What Tulsa and different cities are doing to draw distant staff from Silicon Valley

Comment: The competition for technicians is fierce as digital transformation is in full swing and some cities and states – and at least one country – find creative ways to attract IT talent.

Image: Vasil Dimitrov, Getty Images / iStockPhoto

The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically accelerated the digitization of our economy, which in turn has opened up opportunities outside of highly concentrated and highly expensive technology centers like Silicon Valley. Plans for orderly, step-by-step technology transitions, often prepared by CIOs and intended to take place over the years with careful monitoring and preparation, suddenly become reality in just a few months. This acceleration of digitization is leading to an associated increase in the demand for technical talent to support the transition.

Cities that have prepared for a remote economy are now reaping returns. Yes, even cities like Tulsa, OK. Maybe, just maybe, now is “Tulsa Time” as Don Williams once sang (and what Eric Clapton was more famous for) for Tulsa and other cities like it.

SEE: Back To Work: What The Post-Pandemic New Normal Will Look Like (Free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Digital transformation … one remote rental at a time

According to the US Department of Labor, the US unemployment rate is currently 6.9%. Of course, depending on how you define employment, the rate can be much higher. According to data published on Axios, the effective unemployment rate in the US is 26.1% when you define an unemployed person as someone who is “looking for a full-time job that pays a living wage that cannot find one”. Regardless of how we define the overall labor market, the unemployment rate for computer jobs fell from 3% in January 2020 to 2.5% in May 2020, based on data from the U.S. Department of Labor.

Lots of demand. Little offer.

Unsurprisingly, LinkedIn’s August report shows that software-related positions include up to four of the top five remote jobs (Figure A.). All you really need for most of these jobs is a computer and a good connection to the internet. In the United States, the prepandemic American economy had 918,000 vacant IT positions, according to CompTIA. The suspension of H-1B visas, which filled many computer-related jobs, is now tightening the market for software talent.

Figure A.


Image: LinkedIn

On the positive side, the pandemic forced companies to allow remote working, opening up a range of new hiring opportunities for companies: they no longer have to look for talent locally. Shelter in Place takes us further away from our staff but close to anyone with an internet connection.

As companies have opened offices of talent, this trend will extend to people who are remotely distributed even outside the confines of tech hubs. Some cities bet years ago that the trend towards remotely hiring talent would pick up and are now strategically positioned to reap the employment results. TechRepublic writer NF Mendoza has featured the best and worst cities for remote workers, with many of the best (like McKinney, TX) well outside of standard tech hubs and some of the worst, like Boston, usually considered great places for tech.

I thought it would be interesting to browse one of these unlikely new tech hubs to see what it does to empower remote tech workers. I can imagine most technicians will never visit Oklahoma, so I figured this would be a great place to start.

What places like Tulsa do to attract tech talent?

Tulsa, OK, ain’t a tech hub – hell, it’s not even downtown Oklahoma (that would be Oklahoma City). With a population of just over 400,000, Tulsa seems an unlikely place to welcome a new generation of WFH technicians, but the city has been preparing for this reality for some time. As of 2018, the Tulsa Remote program has been offering remote workers moving to Tulsa $ 10,000 cash, a desk in a local common room, and help with finding accommodation. Under the guidance of the local George Kaiser Family Foundation (GKFF), Executive Director Ken Levit took a people-centered approach to reinventing the local economy.

The foundation works with several institutions that train talents in areas that are in high demand. They brought the Holberton School of Software Engineering (founded by two young French software engineers in San Francisco) to train Silicon Valley-class developers in Tulsa, and opened their campus there last January. They also partnered with Foundry College, which offers month-long training programs for high-demand skills like Salesforce administrators.

Tulsa isn’t just a place to find talent. There is also a chance you won’t have to pay as much as comparable talent in big cities would expect. The median home price in Tulsa is approximately $ 136,000 compared to approximately $ 630,000 in New York City.

With a low cost of living, GKFF also ensures that the quality of life is good. One of the many initiatives is an investment of 100 acres and $ 500 million in Gathering Place, a park where Tulsans can relax. As Michael Basch, a GKFF advisor, said in an interview: “Before the pandemic, people wanted space, but now they need space.” The pandemic is taking a toll on the remote workforce, and outside activities are a great way for people to relax.

SEE: How to Work From Home: IT Pros’ Guide to Teleworking and Remote Working (TechRepublic Premium)

Top companies are already taking note of Tulsa. The city made Tesla’s final round for its new facilities, up against Austin, TX. A head of talent pipeline development at Google told Basch the company would consider opening offices in the city if 500 different software engineers could be hired, a goal Basch hopes to achieve soon. Among the hundreds of people who have moved under the Tulsa Remote program, some are already working remotely for Cisco, ADP, Deloitte, IBM and Microsoft.

Tulsa isn’t the only nontraditional tech hub looking to attract talent. Vermont paid remote workers $ 10,000 to help them move there and work from home. Maine has offered a tax break to ease the student loan burden. Newton, IA, has offered new home buyers $ 10,000 in cash. Alaska has offered a number of grant programs and tax incentives. North Platte, NE offered up to $ 10,000 as a signing bonus for workers, and Heartland Lakes, MN hired a branding agency to attract distant workers.

Even Finland invests heavily in promoting technical talent. Do you really want to leave Apply now for a free 90-day moving package to Helsinki and enjoy the city as a service. There are already many intelligent software engineers who want to enjoy the quality of life as well as the world-class facilities for efficient working and learning from a distance.

While some of these locations haven’t always been the first place to look for top tech talent, it may be time to include them in your search. It’s also time for cities to step up their efforts to recruit talent who may be fleeing the high costs of tech hubs like Silicon Valley. Tulsa is showing a few things cities can do to appeal to this new generation of technicians.

Disclosure: I work for AWS, but the views expressed here are mine.

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