Three Mayors on Their (Very Real) Challenge to Silicon Valley’s Dominance
Mayor Francis Suarez took his seat on a beautiful Miami afternoon, with a blue sky, bay, boats, and palm trees visible behind him. He was in good spirits, happy to again be talking about Miami’s potential as a tech hub. “This,” he told me, “is not a virtual background.”
The notion that any city could challenge the Bay Area’s tech dominance seemed ludicrous even a few months ago. But a full year of remote work can change things. Over the past two weeks, I’ve spoken with Mayor Suarez, Austin Mayor Steve Adler, and Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway about why they believe the tech industry may grow more dispersed, not concentrated, as the pandemic ends. And though I came in skeptical — especially after publishing data last year that dispelled some tech migration myths — I walked away believing it’s indeed possible that Silicon Valley won’t return to normal when we all do.
Silicon Valley — the place, not the idea — is more vulnerable today than any time in recent memory. Though the tech industry has thrived in the Bay Area for years, it now feels decidedly unwelcome. “Techie go home” gets spray-painted on sidewalks in San Francisco. Tech shuttles get attacked on the freeways. Tech workers apologize in the “occupation” field of their dating profiles. And tech donors get ostracized. All this is happening as tech work and tech networking (hello Clubhouse) moves virtual, giving many the option to honor the spray paint’s request. When a California lawmaker tweeted “F*ck Elon Musk” last year, Musk replied, “Message received.” A few months later, he confirmed he’d moved to Austin.
What struck me about the mayors’ pitches was their focus on the heart, not the pocketbook. Every Bay Area resident knows the region’s cost of living is astronomical, yet that’s done little to dislodge its tech dominance. So the competing mayors have instead zeroed in on making tech workers and executives feel wanted. Instead of calling them…