As a software developer, I dread a few times during the year. Right after Labor Day, right after Memorial Day, and then right after the New Year. My phone will buzz from emails and LinkedIn messages asking if I’m looking for a new opportunity. The first couple of years this wasn’t too bad. I would peruse the emails, and maybe read a LinkedIn message, sometimes even answer them. The last couple of years though, I’ve seen a trend that has really bothered me. The messages are for jobs out of state to such places like Madison, WI and Pittsburgh, PA. Being that I’m a software engineer, it shouldn’t be too hard to guess which companies are involved.
It’s great that technology is being brought to such cities as the development generally leads to better services for everyone (e.g. Google Fiber). But, when counting on the tax incentives and courting involved, did these businesses forget to due their due diligence on the active candidate market? At least Amazon had the insight to open up locations in Austin, TX and Cambridge, MA. Opening up in an unestablished city really exposes major weakness in a company’s brand and executive mismanagement. This disconnect has the ability to create unnecessary risk to the long term management of human capital by creating a double camel hump where you have employees who stay 1-2 years and those who are lifers. The lack of employees in the 3-10 year bracket is caused by the lag of realizing this move was bad for business along with not stemming standard employee turnover rates (employees will leave no matter what; if it’s time to go, it’s time to go). This creates succession issues where you have to find outsiders who may not get the culture or the product to babysit the corporation until the next set of leaders are actually ready to takeover day to day.
1. Big Fish Little Pond
Moving to such a location has it’s advantages as you can be the big fish in the little pond. Millennials who are more mobile than other age groups and are looking to make a name for themselves might find such a move as a viable and interesting choice. It’s easier to stand out when the competition is thin.
The downside to this is innovation collaboration is limited and innovation competition is stifled. While such a move may reduce employee turnover (i’m not sold this actually does), since there’s no one else employing people (but this doesn’t stop those who want to go out and make their own company which is why I’m not sold on the prior point), it makes it harder for the business to truly stay competitive.
While consumer businesses are fighting nationally and globally for consumers, the job market is still a local competition. For example, the best high school football team from say Vermont probably could be decimated by a low ranking Texas team or any other team from the South. How can you get better if you aren’t seeing the best of the best every single day? – Sorry Carnegie Mellon you’re not MIT. These “technology centers” run the risk of becoming niche and breeding a sense of complacency which is counterproductive to what these businesses coming in should be doing. A Meetup for a technology only works if you have enough people to show up.
2. Big Ego Little Results
The fact that you move to a city to create your own hub and can’t get flocks of people to join by themselves and need to actively recruit shows you’ve overplayed your brand. Very few companies have strong name brand recognition and even those have issues. The fact that I’m getting hounded by recruiters for Uber when Uber is as synonymous of a name for hailing a taxi (who really says “Are you going to hail a taxi” anyomore? You say “You going to Uber it?”) shows tremendous weakness comparative to a company like Google which is synonymous to search and gets inundated with resumes for all their locations.
So while Millennials are mobile, city branding also matters. There’s the cliché of moving to New York City to make it big but end up in a dead end job and it being okay like every TV show (e.g. Glee), heading to LA and staring in a movie, going to Texas and getting a big truck, a gun, and a cowboy hat. Then there’s Buffalo – “We have snow!”, or Pittsburgh – “We have Terrible Towels!”, or Nashua – “Live free or die, we’re the south but north!” all make really compelling arguments *rolls eyes*. Tourism bureaus probably could be doing a little bit more as I know more about Avocados from Mexico than I know about these cities.
To me this indicates either brand mismanagement or other factors made the business decision to locate the facility which means they aren’t doing the right thing from a technology standpoint.
3. Mobile Doesn’t Equal Car
While Millennials are more willing to move than other groups and have mobility that way, they tend to lack truly mobile options (i.e. car). Bus service is not mass transit. Granted cities like Boston can’t figure out how to run a train, they still have that as an option – I’m almost at the point to think that functional light rail in Boston is a myth. If car driving is required, there’s already Austin, Boulder, and Raleigh, that are up and coming and more established. Pittsburgh, you get a special shout out for at least having a light rail. Mobile Millennials doesn’t mean they actually know how to be mobile once in a city.
Every time I open one of these messages I feel like a MBA goes to the bar to cry over the gross mismanagement that is being performed. There can be no financial argument for such a decision, especially for a privately held company with a war chest (cough) Uber (cough). You may be able to will local governments to bow to your demands, but the job market is even more fickle and personal. People care more about where they work than you seem to think – unless you gave me a million dollars, then you can send me wherever you want 🙂