Why tech employers are freaking out about the Chicago market

While unlimited soup, salad and breadsticks is a universal truth at any Olive Garden, an unlimited supply of engineers is not a guarantee in a hot tech market like Silicon Valley. That’s why the most agile and bottom-line-minded tech firms have turned to Chicago to find their next tech talent, whether their need is a half dozen or several hundred of the best and brightest.

“We want to tap into the Chicago market. We’re excited about the tech talent there—the new grads, people returning home because it’s such a livable city,” Foursquare senior vice president of engineering Matt Kamen recently told Crain’s Chicago Business.

While Foursquare is starting to hire just a half-dozen engineers locally, enterprise demand for its location data underscores a high-growth and more diversified future for the New York-based business. Foursquare looked at other up-and-coming markets, from Toronto to Austin, but we can guess one big reason Chicago won—tempered wage growth.

Of the top metro areas nationally for tech employment, Chicago continues to boast the lowest tech wages and the slowest tech wage growth in recent years. Given our reasonable cost of living, this isn’t terrible news for tech employees and it’s a major boon for employers. For Monsanto’s San Francisco-based tech unit Climate Corp., hiring in Chicago is also about the robust pipeline of recent graduates committed to staying close to home.

“It’s a good market for talent,” Climate Corp. vice president Brian Zimmer told Crain’s. “Some of it is economics, some is the skills that are there. Having an office in Chicago is outstanding for people who want to stay in the Midwest.”

Climate Corp. also considered proximity to the consumer of its agricultural data products—farmers. As tech companies continue to diversify their offerings into other industries for which Chicago is uniquely positioned, from trading to life sciences to manufacturing, we’ll shift from flyover state to destination of choice when it comes to attracting and retaining qualified tech talent that doesn’t break the bank.

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