America’s Top 5 Under-the-Radar Tech Hubs

By    May 21, 2014

Boise ID

Last year, tech observer Dan Blacharski declared that Silicon Valley had become obsolete. Plenty of tech entrepreneurs, investors and executives—particularly those in the land of Apple and Google—would take issue with that bold statement.

Still, a strong case could be made that the universe of tech startups does not revolve around Silicon Valley. In fact, Blacharski maintains that cheap, reliable cloud-based technology has enabled tech startups to start up in a lot of places outside the cradle of the U.S. tech industry.

“When we think of high-tech innovation and startup culture, traditionally a handful of cities always come to mind. But today, there’s a different story emerging,” Blacharski, editor in chief of Techie.com, said in a news release. “High-tech development and innovation is being democratized, and midmarket cities throughout the U.S. are rolling out new tech parks, incubators and programs designed to encourage tech development.”

In the spirit of the democratization of tech startups, we’ve come up with a list of America’s Top 5 Under-the-Radar Tech Hubs. Clearly, you won’t find a Silicon Valley or a San Francisco or an Austin on our list.

The Method Behind the Ranking
To compile this list, we looked at midsize metro areas (500,000 to 1 million residents) that appeared in a 2013 report from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a nonprofit that focuses on entrepreneurship. The report zeroed in on the density of tech startups in U.S. metro areas of all sizes.

If a midsize metro area scored at least two positive rankings in the report’s various categories, it qualified for our list. We then whittled the final list to five. To rank the tech hubs, we considered how many rankings each area received, along with how high each ranking was. For this list, we weeded out places like Provo, UT, that are on practically everybody’s radar these days.

Now that we’ve got the formalities out of the way, here is SpareFoot’s list of America’s Top 5 Under-the-Radar Tech Hubs.

1. Boise, ID

Boise Balloon Classic

Spirit of Boise Balloon Classic

Metro area population: 650,288 (July 2013)
Population growth: 3.6 percent (July 2010-July 2013)
Major university: Boise State University
Big-name corporate employers: Hewlett-Packard, J.R. Simplot, Micron Technology
Job growth: 2.1 percent (March 2013-March 2014)
Unemployment rate: 5.5 percent (March 2014)
Major accolades: Ranked among 10 Most Unexpected Cities for High-Tech Innovation (Techie.com); No. 1, Best Cities for Jobs (spring 2013, Forbes.com); No. 12, America’s Top 100 Places to Live (Livability.com); No. 11, Best Places for Raising a Family (Forbes.com); No. 1, Best Cities to Move to in 2014 (SML); No. 8, Best Cities for Savvy Young Families (CreditDonkey.com)
Tech startup players: Boise Valley Economic Partnership, Boise Young Professionals, StartupBoise
Tech startup stars: Meal Ticket, Klowd.com, Social Good Network
Why Boise is a great place for startups: “Our area has a strong history of technology talent and innovation . … There is a strong talent base with a lot of innovative companies and startups popping up.”—Lisa Bloomquist, marketing manager, Boise Valley Economic Partnership
Note: Top photo shows Idaho Capitol and downtown Boise

2. Des Moines, IA

Iowa State Fair

Iowa State Fair

Metro area population: 599,789 (July 2013)
Population growth: 4.9 percent (July 2010-July 2013)
Major university: Drake University
Big-name corporate employers: DuPont Pioneer, Meredith Corp., Wells Fargo
Job growth: 3.5 percent (March 2013-March 2014)
Unemployment rate: 4.7 percent (March 2014)
Major accolades: No. 5, Best U.S. Job Markets in 2014 (ZipRecruiter); No. 4, Top 50 Places to Find a Job (Beyond.com); No. 1, Best Cities for Young Adults (Forbes.com); No. 12, America’s Top 100 Places to Live (Livability.com); No. 6, Best Places for Raising a Family (Forbes.com); No. 8, Best Cities for Savvy Young Families (CreditDonkey.com)
Tech startup players: Business Innovation Zone (BIZ), NestMint, StartupCity Des Moines
Tech startup stars: Dwolla, ScoutPro, Social Money
Why Des Moines is a great place for startups: “The Des Moines ecosystem for startups is very strong. The primary strength comes from the large number of experienced mentors available and willing to help; events like Pitch & Grow for practicing investment and sales pitches to gain constructive feedback; a strong angel investor network, including PlainsAngels; a new seed fund for very early stage startups, NestMint; a strong 1 Million Cups weekly program; and monthly TechBrew events for networking.”—Mike Colwell, executive director, BIZ

3. Little Rock, AR

Little Rock River Rail

River Market

Metro area population: 724,385 (July 2013)
Population growth: 3.2 percent (July 2010-July 2013)
Major university: University of Arkansas at Little Rock
Big-name corporate employers: Acxiom, Dillard’s, Windstream
Job growth: 0.3 percent (March 2013-March 2014)
Unemployment rate: 6.3 percent (March 2014)
Major accolades: No. 1, Great Places to Live (Kiplinger.com); No. 14, Best Cities for Young Adults (Forbes.com)
Tech startup players: Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub, Arkansas Venture Center, Startup Arkansas
Tech startup stars: Acorn Hours, Apptegy, Overwatch
Why Little Rock is a great place for startups: “Little Rock is great for startups because veteran entrepreneurs … are supporting younger entrepreneurs in amazing ways.”—Jordan Carlisle, director of entrepreneurship and innovation programming, Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce

