Which Cities Are Seeing The Most Growth In Tech Headcount?

The tech industry landscape is undergoing significant changes, particularly in the relocation of talent during the pandemic. These changes present both challenges and opportunities for founders and startups, as outlined in SignalFire’s State of Talent Report 2024. 

The tech industry is experiencing a shift towards decentralization, with new hubs emerging across the United States. Several factors are driving this geographical evolution of the tech talent pool, including remote work, cost of living, and government initiatives aimed at promoting tech growth outside of traditional tech centers.

Austin has experienced the most substantial growth in headcount at Big Tech employers, with a remarkable increase of 44% since 2019. This growth can be attributed to the attraction of major players such as Meta, Google, Oracle, Tesla, Snap, and Apple, which have relocated or expanded in recent years. Austin also holds the top position for venture capitalist-backed startups, with a 23% increase, followed by Dallas at 19%.

Seattle has also emerged as a prominent tech hub, with a 20% rise in tech talent. Notably, this growth is primarily due to the movement of talent from larger tech companies to startups, with only a 6% growth in Big Tech headcount in Seattle.

The shifting landscape of tech talent migration and the rise of new tech hubs across the United States signify a significant trend in the tech industry. This evolution presents both challenges and opportunities for founders and startups, urging them to adapt to and capitalize on the changing dynamics of the tech industry.  

“While Austin saw the biggest growth in tech headcount as a percentage of its former size, the city came in second when it came to raw volume, with just under half of total relocators moving to NYC,” the report stated.

The Losers

People are flocking less to notable tech hubs. The “biggest losers” include San Francisco, Seattle and Boston. Although the high cost of living is seen as the primary factor, New York City is an anomaly, as it boasts astronomical rent prices yet attracts the largest share of relocators since 2019.

Additionally, Arizona, which was once considered a hub for tech sales, has contracted by 7% over the past five years.

While tech workers have migrated from Silicon Valley, it still reigns supreme when it comes to the volume of talent specializing in artificial intelligence and machine learning, with the San Francisco Bay Area topping the list.

“San Francisco, by far and away, has the highest volume of tech talent in the country, as a percentage of its whole population. And so it remains not only the highest volume of technical talent but also AI technical talent, which is critical in these times,” said Heather Doshay, a partner and head of people and talent at SignalFire. “Its dominance is really under no threat. It remains the largest population, in terms of density of tech talent.”

In October 2023, OpenAI, the parent company to ChatGPT, conducted one of the largest office leases in San Francisco since 2018. The office space in Mission Bay encompasses nearly 500,000 square feet, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Unsuspectingly, Pittsburgh and Portland, Oregon are becoming burgeoning hubs for AI talent.

Implications For Founders

To remain competitive, founders should explore establishing roots in growing tech hubs, like Austin, New York City, and Dallas, to capitalize on the influx of talent. Since Big Tech is no longer a safe move, as evidenced by the wave of layoffs since 2022, tech workers may be more apt to join VC-backed startups. Founders should also consider hiring remote talent from secondary hubs or creating a hub-and-spoke model, with a central headquarters and accompanying satellite offices.

While employers hold the cards now in the current labor market, the high demand for AI talent makes this area of specialization the exception. To attract the top players, organizations will need to think creatively and offer flexible work styles, especially when competing with the prestige of Big Tech.

SignalFire advises that employers look to their existing workforce for potential talent needs. With upskilling and internal mobility opportunities, it gives employees the chance to advance their skills and enhance the scope of their jobs. Workers can gain critical skills, and the company doesn’t have to look externally for talent. They also get to nurture the growth of their employees.

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