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Does location matter anymore?

Pundits and marketers have been hyping “any time, anywhere” computing for years, but a popular perception remains that if you are starting a technology company, “anywhere” needs to be spittin’ distance to one of the nation’s technology centers: Silicon Valley, Seattle or Boston. You might get away setting up shop in Austin, Atlanta, New York or Chicago – but beyond that, well, there is no beyond that.

The bias is purely political. The infrastructure to support technology development – broadband connectivity and plenty of caffeine – is available almost anywhere. Modern transportation – both physical and digital – can put an aspiring entrepreneur in front of potential investors, partners, and customers in short order. But despite the “I can work from anywhere” mantra, the vast majority of tech start-ups start up in the nation’s concentrated IT communities.

At least that’s the way it used to be.

In the last 12 months – if would-be DEMO conference demonstrators are a leading indicator – an increasing number of early-stage ventures are putting down stakes in geographies that offer a balanced lifestyle, a lower cost of living, tax advantages, or simply proximity to family and friends. At September’s DEMOfall event, companies hailed from Michigan, Minnesota, Indiana, Kansas, Connecticut, Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Utah and Oregon. And while the majority of entrepreneurs drove cars with California license plates, a growing number of these were registered in locales a considerable drive from Silicon Valley.

One of those companies, YackPack, set up camp in Santa Rosa, about two hours north of Silicon Valley. Founder B.J. Fogg told me that it was tough to lure engineers to Sonoma County, but once they had a look around they were happy to settle down and stay awhile.
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In recent weeks I’ve talked to companies from Texas, Alabama, Arizona, Florida, D.C., Maine, Colorado, Missouri, New Jersey, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Utah and Virginia, among other decidedly non-tech-centric regions. Yet the engineering and product management that hails from these hinterlands is every bit as intriguing as the work being done in the tech centers we know and love. Indeed, some of these companies have a real competitive advantage, not just because they can make a start-up dollar go a lot further, but because they are living, working and testing products among “real” people who are a lot more skeptical about technology than those of us who believe Fry’s Electronics is an exciting weekend destination.

While there will always be a need for casual communities of like-minded professionals, the distribution of technology companies will continue to spread as the Anytime, Anywhere promise is fulfilled. Physical communities – that chance meeting at kid’s school or the corner Starbucks – are valuable, certainly. But they are ably supplemented by virtual global communities of developers, customers, entrepreneurs, investors and service providers. And these virtual communities work.

Over Thanksgiving week I hosted more than a dozen phone briefings with companies across the U.S., Canada, and in Europe. All the while, I was in Pittsburgh sitting on the WiFi network I’d installed in my mother’s home. That I was in a region better known for deer hunting than disc drives was of no consequence to these calls. We got the job done as effectively as if we were in a conference room in San Francisco.

For people accustomed to working from anywhere, this modest migration away from tech centers may seem like no big deal. But it is most certainly a very big deal to the smaller communities that benefit from the influx and impact of smart technology entrepreneurs. Indeed, this is a trend that ought to be encouraged on a national scale as a means of spreading economic and educational advantage beyond urban centers.

Let’s hope this is one of the great next trends spotted at DEMO.

Chris Shipley is the executive producer of NetworkWorld's DEMO Conferences, Editor of DEMOletter and a technology industry analyst for nearly 20 years. She can be reached at chris@demo.com. Shipley, has covered the personal technology business since 1984 and is regarded as one of the top analysts covering the technology industry today. Shipley has worked as a writer and editor for variety of technology consumer magazines, including PC Week, PC Magazine, PC/Computing, and InfoWorld, US Magazine and Working Woman. She has written two books on communications and Internet technology, has won numerous awards for journalistic excellence, and was named the No. 1 newsletter editor by Marketing Computers for two years in a row. To subscribe to DEMOletter please visit: http://www.idgexecforums.com/demoletter/index.html.

This column was reprinted with permission of Network World Inc. All registered trademarks are owned by IDG. More information can be found at http://www.idgef.com.

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The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC. (WTN). WTN, LLC accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.

Comments

Neil Kosterman responded 8 years ago: #1

Why is "Wisconsin" not mentioned in this article? It's published in a "journal" with "Wisconsin" in the name. Is it because we don't qualify as one of the author's non-valley alternatives? I think we do. Maybe just an oversight, which is forgiveable. Correctly, I believe the focus of this journal is / should be on what is happening, or not happening, in Wisconsin, either on its own merit or relative to some other comparitor. Having said that, I generally enjoy reading what this author has to say.

David Levine responded 8 years ago: #2

I'm finding quite the opposite of what you say is true. People in general and senior engineers in particular, are loath to work for startups in out of the way places because: (1) Relocation is not offered; (2) There is a good chance the startup will not be successful, and; (3) If it goes down, you're stuck in a place without a lot of other options, so it's better to be near the other jobs. I believe the reason you see the trend you mention is that you've got a lot of angels trying to make "life style" plays, and they are not familar with the realities of staffing a world class team.

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