In our article Why Sourcing Domestic Talent Is Compelling—and Cost-Effective, we took a look at U.S.-based freelancers and how they’re creating tech-hiring hot spots around the country. So where are those tech hubs, and what skills are driving innovation in each?
In this series, we’ll take a closer look at each region from coast to coast. Previously we introduced you to the industries and metros that make up East North Central. In this article, we’ll dive into the Midwest, Division 4, West North Central a.k.a the Silicon Prairie. This division spans seven states: Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota.
Iowa: Des Moines to Ames
A combination of tax breaks, cheap green energy, and vast expanses of open land has attracted the likes of Google, Microsoft, and Facebook to plant data centers in and around the suburbs of Des Moines, Iowa’s capital and largest city. In fact, Des Moines ranked 8 among the top 12 cities for tech hiring in 2018, according to a Robert Half Technology report. Apple is the most recent tech giant to enter the region, with plans to build a $1.3 billion data center in Waukee already underway. The presence of these tech giants have kick-started a whole ecosystem of smaller, homegrown data center companies such as LightEdge Solutions and Involta. Iowa University in Ames serves as a steady pipeline of top tech talent.
Kansas: Wichita to Kansas City
With 90% of the land in Kansas devoted to agriculture, you’d be forgiven for not being familiar with Kansas’s other major industry: aviation. The city of Wichita has been dubbed the Air Capital of the World. Cessna, Stearman Aircraft, Textron Aviation, Spirit AeroSystems: Kansas’s largest city holds an impressive roster of homegrown aviation companies. Wichita State University serves as a local talent and research hub. Kansas City, KS (KCK)—not to be confused with Kansas City, MO (KC-MO), which we’ll get to in the next section—receives a steady supply of talent from the University of Kansas in nearby Lawrence. It serves as a suburb to the larger, more urban KC-MO and is considered part of the greater Kansas City metropolitan area.
Missouri: Kansas City to St. Louis
Straddling the border between Kansas and Missouri, Kansas City is a bustling start-up town and one of the lucky few recipients across the country to receive Google Fiber. Kansas City’s impressive roster of thriving start-ups includes Blooom, the fintech firm that reached $1 billion in assets under management last year, and Farmobile, which raised $18 million to take its agritech data platform worldwide. With local universities such as the University of Missouri-Kansas City, Kansas City University, and Rockhurst, there’s plenty of tech talent to draw from. St. Louis’s tech scene is colored by thriving incubators including T-REX and Cortex, local funding sources such as Arch Grants, and start-up competitions like the St. Charles County Demo Day. But if there’s one thing that sets the St. Louis tech scene apart from that of the rest of the heartland, it’s agritech. The city is the headquarters for major agribusiness companies including Bunge, Novus, and Monsanto. Monsanto in particular has been active in supporting the local start-up scene through Monsanto Growth Ventures, which together with Lewis & Clark Ventures awarded local start-up NewLeaf Symbiotics $30 million in Series C funding in 2017.
Minnesota: the Twin Cities—Minneapolis and Saint Paul
They’re called the Twin Cities for a reason: St. Paul, the state capital, and Minneapolis, Minnesota’s largest city, are only a 15-minute drive apart. Together the Twin Cities form a major metropolitan area with top colleges such as the University of Minnesota, local accelerators like Accel.MN, and venture capital firms including Matchstick Ventures. The start-up scene in the Twin Cities definitely has a strong health tech presence, especially when you look at the funding. Minneapolis insurance start-up Bright Health broke local records in venture capital when it raised $160 million in Series B funding last year. St. Paul-based medical device start-up Ativa Medical raised $20 million for its microlab technology for running blood tests at patients’ bedsides. And let’s not forget Amphora Medical, which closed a $35.5 million round of funding led by Longitude Capital and Boston Scientific.
Nebraska: Omaha and Lincoln
Omaha, Nebraska’s largest city, is the home of the First National Bank of Omaha, the largest privately owned bank in the country. Lincoln has the University of Nebraska, which serves as both a research institute and a source for tech talent. Together they form the Omaha-Lincoln greater metropolitan area, which has developed a reputation as the fintech hub of the Silicon Prairie. From the mobile banking platform D3 Banking Technology to Embermine, a blockchain-powered collaboration platform for creatives, Nebraska has an impressive collection of homegrown fintech start-ups.
NORTH DAKOTA: FARGO
According to a study by WalletHub, North Dakota is the best state in the nation to start a business. The Peace Garden State ranks first in key metrics such as average growth in the number of small businesses, accessible financing, and number of start-ups per 100,000 residents. ND’s secret to start-up success? Fargo, a tech mecca hidden away in the Silicon Prairie. The city is the site of the country’s third largest Microsoft campus—a legacy that dates back to 2001, when the tech giant acquired Great Plains Software for $1.1 billion. North Dakota State University’s main campus provides a steady pipeline of tech talent. Emerging Prairie organizes popular events such as 1 Million Cups and gatherings such as Startup Drinks. Some of the more successful members of ND’s start-up scene are Myriad Mobile, which helps agribusinesses go mobile; Appareo Systems, an aerospace/defense electronics manufacturer; and Botlink, an agritech start-up helping farmers improve their business with drones.
South Dakota: Sioux Falls
Sioux Falls is another Midwestern city building a tech start-up community on traditional industries such as finance, agriculture, and healthcare. The small city is the site of MetaBank’s corporate headquarters, tractor mower manufacturer Diamond Mowers, and healthcare provider Avera Health. Local incubators such as the Zeal Center for Entrepreneurship offer coworking spaces, funding, and professional training for start-ups and professionals. Among the city’s emerging start-ups are glaucoma medical-device company Equinox and educational-app developer Montessorium.
East North Central reflects a much larger nationwide trend of Silicon Prairie cities reinventing old industries with new technologies. Upwork, the world’s largest freelancing website, is uniquely positioned to help you tap this talent resource no matter where you’re physically located.