We are not flyover country

Commentary

When most Americans think of technology startup hubs, they think of places like Boston, Seattle and Silicon Valley. And many think of Milwaukee as a Rust Belt city and Wisconsin as a farming state. We do not have the reputation as a magnet for high tech talent and entrepreneurs.

In other words, we’re considered flyover country.

In recent years, Milwaukee and Wisconsin have ranked at or near the bottom of the Kauffman Index of Startup Activity. That’s a big concern because new businesses create most of the new jobs in the economy.

However, there are signs Wisconsin is making progress in improving its startup and technology sectors.

Inc. magazine recently announced its annual list of the 5,000 fastest growing private companies in America, and placed a Wisconsin company at No. 1. Madison-based logistics technology startup SwanLeap, founded in Elkhart Lake in 2013, took the top spot with 75,000 percent growth over the past three years and a projected $400 million in revenue this year.

Wisconsin has two companies in the top 10 of the Inc. 5000. Besides SwanLeap, Milton-based Diamond Assets, an Apple hardware trade-up provider, was ranked No. 7.

Those companies provide a big opportunity to change the narrative about Wisconsin. We’re not flyover country. Startups and tech firms can and do thrive here.

More evidence has emerged to back up that claim. Madison ranked as the third-fastest growing technology employment market in the nation, according to a recent report from commercial real estate firm CBRE. Another recent report, commissioned by several area businesses and called Milwaukee’s Tech Talent Impact, said this region has 76,000 technology workers and tech talent-dependent industries in the area had a $27.6 billion economic impact last year. And according to a Venture Monitor report by Pitchbook and the National Venture Capital Association, Wisconsin had a significant increase in venture capital deals during the second quarter of this year.

Bolstered by graduates and research coming out of the University of Wisconsin, Madison has long been the state’s tech startup leader. But Milwaukee could be positioned to catch up. Earlier this year, another report in Inc. magazine said “Forget Silicon Valley” and identified three places to which entrepreneurs should move their startup businesses. Milwaukee was one of them. Why? The cost of living is much lower in Milwaukee than in tech hubs like Seattle and San Francisco, where housing costs are spiraling out of control.

Those low costs are probably why Milwaukee has the ninth-youngest entrepreneurs in the country, according to a new study by online loan marketplace LendingTree.

And who knows what impact Foxconn will have on the state and region’s tech economy? That’s yet to be determined.

State and area leaders need to use these companies and data points to help attract more talent and more entrepreneurs.

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Andrew Weiland
Andrew Weiland is the editor of BizTimes Milwaukee. He joined BizTimes in 2003, serving as managing editor and real estate reporter for 11 years. A University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate, Weiland is a lifelong resident of the state. He lives in Muskego with his wife, Seng, and son, Zachary. He is an avid sports fan and enjoys coaching his son’s youth baseball and basketball teams.

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