As startup incubators and technology-based businesses abound, cities nationwide -- and across the border -- are divvying up the map and claiming their geographies as specialized sites for innovation.

When Amazon announced its search for a location for its new headquarters, 238 cities and regions stepped up to woo the online giant, according to The New York Times, claiming that they would make the best hub. One Inc.com writer cited Chicago as the best startup city, and another listed Pittsburgh as first. VentureBeat also suggests you keep an eye on Indianapolis, Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Raleigh, North Carolina.

Toronto has even built its own "planet" -- a fully integrated 1.5 million-square-foot innovation center aptly named MaRS -- that offers everything from office and lab space to workshops to funding sources. Attracting a global population, Toronto was recently chosen as the site for the next Collision conference, which attracts close to 30,000 international attendees.

However, as technology becomes more pervasive and specialized, cities and regions have taken on a new strategy -- focusing on specific types of technologies and companies and establishing themselves as hubs for innovation in a particular category.

They promote themselves at tech conferences like Collision and SXSW and travel to other geographies for structured sessions to attract growing businesses. They give away swag and glitzy promotional brochures and compete for big brands and tech talent. Just a few of the specialties that cities are claiming:

  • Arlington, Virginia, wants to be known as the cybersecurity "capital" of the U.S. Its proximity to Washington, D.C., and its having the highest Millennial growth rate (according to RealtyTrac) are among its claims to fame. The Arlington Economic Development website says cyber is predicted to be a $1 trillion industry by 2025, and by 2022, there will be 1.8 million more cybersecurity jobs than people to fill them. 
  • Orlando, previously known just as the home to Mickey and Minnie, now wants to own training and simulation technology. KPMG is building a $400 million global training facility there, composed of 800,000 square feet over 55 acres. The National Center for Simulation is already based there, as is EA Sports. Sheena Fowler, senior director of marketing communications for the Orlando Economic Partnership, says that the city is working hard to overcome its just-for-fun reputation. Its tagline is, "You don't know the half of it."
  • GoDaddy, Yelp, MindBody, and Carvana all selected the Phoenix area for their back offices because of "the nexus between great talent coming out of the education system and the availability of unique and affordable living environments that appeal to that talent," according to Chris Camacho, president and CEO of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council (GPEC). The council has a site called the Connected Place, where the focus is on IoT (internet of things) as being the future of the Phoenix area. Open land is ideal for testing driverless vehicles and for facilities to test wearable technologies. Intel has 11,000 employees and has been in Arizona since the 1980s, so Phoenix is building on legacy businesses that are looking to innovate, as well as welcoming newcomers. 

The International Economic Development Council (IEDC) has 5,000 members and offers training and conferences for regions that need to hone their marketing and growth skills. But more than a great tagline and colorful booths at trade shows are required to build and sustain a technology hub. According to Austin, Texas (whose tech boom began around 1999), a geography needs to have a solid financial foundation first. Before startups proliferated in the area, the city had a base of established and profitable companies.

If you're contemplating a move or expansion, how do you look beyond the marketing hype and find a place that fits your skills and your lifestyle?

Study the facts and stats, but do your own behind-the-scenes research, too. Talk to as many people as possible, focusing on your own demographic. Visit for a stretch of time and try the area on for size by attending local business events as well as social activities. Make sure you will have options if your startup or new job doesn't work out as planned. And, of course, there's an app for that. Teleport claims to have the ability to help you figure out where to live.

Published on: May 7, 2018