Omaha Hopes to Lure Tech Talent in Shift to Remote Work


Omaha has experienced a rise in technology companies and its tech workforce in recent years, and it’s positioned to draw more tech talent to the area as remote work become an accepted practice. (Matthew Henry via Burst)
By 
David Golbitz
The Daily Record

A little bit of elbow room goes a long way during a pandemic.

As technology companies plan to extend work-from-home plans well into next year, Omaha is among the destinations looking to bolster its preexisting reputation to draw tech talent away from the Bay Area and similar locations where overcrowding has driven up the cost of living.

“Even before the pandemic and before the rise of remote work, Omaha and Lincoln have seen a really great rise in technology companies and the technology workforce,” Flywheel Co-founder and CEO Dusty Davidson told The Daily Record in a recent interview. “There’s great students coming out of the universities, there’s great companies being started.”

Omaha’s reputation helped earn it a third place ranking on CBRE’s 2020 list of up-and-coming tech talent markets in North America according to the firm’s “Scoring Tech Talent” report.

The report, which was released last month, outlines how tech jobs could change drastically due to the coronavirus. Google employees, for example, have been working from home since May and the company doesn’t plan for its employees to return to the office until July 2021.

“The world is transitioning to a more remote-friendly workforce, especially in the technology world, in large part because of the cost of living in other places, but also commutes and other things,” Davidson said.

CBRE, the world’s largest commercial real estate and investment firm, ranked cities based on a variety of criteria, including wages, cost of living, recent tech talent growth rates and their outlook. The up-and-coming cities are smaller, lesser-known markets with potential for growth.

“Omaha has found success with landing and birthing startups due to its intentional public and private initiatives to attract companies and grow tech talent,” said Kellee Mikuls, CBRE’s Omaha vice president. “It’s a huge priority for the chamber to be a tech hub, and it’s apparent we are on our way there.”

According to the report, Omaha’s tech talent labor force grew by 21% in the past five years while tech wages increased by 11%. Tech jobs have great potential to survive the upheaval caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the report notes, because most companies will still require the technical skills of these employees.

“You find that in a place like Omaha you can work for an extraordinary company, either locally or remotely, and have all the wonderful benefits of being in a place like Omaha, in regard to raising a family or commutes or amenities or cultural things,” Davidson said. “The ability to work from anywhere creates a bigger opportunity here.”

The Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce and other entities have been building out the city’s infrastructure for technology sector, including fostering tech start-ups to solidify Omaha’s place among the Silicon Prairie – the broader region trying to lure investment that traditionally would be made in the Silicon Valley.

Erica Wassinger is a co-founder of The Startup Collaborative and Proven Ventures, and she promotes Omaha as the perfect place for remote tech workers to lay down roots.

“Think about this: What city can you live well, juggle all life throws at you and squeeze a few hours in daily to start up? Not many,” Wassinger said.

Families have room to spread out in Omaha, along with opportunity to tap into the talented experts that already call Omaha home.

“We’re in the backyard of the world’s preeminent health care institution for infectious disease management – UNMC – and the community still operates with an open-door policy. You can literally get a meeting with almost anyone,” Wassinger said.

Jim Smith, executive director of Blueprint Nebraska and a former Nebraska state senator, said the state’s economic development plans are aligned to promote Nebraska as a whole as a destination for remote workers in a post-coronavirus world.

“We believe the Blueprint roadmap aligns with several emerging technology trends, “including expanding broadband coverage across the state and branding and marketing Nebraska to potential tech-related workforce and investors, both inside and outside the state’s borders,” Smith said.

Davidson said the Omaha metropolitan area has been doing a good job of enticing technology companies to set up shop here, citing LinkedIn, Yahoo and PayPal as prime examples.

“These groups have relatively large workforces here,” Davidson said. “I think Omaha as a second headquarters for technology companies makes a lot of sense.”

But Davidson believes that choosing Omaha as the primary headquarters for technology companies makes a lot of sense, too.

“Flywheel is a leading employer in software engineers and technology workers in the area,” he said. “I believe you can build great technology companies anywhere. You don’t have to be somewhere else to do it.”

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