One of the most explosive statistics leading up to the 2016 presidential election was that, of the approximately 4.5 million jobs created since 2010, fewer than 100,000 were created in the heartland.
Technology and startup jobs played a significant role in those millions of jobs, but nearly all of them were concentrated in a few urban hubs on the coasts, particularly Silicon Valley, New York City, Boston, Seattle, Los Angeles, and Raleigh-Durham.
If tech and tech jobs are a critical and enormous part of a positive national future, we have to ask ourselves: How can we bring those jobs to places outside a few ultra-urban coastal clusters?
How can we bring the positive prosperity we associate with the technology bubble we live in to more ex-urban and rural regions of the country that see tech, and the startup industry, as an alien world that is primarily driving jobs and opportunities away from them and to the coasts and overseas?
I think there are five key ways that technology companies and the startup world can bring the benefits of the tech industry to abandoned parts of the heartland.
1. Partner to create training for positions on non-elite campuses starting in freshman year of college
The coastal, exclusive nature of the technology industry starts with where it sources its incoming members. If you source only from a dozen top universities on both coasts plus the University of Chicago and a few other elite institutions on blue islands, you will naturally create an iron-hard barrier to the rest of the country.
Ninety-six percent of Americans go to two-year colleges, state universities, and non-elite private institutions, and technology companies should expand to reach them. The first answer you always get about that is "they aren't the top talent to recruit," which is true only if said tech companies focus on recruiting them only after their time in school is nearing its end. To be proactive, those companies should partner with universities to set up honors programs and course sets at each of these schools where they either oversee the curriculum directly or reach out to local experts in their networks to teach them. The successful graduates of those programs should then be snapped up after graduation by the tech program sponsors.
2. Set up more technology centers in mid-size towns
There is great talent in places like Eric County, Scranton, and other mid-size, ex-urban but non-rural towns across the U.S. That talent should be harnessed. In addition to training programs at non-elite universities and colleges, many of which are in places like this, forward-thinking technology companies should set up data centers and other mid-paying job centers in these areas.
3. Build bridges to local governments and partner with them on local initiatives
Local governments across the country feel abandoned by the urban coasts. This gap must be narrowed and tech companies can play a major role in that, while increasing both their own business and these cities' quality of life. Google Fiber and Verizon Fios, as one example, can invest in major expansion to mid-size towns, in conjunction with investing in local talent. Startups that want to grow without paying California taxes and associated costs for every headcount can set up secondary HQs there, maintaining the critical presence in the valley but not bloating it unnecessarily.
America's internal conflict is increasingly a story of urban versus rural, coastal versus heartland, and multiple opportunities versus no opportunities. The tech center is currently at the epicenter of that conflict. It must become part of the solution.