Tech news has been punctuated by stories of growth in the Midwest for a while now. There are a number of accelerators, like M25, operating there and an increasing number of stories about competitions with cash prizes for innovation.
The pitch of the emergence of the Midwest into the tech sector even warranted an article from Tech Crunch pitting the major cities against each other. So why is the Midwest so important? Why are all eyes turning to this cluster of states expectantly?
- The ex-manufacturing population is looking for work
This was famously part of the reason why Trump edged his campaign ahead of Clinton’s in the electoral college. Trump identified that ex-manufacturing workers in the Midwest were hurting, facing job insecurity and concerned for the welfare of their families. However, while Trump takes a protectionist stance to solve the problem, promising to bring traditional jobs back to the US, most others recognise the necessity to move forward rather than back.
The Midwest is home to an educated population with a cheaper cost of living to those in New York or San Francisco. In many ways this makes it an ideal spot for a tech company to expand into or setup shop in. Any many are doing just that. Investment is increasing in the area because, really, who wants to top whack in the coasts of the US when a workforce just as good exists for less in the Midwest?
- Millennials are fed up of big, expensive cities
It’s true, I’m one of them. Two things are happening here which combine to good effect for the Midwest. Firstly of all cities have become more and more gentrified, the tradition run-down sections of New York have become its coolest areas. And with that the cost of living in and around such cities has just increased. When I lived in London rent was taking up 50% of what was a very decent salary. That’s not cool.
This is combined with a second effect. The older of the millennial generation are now in their early 30s and into the process of getting married and pregnant and mortgaged. A quieter life is in order. These both combine to millennials looking to other, more sensible areas to live. I am sure that as this happens the newer areas will become gentrified as well, millennials are still millennials. And then the whole process will start over again.
- Silicon Valley is taking a serious interest
Now this might be for a number of reasons. But Tim Cook and Mark Zuckerberg have both taken tours through “the heartland” recently. This has fueled speculation that they’re running for president, which only emphasises how important the Midwest is to the future of the US economy. But even if they aren’t running companies as big and as influential as Facebook and Apple requires visits like these, especially with Apple opening up a data centre in Iowa.
Either way it’s clear that Silicon Valley’s Finest are demonstrably aware of the region’s importance. I would even go so far as to perhaps check out some odds of which big-tech firm might open up a Midwest operation next.
- It’s on the cutting edge of progressive issues
The Midwest is just doing things better than everyone else. Every time I read a story out of the Midwest it’s doing something awesome, whether it’s investment in tech-for-good, trying to solve the US opioid crisis or opening up a women and minority startup accelerator. In comparison to the rest of Silicon Valley – like Google’s mission “do the right thing” while tripping over sexist employees – the Midwest comes across as the more enlightened and progressive option.
What’s more is because of the region’s position amongst farmland, lakes and mountains it is uniquely placed to make progress on environmental issues. And progress it makes. The region has long been the breadbasket of the US and the tech sector is exerting its innovative will on getting the best out of its surroundings.