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Move over Silicon Valley: Milwaukee is here

The future of tech is in a new city. Here’s what you need to know.

Mar. 12, 2019 | By Jordan Turner

Milwaukee’s got a secret. While the tech world’s been distracted by the new shiny thing in Silicon Valley, Austin or the East Coast fintech hubs, something’s been brewing in Milwaukee. From early-stage funding and job creation to increasing salaries and low cost of living, Brew City is a great example of growing U.S. metro areas investing in tech companies and tech talent. The hope is that these investments will provide the ROI tech’s known for: population growth, business and job creation, and wage growth.

Brew city is booming

A simple glimpse into the sheer building construction will give you a good view into how Milwaukee’s tech boom is powering exponential growth. Consider the Pabst Brewery complex, which houses NŌ Studios, a new 40,000-square-foot artistic coworking hub with tenants like startup accelerator Gener8tor. But well-established companies are also fueling the boom. Founded in the 1850s, Northwestern Mutual has its own venture fund, leading the charge for economic growth. Alongside their venture fund, Northwestern Mutual recently announced the grand opening of Cream City Innovation Labs in their downtown Milwaukee headquarters, demonstrating their flagship dedication to innovation, ideation and experimentation for the greater Milwaukee community.

“There’s a palpable shift in perspective,” says Andy Glassman, a back-end architect at Watermark and Milwaukee resident. “Straight out of college, you’d only think of the big companies for a stable job opportunity. Now? There’s a plethora of bootstrap companies looking for tech, sales and marketing pros.”

A few years ago, “tech hub” was not a term associated with Milwaukee, but today it’s part of public conversation. Companies are reinvesting in the community that’s fueling Milwaukee’s growth. “Today, brands live and die by their technical talent,” says Tony Gemoll, a senior enterprise architect at Northwestern Mutual. “Talent has the ability to impact and touch so many aspects of an organization, which wasn’t necessarily understood by Midwest companies.”

According to TEKsystems’ internal applicant system,

The number of IT pros in Milwaukee has grown 10 percent over the last five years, almost 25,000 total people.

 

“The market has a diverse mix of skill sets: software engineers and developers, systems and data analysts, front-end / UX design, IT support and project management,” says Arin Olson, a digital account manager at TEKsystems.

Milwaukee is leveraging modern technology, quickly. “When I started analyzing and helping with meetups, JavaScript was code for ‘we use jQuery’,” explains Gemoll. “Now we’re seeing really modern technologies being used. Think: React, Angular, node. It’s the standard, not the exception.” This means the city is on the same playing field as other major tech cities; it’s table stakes now. “You need to have the ability to use cutting-edge tools.”

Meetups and networking

Beyond budding tech culture, the core of this burgeoning tech hub is that professional—and financial—opportunity abounds. And that means wage growth comparable to larger, more established cities. “For a while, it was really hard to break the six-figure mark in Milwaukee as a developer,” explains Gemoll. “We’ve crossed that hurdle, and I don’t look at San Francisco in envy any longer.”

With more than 100 tech and entrepreneur meetups in Milwaukee organized through companies like Eventbrite and Meetup.com, the city is flooded with networking and learning opportunities. Back in 2014, Glassman decided to get more involved in the tech community and started a Java meetup. It’s grown from a handful of members to more than 1,000 people. “In any given day, there are around one to four meetups to choose from that are focused on tech concepts all over the spectrum,” says Glassman. “There are many more platforms and ways for people to connect, hear about trending topics and learn new tech concepts.”

Gemoll backs Glassman’s meetup experience. He “accidentally” became the organizer of the Milwaukee JavaScript meetup in 2014. The group has grown exponentially, and his passion to improve the tech landscape for Milwaukee endures. “There are a lot of interesting things going on that weren’t being talked about or socialized,” says Gemoll. Several coworking spaces built in collaboration by Wisconsin colleges and universities, local businesses and entrepreneurs have popped up. The Commons and The Hive are collaborative spaces for students and entrepreneurs to network and innovate. “At meetups, we encourage companies and individuals to share the interesting projects they are working on, to teach about their experiences, new processes, modules and ultimately inform about the cool stuff going on.”

The meetup culture has seen incredible growth and collaboration; “Meet the Meetups” is the largest tech gathering with a vision to connect all the meetups and celebrate the growing tech community.

Midwest with moxie

“People are always surprised when they visit Milwaukee,” says Glassman. “Watermark is based out of New York. When my team comes to visit, they love it!” With easy transportation, improved city amenities, wage growth and a growing social scene, Milwaukee is quickly attracting new residents.

Enter NEWaukee, a company invested in improving the “social architecture” of Milwaukee through events, programs and initiatives. “Companies can choose to host or sponsor events that bring the community together and enhance the social scene,” explains Olson. Political open mics, socials and tours are just a few of the upcoming events on the docket through NEWaukee.

What’s more, Milwaukee is extremely drivable and cost of living is insanely cheap. “We have a pretty underrated bus system,” says Glassman. “I live out in the suburbs and can take the bus from my street corner all the way downtown in less than 40 minutes.”

Interested in learning about job opportunities burgeoning tech towns across the U.S.? Follow Arin Olson on LinkedIn, call one of our offices or search open opportunities. We’re all-in partners ready to make your career journey smooth—and rewarding.

Jordan Turner is a marketing communications strategist at TEKsystems. She’s passionate about storytelling and creating engaging business-focused content, and has spent the last two years building the TEKsystems consultant Community from the ground up.