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Finding Start-up Talent in Rural Areas

Posted on June 28, 2006

I had the opportunity to sit down with Tom Markiewicz of EvolvePoint last week while I was in Roanoke, VA for a wedding (pics will be up on flickr soon) and I am glad I had a chance to do so as he is a great guy. His company, EvolvePoint, is in the RSS space as is FeedBurner so it was good to talk industry for a while but our discussion on creating “Silicon-Valley-like” atmospheres in other parts of the country was particularly interesting. I brought up what Frank Gruber and I are doing in Chicago with TECH Cocktail and he loved the idea. However, he brought up an interesting point (I’m not directly quoting here) - it’s easier to build a community in Chicago because it is a city. The scene is there but just dormant. What about places like Blacksburg, VA where EvolvePoint is headquartered?

This got us into a discussion about finding and attracting talent to a start-up and how it is easier to do so inside of a city. The question is, why? Of course there are easy answers like the following:

  1. More stuff to do
  2. Great restaurants
  3. Commute is not bad

But those reasons apply to both younger and older people. What about the younger talent you are looking to bring into your start-up? Why are they less likely to want to live in Blacksburg even though they may have gone to Virginia Tech right in town? Tom sees a couple of reasons:

  1. The want to just get out of town after four years
  2. Social/dating scene is not there

The first reason mainly applies to people that attend great schools is rural areas (like VA Tech) and just want to get the heck out after graduation. The second reason is more the meat of the issue. How is a young person supposed to date and meet people in Blacksburg? It is a lot easier to meet people and date in the city presumably because the scene is there and there are simply more young people. So, while the Roanoke Valley is a gorgeous place to live, the cost of living is dramatically lower than Washington DC and there are opportunities there for tech, young people seem to prefer the city where they have a better chance of meeting people and even that “special someone.”

So it seems that, for now, it will still be hard to find start-up talent in places like Blacksburg even though a large tech university is in the very same town. The question is, when will the tipping point come and what will spur it? At some point the high cost of living will send people away from the cities and then start-ups outside of cities will find great talent. So if you are a company headquartered outside of a major city it seems like a social/dating scene comparable to cities is what you need to woo talent - not more perks.

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2 Comments so far
  1. Tom Markiewicz July 4, 2006 10:10 am

    Thanks for the kind words. I also should point out that there are several people actively working on this issue - one I think we can eventually change. Both Pat Matthews or Webmail.us and Stuart Mease of City of Roanoke have been big proponents of changing this situation through young professional events and organizations. I expect that as more and more jobs are being created here in the IT field, more students will choose to stay in the area.

  2. stuart October 12, 2006 8:08 pm

    Thanks for writing about this topic. 75% of people under the age of 28 pick location first over the jobs. You must have the amenities, whatever they may be. Certain folks will be satisfied with the offerings, while others will never be convinced - and that is okay - we do not want to keep them all. Ultimately all areas will be in need of talent. It will be up to the individual to decide where they want to work and the companies will follow. That is why we are being proactive now in addressing this issue.

    We have www.roanokeva.gov/connect to help people who want to be in the area to find local jobs.

    We are also having career and lifestyle fairs showcasing companies and things to do - www.roanokeva.gov/fairs. One is December 28 to people returning to the area for the holidays and the other is on the VT campus April 18.