How to Attract Top Tech Talent When You’re in a Smaller City

By BrainStation July 19, 2019

If you’re a company in Silicon Valley, it’s not hard to pull in top tech talent — it’s the hotbed of emerging startups and established tech giants, after all, be it Apple or Google, Amazon or Facebook.

There’s also been a ripple effect over the last decade with large, global cities experiencing tech booms of their own and the creation of mini-Silicon Valleys, everywhere from New York to Toronto to Los Angeles.

But how can companies attract the best people when they’re based in smaller cities?

Marshall Ring, CEO of the Manitoba Technology Accelerator, offered his advice to BrainStation based on what’s worked in Winnipeg, Manitoba — a Canadian city with a population of just 750,000 people that’s experiencing a tech industry boom.

In 2018, employment in Winnipeg’s tech sector grew by almost 40 per cent, according to CBC News. That’s faster than most of the major Canadian tech hubs, including Vancouver, Ottawa, and Montreal, reveals a report by national real estate firm CBRE called Scoring Canadian Tech Talent.

“Skip The Dishes was the company that really helped drive the tech growth we’re seeing here in Winnipeg,” Ring says, of the Canadian food delivery and takeout startup. “Investors were able to invest here in Winnipeg and see good returns… that led to attracting and retaining top talent.”

Ensuring other companies can tap into those vibes and hire the best staff means implementing a few initiatives within each workplace, Ring adds.

Start local with your hiring

Smaller cities aren’t going to have the same magnetic pull as bigger, world-famous markets, but Ring says that’s not an obstacle — companies just have to tap into their local workforce first, and grow from there.

It’s all about developing a staggered recruitment strategy, he explains.

In Winnipeg, companies first began attracting born-and-raised community members. Then they started reaching out to former residents who’d left and moved on to jobs elsewhere. 

Next they began recruiting regional residents — people from nearby provinces — who’d also moved away.

“We started working in these kinds of concentric circles,” says Ring.

By doing so, the city was able to create a solid workforce with enough clout and growth to become more and more appealing to workers from well beyond its borders.

Offer a welcoming climate, big opportunities 

Recruiting talent is one thing, but securing and retaining people is another.

Ring says it’s absolutely crucial for companies in smaller cities to offer new hires the chance to work on world-class projects from the get-go. It creates a welcoming climate, he explains, and makes people feel like the job is worth investing in by giving them opportunities to quickly expand their skillset and career.

“Give them great projects, and empower them to build on it,” he says. “We don’t see a lot of people who are just here for a paycheck.”

Coupled with ongoing career development opportunities, developing a positive workplace vibe is key. It’s a reality Silicon Valley staples have mastered — like the well-known office perks at Google, from free meals to guest speakers to an on-site gym.

Not every smaller-town startup has the cash to go big, but there’s no harm developing lower-cost team building and mentorship initiatives to offer employees more than just a day job.

“Make people feel involved and appreciated,” says Ring.

Lobby your local government

Companies in smaller cities hoping to build a tech scene and attract top talent should also turn to their elected officials to add fuel to the fire, according to Ring.

He recommends companies develop outreach strategies to build relationships with community leaders and the local government who want to see the industry thrive.

Civic leaders can talk up the tech industry, offer publicity, and help create a climate that’s favourable to incoming workers — since the character of a city is often just as important to people taking a job as the company itself. 

It also matters “just knowing you’ve got goodwill and engagement, people cheering for you,” says Ring.