I received a report this week from the Milken Institute in Santa Monica, Calif., that discusses what it calls the top high-tech metropolitan areas for knowledge workers in North America. This report intrigued me for many different reasons, not the least of which is that the current economic situation is sort of rewriting the whole notion of where people need to work, whether or not they need to travel and so forth.
Because the data that Milken cites is actually a couple of years old (from 2007), I'll just list out the top geographies that it discusses. Here are the Top 10:
- San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, Calif.
- Seattle-Bellevue-Everett, Wash.
- Cambridge-Newton-Framingham, Mass.
- Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, Va., Md., DC (this is up one position from a study in 2003)
- Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale, Calif. (off one position from 2003)
- Dallas-Plano-Irving, Texas
- San Diego-Carlsbad-San Marcos, Calif.
- Santa Ana-Anaheim-Irvine, Calif.
- New York-White Plains-Wayne, NY and NJ (near yours truly!)
- San Francisco-San Mateo-Redwood City, Calif.
It cites Toronto, Ontario (which jumped up 10 spots from 2003); Kalamazoo, Mich.; and Baja, Calif., as rising metros. Other cities that it mentions are Scranton-Wilkesboro, Pa., Vancouver, B.C., and Durham, N.C.
As I read the report summary, I couldn't help thinking about a conversation I had a few months back with an executive who lives in Chicago but actually works for a Vidyo, a company near me in Hackensack, N.J., that sells telepresence (aka usable videoconferencing technology). When he was interviewing, his location was at first a deal breaker. Then, the CEO had an epiphany: Why not use Vidyo's technology to make location a non-issue.
There are other technologies emerging quickly this year that are making the concept that you have to live in a certain place to hold a certain occupation seem sort of redundant. One example is desktop virtualization, which serves up applications from a central data center "virtually" anywhere. You could locate a customer service representative at their home, for example, cutting down on office space.
Mind you, there IS something to be said for the collegial nature of a place where many people that share the same work-life perspective can be found. When I lived in Santa Cruz, Calif., there was no shortage of great technology companies to cover. Now, though, it doesn't really matter where I am because I do most of my interviews over the phone, often using Web conferencing technology to look at the visuals.
What this does tell you as a manager though is three things:
You are no longer beholden to certain cities if you want to start certain types of start-ups. If you're starting a technology company, for example, you could look at Silicon Valley OR North Carolina OR Toronto or any number of places. You can pick the place that makes you feel the best or where your most valuable intellectual or manufacturing assets might be located and work out from there.
Smart CxOs are rethinking the notion of whether or not key employees MUST be in the office in order to collaborate effectively. Likewise, I think we'll see companies start to make "headquarters" decisions for very different reasons than in the past.