How does Milwaukee compare to a city that's a burgeoning hotbed of technology businesses and thriving tech startups? In January, I attended the Silicon Slopes Tech Summit in Salt Lake City, Utah to find out.
In many ways, Milwaukee is very similar to Salt Lake City. With metro populations of 1.6 million and 1.1 million respectively, they are similar in size. Both have major university towns nearby, as Milwaukee has Madison and Salt Lake City has Provo. Yet Salt Lake City is quickly becoming a national tech hub while Milwaukee lags behind.
The Silicon Slopes Tech Summit (SSTS) provided a great opportunity to see a trending technology hub up close and personal and to hear about industry- and community-building ideas from tech business leaders from Utah (Josh James of Domo), Vancouver (Stewart Butterfield of Slack), Boston (Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts and former CEO of Bain Capital), and Silicon Valley (Shantanu Narayen, CEO of Adobe). If there was one message at SSTS it was this:
The key to a thriving tech community is a diverse pool of educated, enthusiastic, and talented people.
We've known for years that Wisconsin is losing many of its college graduates, and Utah's similar lack of tech talent is a major regional concern. In fact, by 2020, Utah will only be able to fill 45 percent of its open tech positions. So, it stands to question, if SLC—which has a burgeoning tech industry and offers a host of other desirable amenities such as light rail, outdoor recreation, a temperate climate, and low cost of living—can't attract the talent necessary for its tech industry how can Milwaukee be expected to compete?
First, we need to train the next generation of workers. In order to do this, members of the local tech community need to get involved in local governance and community initiatives. Here are a few ideas:
- Become a Mentor at The Commons - a collaboration between 24 Southeast Wisconsin colleges and universities, our local business community, and the region's entrepreneurs to give students real-world experience.
- Ask your local school board to create and invest money in technology and computer science classes.
- Mentor or advise a team from UWM's Student Startup Challenge or iCorps program
Second, the business community at large needs to develop our startup community and promote diversity throughout the workplace. With more exciting job opportunities in the tech industry, Milwaukee will be better positioned to attract workers with the skills and resources that are vital for energizing and sustaining the local economy. Here are a few places you can get involved:
- Make the Parity Pledge - commit to interview and consider at least one qualified woman for every open role, VP and higher, including the C-Suite and the Board.
- Attend an event by Startup Milwaukee - Startup Milwaukee is an organization that builds the tech community in Milwaukee. Learn more here: https://www.startupmke.org/
To move forward, Wisconsin's tech community needs become the champion of such projects. Not only do we need to educate the workforce of tomorrow but we must give our most talented people reasons to stay here in Wisconsin.