When my wife, Mary, and I started telling people that we were leaving Silicon Valley to move to Minnesota, we were met with a variety of reactions. The most obvious was, “Oh, wow — it’s cold there, right?” Others asked, “What will you do for work?” Perhaps the oddest response was, “That seems really random!”
I suspect the mixed reactions came not just because people in the Valley don’t know much about Minnesota, but because, at least on the outside, we had no reason to leave. For all the buzzwords people throw around about Silicon Valley, it really is a dynamic and innovative place, where you bump into brilliant people just by going to the grocery store. Mary and I have both worked at Google for more than 10 years, we moved into our first home a few years ago a few miles from the office, and we have 1-year-old twins running around the house. All the pieces of our life were starting to fall into place.
But there was something about living in the cradle of innovation that was starting to feel oddly confining. As a region dominated by one industry, Silicon Valley often finds itself inside the tech bubble, similar to the government bubble of Washington, D.C. While tech companies in California are building things that change the world, they sometimes don’t feel connected to it.
Minnesota is different. Growing up in Northfield, I often looked outward for inspiration. I went to the West Coast for college, the East Coast for graduate school, spent time abroad, and ended up in California to work at YouTube, then Google. Along the way, I bumped into lots of members of the Minnesota diaspora, and we always formed an instant bond. Yet many fellow Minnesotans I met on the coasts were, like me, hesitant to move back. If you work in tech, Silicon Valley seemed like the obvious place to be.
But that’s changing. States across the country are building thriving tech communities brimming with new ideas — and Minnesota is no exception. My wife and I have had the opportunity to see this firsthand. Five years ago, we started a nonprofit called Silicon North Stars that brings students from the Twin Cities out to Silicon Valley for a weeklong tech camp every summer, where they visit companies like Google, Facebook and Uber — and create their own startup ideas, too. Then throughout the year, we connect these students with local tech leaders and entrepreneurs in the Twin Cities for additional mentoring.
Through this work, we’ve been impressed by the growing tech community here. Minnesota now ranks in the top 20 for tech-industry employment in America, with tech jobs accounting for almost $25 billion of the state’s economy (7.4 percent). It’s also the fourth-best state for female entrepreneurs according to Fundera, the online credit matchmaker for small businesses. And Minnesota claims the largest statewide startup competition in the country, the Minnesota Cup.
One of the distinctive features of the technology industry in Minnesota is that it is integrated into one of the most diverse state economies in the nation — spanning med tech, retail, agriculture, food processing and financial services. The nationally renowned startup incubator TechStars has not one, but two, accelerators in Minnesota — one for retail startups and one for agriculture startups (dubbed “Farm to Fork”). In the med tech space, our state is a national leader — Minnesota’s “Medical Alley” is home to more than 15,000 health businesses, including six Fortune 500 health technology companies that provide a half-million jobs, according to the governor’s office. And a host of “B2B” startups — companies focused on building tech solutions for other businesses — thrive in the state, with several successful acquisitions in the past few years.
It’s hard to get stuck inside of a tech bubble when you’re focused on solving real problems in a variety of industries — and providing new opportunities for people in a fast-changing economy. The future of how we work and live will be defined by how we leverage technology to improve everyone’s prosperity, and Minnesota’s tech economy is well-positioned to play a leadership role in that transition.
Here in Minnesota, I’ll be working for Google remotely — leading our News Lab team to help news organizations around the world innovate at a time of rapid change, and growing Google’s overall efforts in our state. Mary is starting as a partner at Revolution’s Rise of the Rest, a venture fund investing in startups outside the Valley.
Of course Minnesota’s growing tech community wasn’t the only reason we were attracted to move here from Silicon Valley. It’s hard not to love a state that’s ranked the second-best place to live in the country. And with my extended family here, raising our young family will be easier and more rewarding.
While it might be too early to tell, my family’s move is beginning to feel part of a broader trend. According to data from Redfin reported in the New York Times, in the last three months of 2017 San Francisco lost more residents to outward migration than any other city in the country. Meanwhile, Minnesota’s net domestic migration numbers tipped positive last year for the first time in 15 years. When we started looking for houses in Minneapolis, our real estate agent told us that a third of her buyers last year were from out of state.
Minnesota’s growing tech community, diverse economy and high quality of life make it a great place to move from Silicon Valley if you work in technology. I hope more Minnesotans working in tech out of state come back home — there’s a world of opportunity waiting, and no better time to come help build the future of our state.
Steve Grove is the founding director of the Google News Lab and an International Security Fellow at New America. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.