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Notes From Nashville: How Emerging Tech Centers Are Attracting Talent With Perks, Cash, Tax Incentives And More

By Brian Moyer

Despite an influx of workers from San Francisco, New York, Chicago and other major tech cities during the recent so-called tech exodus, America’s emerging new tech centers—including my hometown, Nashville, Tennessee—are still experiencing a shortage of tech talent.

The shortage is being fueled not only by the emerging tech centers’ own vibrant startup scenes, but also by the expansion of leading tech companies outside of traditional tech cities.

For instance, in Nashville and the surrounding region, industry giants like Amazon, Facebook and Oracle are establishing a major presence that requires a large number of tech workers. Last year, Nashville was ranked as America’s No. 1 market for tech job growth over the past five years by national commercial real estate firm CBRE.

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With everyone competing for a finite number of tech workers, the new kids on the block—emerging tech centers—are having to get creative in their recruitment efforts. Our effort here in Nashville, TechIntoNashville, is an interesting example of the creativity that emerging tech centers are bringing to the battle for talent.

A multichannel marketing campaign, TechIntoNashville is using search-engine marketing, public relations, organic social media, paid social media, connected TV, online video and online native advertising to drive traffic to a website, TechIntoNashville.com, where tech workers learn about Nashville’s tech scene and the tech job market.

And we’re not just broadly putting the word out to the national tech community.

TechIntoNashville is focused exclusively on the six U.S. markets with the highest concentration of highly qualified tech talent—San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Boston and Washington, D.C.—and where tech workers also may be motivated to seek greener pastures because of political turmoil, high taxes, high cost of living and low projected tech job growth in coming years.

Brian Moyer is CEO of the Greater Nashville Technology Council

And it is no secret to these cities that Nashville is gunning for their tech talent. The Chicago Tribune warned “Nashville is trying to woo Chicago tech workers, touting milder weather and shorter commutes.” The San Francisco Chronicle wondered “Is Nashville the next hot spot in the Bay Area exodus?”

This kind of aggressive, finely targeted marketing for tech workers began with Colorado’s innovative Pivot to Colorado campaign in 2018, which targeted Silicon Valley and San Francisco with cheeky outdoor and transit ads that encouraged Bay Area tech workers to abandon California valleys for Colorado peaks.

Since the Colorado campaign, more than two dozen U.S. cities and states have decided to take the gloves off and openly go after tech workers living in major tech centers. Some, like Nashville and Colorado, are running buzzy marketing campaigns to raise their profile within the Technorati.

Others are straight-out paying workers to relocate, with incentives ranging from one-off payments and reimbursement of relocation expenses, to paying off student loans, offering free plots of land, invitations to home-cooked meals at neighbors’ homes, and a stand-in “grandmother” to babysit. Here’s a sampling of these efforts.

  • Chicago’s Come Back to Move Forward marketing campaign, which focuses on online gaming communities, Reddit and other social media platforms, is running in the usual places: San Francisco, New York, Seattle, Los Angeles, Boston, Atlanta, Denver, Austin, Dallas and Washington, D.C. The region has lost nearly half of its tech talent in the past decade. The goal is to get 10,000 of them to move back.
  • Ohio put up billboards in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Boston, Chicago and Austin that unfavorably contrasted those cities with Ohio. For example, one billboard in New York’s Times Square read, “Your buildings are taller, our taxes are smaller.” One in Seattle suggested that techies “Live where you can actually save for a rainy day.”
  • Johnson City, Tennessee, created Cash into the Appalachians, a combination marketing campaign and incentive payments program that focuses on convincing remote workers to move to Upper East Tennessee. Cash payments range from $2,500 to $5,000, with recipients receiving 25 percent of the incentive when they move to the area, 25 percent after living there for six months, and the remaining 50 percent after living there for a year.
  • Greensburg, Indiana, offered a relocation package that includes $5,000 in cash as well as stand-in “grandparents” to babysit techies’ children, invitations to home-cooked meals at neighbors’ homes, a one-year membership to the local coworking space and YMCA, free gift cards to the seasonal farmers market, and tickets to productions at the local playhouse.
  • Lincoln and Mankato, Kansas, offered free plots of land to tech workers who relocated.

Simply paying people to move is the favored tactic for many, especially smaller cities that lack big-city amenities. In all, more than 50 markets are offering incentive payments—ranging from $2,000 to $20,000—to tech workers who move, according to MakeMyMove.com, a website devoted to tracking these kinds of payments. (Yes, there actually is a website devoted to compiling all the relocation incentive payments available to tech workers—that’s how big this thing is.)

Bottom line: It is a very good time to be a tech worker in America. Cities and states are spending millions of dollars on marketing and incentive payments to get your attention. And may the best market win!


Brian Moyer is CEO of the Greater Nashville Technology Council, the leading voice and advocate for Middle Tennessee’s $8 billion information technology ecosystem and the 70,000 technology professionals who design, implement, manage and safeguard the technology that powers the region’s economy.

Illustration: Dom Guzman

 

 

 

 

 

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