This West Is OUR West

Silicon Valley Could Be Coming to a Town Near You

 

Through innovation and public-private partnerships, many small cities and towns are becoming technology oases.

by Juliet Van Wagenen

August 28, 2017

Juliet is the senior web editor for StateTech and HealthTech magazines. In her six years as a journalist she has covered everything from aerospace to indie music reviews — but she is unfailingly partial to covering technology.

It’s no secret that California is a technical innovation hub, but huge digital centers aren’t the only places welcoming innovation.

While some small metropolitan areas are embracing smart city technologies, many are taking the idea one step further and creating veritable technical oases.

In the Dallas suburb of Irving, Texas, for example, Mayor Beth Van Duyne is working to attract both technology startups and established companies to build a mini-Silicon Valley.

“No offense to California, but we’re excited in Texas that we’re beginning to see a lot of companies [previously harbored in California] now come to Texas … We are really pushing in our city for tech companies,” said Van Duyne at a conference earlier this year, adding that Irving recorded its highest amount of growth in 2016, raking in $819 million in commercial development.

Alongside geographic factors, public-private partnerships are playing a huge role in the city’s startup development, including a partnership with Microsoft. The tech giant invested $12 million to launch its Microsoft Technology Center in Irving, which aims to be a hub for innovation, the Dallas Business Journal reports.

But the city isn’t alone in embracing what technology can do for the economy.

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Bozeman Embraces the Tech Boom

Bozeman, Mont., a small city in the southwest corner of the state with a population of just over 43,000 and a metro area of 100,000 people, was faced with the knowledge that Montana’s agricultural economy is shrinking, so the city began to diversify its economy with tech and other companies, Fast Company reports.

Bolstered by the innovation and population of nearby Montana State University, the city now boasts a veritable tech boom that is helping to grow employment across the state. A recent University of Montana survey reported that in 2016 tech companies in the state touted 14,500 employees with a median wage of around $60,000, compared to a median income of $50,000 overall.

The city’s full-scale tech transformation began in 1997, when Greg Gianforte founded RightNow Technologies, a customer relationship management firm that was later acquired by Oracle.

“We had this idea that the internet removed geography as a constraint,” Gianforte tells Fast Company. “When we started, that was a theory; it wasn’t a fact.”

Gianforte also founded a startup incubator in the town, helping to continue the tech boom. The town now hosts several Inc. 5000 companies, and its housing prices are nearly twice that of Billings, the state’s largest city, Fast Company reports.

Other cities are taking heed and beginning to build up burgeoning tech scenes, the source notes.

“We had one motivation: The understanding that agriculture provides less and less job opportunity every year as technology improves,” Tom Spika, a former farmer who started Spika Manufacturing in Lewistown, Mont., tells Fast Company. “We envisioned small companies starting up with something they can sell outside the community that would actually provide jobs you could raise a family on.”

Technology Makes New Rochelle New Again

Meanwhile, in New Rochelle, N.Y., a city of just under 80,000 people, a partnership between a nonprofit and the local government is turning the city into a center for emerging technology, such as virtual reality and molecular gastronomy, Forbes reports.

Through the partnership the city launched IDEA New Rochelle, which kick-started an initiative to work with the local community to turn abandoned or underused spaces into “idea labs, production studios, maker spaces, black box theaters, coworking spaces and housing for technologists and artists,” according to Forbes.

If it works, the program could serve as an example for other cities hoping to embrace technological innovation to turn their economies around.

“New Rochelle has an exciting opportunity to emerge as a hub for the arts, technology, and information services; and that’s why we’ve put creativity and innovation at the very heart of our downtown development strategy,” Mayor Noam Bramson tells the source. “Our partnership with IDEA is helping to achieve that goal and to attract a critical mass of interest among some of the most talented people in the region. Success will benefit our own community greatly and also set the bar for other similar cities with big, but unmet, potential.”