Attracting tech workforce to county is crucial



photoKen Hood

We live in a time of extraordinary innovation and change, much of which is built upon software.

Coming out of the Great Recession, demand for software engineers has outpaced the general market. Salaries for software engineers are two to three times the average income of Southwest Washington residents.

From a tax base and growth perspective, these are great jobs to have in our community. Moreover, software jobs tend to be held by younger, increasingly entrepreneurial-oriented citizens who are willing to become active members of the community.

Having recently founded and sold a software company in Vancouver to a Fortune 500 company, I experienced first-hand several trends shaping the new global imperative in the tech industry: how to attract and retain top talent.

Trend 1: The market for software talent is hot and likely to stay that way for the foreseeable future. New enabling technologies are empowering companies to launch products faster and at incredibly low startup costs. Any device that uses electricity will ultimately be connected and manageable via the Internet with an app.

The hundreds of billions of Internet-connected devices represent a continued opportunity for transformational automation and control across devices and applications.

Trend 2: The jobs are coming to the talent, not the other way around.

Software engineers are first deciding where they want to live, and then jobs are coming to them (or they are creating their own jobs).

Portland is benefiting from this trend. Silicon Valley-based companies are hiring in Portland, and investors outside our community are leading financing rounds at some of the hottest startups. Young, well-educated people are migrating to Portland and taking software jobs downtown.

For Vancouver, a key to attracting talent is therefore to establish what our community stands for, including our identity and cultural environment. Vancouver competes for talent not just based on what our companies offer, but what our community offers.

Trend 3:Urbanization. The paradigm shift underway in the U.S. is to spend less time in our cars and more time walking, using public transportation, riding bicycles and lowering our energy use.

As a result, people are choosing to live closer to where they work, and this trend will accelerate in the coming years as downtowns experience a renaissance. The majority of the new software jobs being added in Portland are downtown, in or near the Pearl District. This trend represents a reversal of the suburbanization of jobs we have seen over the past several decades.

Given these factors, how can Vancouver best compete for the tech talent pool?

First, we should continue to leverage the Portland Brand at the national and global level (for now, Vancouver has no brand recognition outside of our region, so we should align with Portland’s brand, which is on the rise).

Second, Vancouver needs a strategic plan for its identity. The way we market ourselves as a city and community matters, and a realistic assessment of the gaps in our public identity will enable us to align our aspirations with our goals. Our community’s desirable attributes must be easily understandable, and the message must be exportable outside our region.

By taking this step, we will rise above the pejorative labels du jour that our friends south of the river bestow upon us: The Couv, Vantucky, and the new favorite, Vansterdam. Given where we are today and what is happening in Portland, there is only upside for us to consider our options and actions to benefit from attracting the growing base of technology engineers and entrepreneurs.

Ken Hood is director of Connected Home Solutions at Cisco, which has an office in Lake Oswego, Ore. He founded Vancouver-based ClearAccess Inc. in 2005, which was acquired by Cisco in April 2012.