Many commentators have noted recently that the near-monopoly Silicon Valley has enjoyed in technology startups is beginning to erode. Last month, The Economist magazine dubbed the trend a “techsodus” from the Bay Area and stated that “[Silicon] Valley’s influence is peaking.”
Much of the venture capital investment aimed at technology startups is still raised in and flows into California, but increasingly, when startups look to scale their business models, they are doing it elsewhere, due to the increasingly high costs associated with the Bay Area in terms of talent, real estate, and taxes. This shift in investment will greatly benefit regions that have ample incentives in place to attract startups, areas like greater Kansas City and other cities throughout the Heartland.
The four-state area of Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa is anchored by two metropolitan areas—Kansas City and St. Louis—that are ranked 15th and 26th, respectively, in the latest Kauffman Index of Startup Activity, an annual measure of entrepreneurial activity. Notably, St. Louis registered the single-largest uptick in the rankings, climbing 10 spots from the previous year’s rankings. Additionally, the Heartland region boasts six of the top 25 “Best Places to Live” according to Liveability.com’s annual rankings.
As long-time residents of our region know, America’s Heartland is a great place to live, but that alone won’t attract the next wave of venture investment. There have to be sufficient resources and density in place—a so-called startup ecosystem—to incentivize entrepreneurs to relocate, and on this measure, our region has made dramatic improvements over the past decade. Over the past five years, our region has put at least a dozen startup accelerators into place, and those organizations have provided early-stage capital for nearly 160 companies. Furthermore, our region has long invested in human capital, as well. There are seven Class I research universities in the four-state region, providing both new and existing companies with ample talent to grow and prosper.
But make no mistake: the competition among regions is fierce, and there is a constant need to shore up regional weaknesses and enhance strengths. One major advantage our region enjoys is geography. Situated in the middle of the country, the Heartland is a natural transportation hub and a key piece of the global supply chain; we are a great fit for companies whose business models require tapping into that geography. To make that advantage count also requires investment, and regional decision-makers have stepped up to the plate to keep our region competitive. The billion-dollar Kansas City International Airport project will secure reliable commercial air service for the next generation. The planned 415-acre intermodal port along the Missouri River likewise will amplify our region’s rail and river transportation advantages.
Compared to other regions throughout the country, the Heartland’s share of venture capital investment has been relatively low, but as the geography of innovation shifts, there is a window of opportunity for our region to establish itself as a bigger player in the knowledge economy. The Heartland has long been known as America’s breadbasket, but we have everything that we need in place to grow tomorrow’s business champions as well. For more discussion on this topic, please contact Jeff Simon.