4. Baton Rouge, LA

LSU

LSU football game

Metro area population: 820,195 (July 2013)
Population growth: 2 percent (July 2010-July 2013)
Major university: Louisiana State University
Big-name corporate employers: Dow, Exxon, Shaw Group
Job growth: 2.1 percent (March 2013-March 2014)
Unemployment rate: 4.2 percent (March 2014)
Major accolades: Ranked among Best Cities for Entrepreneurs (Entrepreneur.com); No. 1, Top Metros for Economic Growth Potential (BusinessFacilities.com); No. 7, Best U.S. Job Markets in 2014 (ZipRecruiter); No. 14, America’s Engineering Capitals (Forbes.com); No. 7, Best Cities for Savvy Young Families (CreditDonkey.com)
Tech startup players: Louisiana Business & Technology Center, Louisiana Emerging Technology Center, Louisiana Technology Park
Tech startup stars: LawyerBooks, LocalMed, Vinformatix
Why Baton Rouge is a great place for startups: “Baton Rouge is a fertile breeding ground for entrepreneurial activity. We have the resources to promote and assist entrepreneurs and innovators through Louisiana State University, the Louisiana Business & Technology Center and other incubators associated with LSU. The ripe culture developing in Baton Rouge is an asset to launching businesses and developing innovations.”—Charles D’Agostino, executive director, Louisiana Business & Technology Center

5. Portland, ME

Old Port Fest

Old Port Fest

Metro area population: 519,900 (July 2013)
Population growth: 1.2 percent (July 2010-July 2013)
Major university: University of Southern Maine
Big-name corporate employers: Fairchild Semiconductor, General Dynamics, IDEXX Laboratories
Job growth: 0.6 percent (March 2013-March 2014)
Unemployment rate: 5.2 percent (March 2014)
Major accolades: Ranked among 10 Most Unexpected Cities for High-Tech Innovation (Techie.com); No. 6, Best Cities for Young Adults (Forbes.com)
Tech startup players: Casco Bay Tech Hub, Maine Center for Entrepreneurial Development, Startup Portland
Tech startup stars: Big Room Studios, CashStar, Vet’s First Choice
Why Portland is a great place for startups: “We have a welcoming and friendly community that has been working hard to develop resources that foster, engage and empower startups and entrepreneurs to grow their businesses in our city.”—Jess Knox, lead organizer, Maine Startup and Create Week

Data sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Census Bureau

John is editor of The SpareFoot Blog. He first moved to Austin in 1999, when downtown Austin wasn't nearly as lively as it is today. John's loves include pizza, University of Kansas basketball and puns.

  • bluNorange

    Boise State’s Computer Science department is undergoing rapid growth and has ambitious goals to supply the local tech industry with even more quality graduates. You can read more about their collaborative efforts with local industry at http://news.boisestate.edu/update/2013/12/04/1-million-state-gra/

  • PrimeMovr

    Wanted to also point out that Verizon has a huge footprint in Little Rock area as well. It’s their South Central Region HQ among other functions.

  • http://adambair.com/ Adam Bair

    I’d like to add that Portland, Maine has a *massive* work/hack-from-home population.

  • EditorJohnEgan

    Aprpove

  • bret

    +1 to what Adam said. There’s a bunch of us.

  • http://emphatic.co/ Jeniece from Emphatic.co

    Would love to also see the places you weeded out. It’s a bold statement to say Provo, Utah’s on everybody’s list these days :-)

  • EditorJohnEgan

    By virtue of developments like Google Fiber, Provo has risen to a level that arguably is higher than a Des Moines or a Baton Rouge. Furthermore, Provo tends to appear on far more “best of” lists than a Portland or a Little Rock.

  • http://emphatic.co/ Jeniece from Emphatic.co

    Glad to know. Thanks!

  • Martin Grohman

    “Portland, ME is the best place to raise your first $100K.” – Don Gooding, Maine Center for Entrepreneurial Development.
    If you want to hear interviews with some of Maine’s top startups (including one with Don and one with CashStar co-founder David Stone), check out my ad-free podcast “The Grow Maine Show” on iTunes, or at http://www.growmaineshow.com.

    Cheers!

  • http://coen.boisestate.edu/cs Boise State CS

    Boise State’s Computer Science department is undergoing rapid growth and has ambitious goals to supply the local tech industry with even more quality graduates. You can read more about their collaborative efforts with local industry at http://news.boisestate.edu/update/2013/12/04/1-million-state-gra/

  • Art Barrios

    Baton Rouge has recently landed a major IBM development center as well. Go Tigers! http://www.ibmlouisiana.com/jobs/

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