Tech companies are feeling the weight of rising costs in cities like San Francisco and New York City. More and more people are leaving the coasts in favor of opportunities in less expensive areas. Meanwhile, many cities across middle America are experiencing huge economic booms alongside still-recovering real estate markets, making them attractive to startups and job seekers alike. Amazon's short-list of locations for its second headquarters (which includes Nashville and Columbus, Ohio) also indicates that interior regions are ripe and ready for serious growth.

In December, AOL's Steve Case launched the Rise of the Rest seed fund, which initially secured more than $150 million to invest in startups based in emerging technology hubs across America's heartland. Case is aiming to work with entrepreneurs in emerging startup ecosystems with the vision that high-growth companies can start and grown anywhere, not just in the Silicon Valleys of the world. Case has rallied technology A-listers around this effort, and the fund has already made initial investments into at least nine startups.

Startups trying to break through the noise in Silicon Valley, contain operating costs, and attract talent from a broader pool should consider setting roots in a handful of emerging technology hotspots in middle America.

Ohio

In a recent broad-sweeping study of technical job postings, ZipRecruiter ranked the top 20 growth areas for technology jobs. Three Ohio cities made the list: Cincinnati (No. 11), with a 96 percent increase; and Cleveland (No. 12) and Columbus (No. 14), both with over 80 percent growth. Ohio is also home to two companies in the Rise of the Rest fund's inaugural class: Losant, an internet of things platform for enterprises in Cincinnati, and blockchain startup SafeChain in Columbus.

Huntsville, Alabama

As the birthplace of the U.S. space program, Huntsville has a legacy in STEM fields. Its current growth in technology jobs and startups is a testament to how the community has nurtured that history. NASA's presence is largely responsible for Rocket City's high rankings on the opportunity scale for engineers. The city has also executed well in forging strong public-private partnerships and promoting a thriving technology industry. Software development, electrical engineering, and computer science are top fields, contributing to the city's 309 percent year-over year-growth in tech jobs.

Nashville

Nashville boasts a diverse emerging tech scene and is home to a handful of successful biotech and health care technology startups. It is home to Silicon Ranch, one of the leading solar energy system providers. Nashville's tech-talent growth rate has been cited at nearly 68 percent, which beats even the Bay Area.

Kansas City, Missouri

Home to some big players in technology, including Sprint, Garmin, and Cerner, Kansas City remains one of the most affordable burgeoning tech hubs. Tech job growth has been ranked at 157 percent year-over-year as of 2016, and ZipRecruiter reports that project managers and network engineers are in high demand.

Grand Rapids, Michigan

The region's roots in manufacturing has created a local technology industry centered around human design. Data center construction and operations company Switch recently opened the most extensive data center campus in the Eastern U.S. in Grand Rapids, which is estimated to bring a $5 billion investment to the region. Grand Rapids has a fast-growing IT services and consultancy industry, serving companies around the world and across the Fortune 500.

Salt Lake City

Utah's City of the Saints is home to Cotopaxi, another of the companies to receive an investment from Case's new fund. Last year, the area's startup community was estimated at $12 billion in value, and it has a strong talent market fed by its local universities. Utah was recently ranked No.1 in innovation and entrepreneurship and No. 2 in high-tech by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The New York Times hailed Case's Rise of the Rest fund as possibly "the greatest concentration of American wealth and power in one investment fund." It's clearly going to make an impact. While San Francisco, Silicon Valley, Seattle, and Washington D.C. can be expected to remain the tech-industry heavyweights, aspiring entrepreneurs should take note of Case's efforts and the cities his fund is targeting.

Published on: Mar 22, 2018