D.C and the highest millennial growth rate (according to RealtyTrac) are among its claims to fame. The Arlington Economic Development website says Cyber is predicted to be a $1 trillion industry by 2025 and by 2022, there will be 1.8 million more cyber security jobs than people to fill them.
  • Orlando, Florida, previously known just as the home to Mickey and Minnie, now wants to own training and simulation technology. KPMG is building a $400 million global training facility there, comprised of 800,000 square feet over 55 acres. The National Center for Simulation is already based there, as is EA Sports. Sheena Fowler, Senior Director of Marketing Communications for the Orlando Economic Partnership, says that the city is still working hard to overcome its just-for-fun reputation. Their tagline is, "You don't know the half of it."
  • GoDaddy, Yelp, MindBody, and Carvana all selected the Phoenix area for their back offices due to "The nexus between great talent coming out of the education system and the availability of unique and affordable living environments that appeal to that talent, " according to Chris Camacho, President and CEO of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council (GPEC). The Council has a site called "The Connected Place," where they focus on IoT (Internet of Things) as being the future of their area. Open land is ideal for testing driver-less vehicles and facilities for testing wearable technologies. Intel has 11,000 employees and has been in Arizona since the 1980s, so Phoenix is building on legacy businesses that are looking to innovate, as well as welcoming newcomers.

The International Economic Development Council (IEDC) has 5,000 members and offers training and conferences for regions who need to hone their marketing and growth skills. But more than a great tagline and colorful booths at trade shows are required to build and sustain a technology hub. According to Austin, Texas (whose tech boom began around 1999) a geography needs to have a solid financial foundation first. Before start-ups proliferated in the area, the city had a base of established and profitable companies like

If you're contemplating a move or expansion, how do you look beyond the marketing hype and find a place that fits your skills and your lifestyle?

Study and facts and stats, but do your own behind-the-scenes research too. Talk to as many people as possible, focusing on your own demographic. Visit for a stretch of time and "try it on for size" by attending local business events as well as social activities. Make sure you will have options if your start-up or new job doesn't work out as planned. And, of course, there's an app for that. Teleport claims to have the ability to help you figure out where to live.


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