How Small Towns Can Win A Big City Game

Small Town Big City

People don’t give smaller towns enough credit. It’s easy to think that cities like San Francisco have everything going for the tech industry. But smaller towns like Eugene Oregon have plenty of advantages.

Let’s talk about the advantages of Eugene Oregon’s tech sector, and show how small towns can win a big city game.

Small Town Big City Title

There’s something bubbling up here in the Eugene Oregon area. I’m a fan.

Simplified Recruiting

From a recruiting standpoint, small towns are a gold mine. Targeting a smaller area makes it easier to get more bang for your buck. And that’s regardless of the recruiting channel taken.

If you live in a place Eugene you could recruit through a local job board, or email newsletter. There’s also opportunities for local branding.

By becoming a big fish in small pound you can attract more skilled talent to your small town startup. You’re also not fighting with many whales like many startups do in larger cities.

To start, seek out new hires at local job fairs and colleges. You’ll build a “buzz” among these communities and talent will seek you out.

Don’t underestimate the value of word-of-mouth. In small towns there’s a big focus on community. It’s surprising how word travels for new opportunities. And people are happy to lend a helping hand.

A low number of available talent could be an issue in smaller towns. This might be a good opportunity to look into remote workers. You can also try pulling talent in from larger cities. Many people are happy to move for the right opportunities, and calmer living of small towns.

Leveraging The Digital Mayor Effect

It’s easy to become a local industry expert in smaller towns. You can become the digital mayor of those community’s. Because there aren’t a lot of similar businesses in those areas.

This is a concept I first heard from Gary Vaynerchuk. People or groups that create online content can become a valuable resource to others in the area. That content can be photos, written, audio, or video. The goal should be to try to help others in your community. This build awareness, word of mouth and eventual more business.

“Giveaway milk to sell cows” — Gary Vaynerchuk

Let’s say you run a freelance dev shop or a local co-working space. Being a digital mayor can help bring in more customers. People may even approach you outside of your location for advice or support.

Residents in small towns have a lot of community pride. Some even have an unwavering loyalty to local businesses. As a local startup, people in the area are likely to provide a warm introduction for you.

This loyalty also happens in larger cities but it’s easier to pull off in smaller towns. Tech startups in small towns should make the most of this opportunity.

Feels like another benefit of become a Digital Mayer is that it can build a strong network. You can use these connections to spur innovation within a startup.

Lowered Cost Of Living

Getting away from the big cities lowers the cost of living. The median sale price for a home in Silicon Valley over $1 million now. To compare, the median sale price of a home in Eugene was less than $270,000 and $220,000 in Springfield. So it’s easier to keep top talent around without breaking the bank.

When I talk about the cost of living in Eugene I have to bring up Portland, Oregon’s runaway housing market. Yes Portland is growing and it upsets some Oregonians. Compared to Silicon Valley the cost is low. The average home sales price is around $415,000 in Portland.

There’s a possibility that small towns could experience runaway growth. This can even a challenge for bigger cities. Property values will increase if supply can’t keep up with domain. At this point that feels like the exception and not the norm.

Small town startups can take advantage of this lower cost of living. By using the savings to help fund other areas of the business.

Betting On The Future

Great things happens when you combine small town advantages with a technology trend. That could be infrastructure, automated vehicles, green technology, or manufacturing. To name a few.

Eugene has done this with its downtown fiber network. For most tech startups having an affordable high-speed broadband is very important. Bigger cities already have this type of infrastructure. The cities that don’t can throw money at the problem. Smaller towns aren’t so fortunate.

Only a few small towns can say they have fiber networks right now. But for the ones that do there’s an advantage. It’s a gift for the local tech scene.

The main benefit seems to be the growth it will prompt. In the future having fiber network backed internet speeds will be the norm. Smaller towns should leverage  advantage to promote itself while the window is open.

Doubling Down On The Local Vibe

When I visit the San Francisco area, I’m reminded of an article by Paul Graham called “Cities and Ambition”.

The idea is like timeless books, cities whisper their messages subliminally. A city can signal its values in a lot of ways. It could be the architecture, overheard conversations, or local markets.

Graham gives some examples:

  • New York – “you should make more money.”
  • Silicon Valley – “you should be more powerful.”
  • Berkeley, CA – “you should live better.”
  • Washington, DC – “the most important thing is who you know.”
  • Los Angeles – “be more famous.”

To me Eugene whispers, “you should be more caring”.

Which is something I don’t think a bigger city could pull off. This could produce an interesting take on technology.

To ‘win’ the Shire will have to double down on what makes it unique. Continue to promote and embrace its uniqueness while also learning from large cities.

Eugene should maintain it’s balance of hippieness and athletic achievement. To fight for important causes, while still excepting those who think differently. These are all values I hope will continue to bleed into the local tech sector even as we build towards the future.

Small town startups should double down on the strengths of their local community.

It’s More Than A Place

In the end, the town that your startup calls home isn’t just a place. It’s the foundation for your startup’s future.

If you’re like me then you want to help build tech in small towns. Not because there’s something wrong with large cities. Cities can be great in their own way. But small towns also come with their own set of unique advantages that can be easily overlooked.

What’s been your experience? Let me know in the comments below.

Also if you liked this post you’ll probably enjoy The Sector! It’s an email newsletter covering the local tech scene in Eugene , Oregon.

You can checkout a past Issue here.

One response to “How Small Towns Can Win A Big City Game”

  1. Really like this notion of cities subliminally whispering messages. Thanks for the link to Paul Graham called “Cities and Ambition”.

    Btw, thanks for the advice with your Simple Programmer article “How Taking More Breaks Will Boost Your Productivity”, too!

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