New Hot Spot for Jobs: Workers Flocking to the 'Brain Belt'
Silicon Valley (Northern California) and Silicon Alley (New York) are so last century when it comes to being major high-tech draws. Even the Boston/Cambridge and Washington, D.C./Arlington areas seems to be taking a back seat to the nation's new "Brain Belt," so christened by Joel Kotkin, the internationally-recognized authority on global, economic, political and social trends. This new area of high tech development spans the Heartland states, particularly the Dakotas, Iowa, Nebraska and Kansas.
That's right. We said Brain Belt, not Bran Belt. It includes once bucolic-sounding cities like Sioux Falls, Des Moines and Boise, which consistently rank high in quality of living, and low in unemployment (6.2 percent in some areas). There are jobs in health care, finance, technology and other well-paying fields. Also, the lower housing, goods and real estate costs, plus excellent public schools and universities draw large professional service firms, information companies and innovative manufacturers.
Prestigious companies such as Dell Computers, U.S. Bank Corp. and Clarion have all expanded and invested heavily in Heartland areas, and Wells Fargo is setting up a huge new office complex of nearly 1 million square feet in a Des Moines suburb.
Living the dream
Until recently, it was the dream of almost every top student in the Midwest's myriad universities to graduate and prove themselves in the thriving metropolises on either coast. But the frustrating congestion and outrageous cost of living in the big cities has become more daunting of late. The Midwest, with its wide open, uncrowded spaces and reasonable costs, has become far more attractive to many.
"I'd always envisioned working in New York after I graduated," says Lauren Aust, a 2007 graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism. With dreams of her name appearing on the masthead of a glossy magazine, she was no different from many aspiring journalists. "Landing a summer internship with Men's Journal was an absolute dream," she says. "Finding a job and an apartment, however, wasn't."
Aust returned to her hometown of Kansas City in the fall when her internship was through, and started hunting for work. While waiting to receive a job offer for an event-planning position, Meredith Corporation in Des Moines called (she admits it was a lesson in persistence -- she submitted her resume three times). The next morning she drove to Iowa for a day of interviews; within a week she accepted an offer, and within a month she relocated.
"Little did I know, the best-kept secret of the publishing world was in Des Moines," Aust says. "It would have taken me years in New York to earn the job title and responsibilities I have now -- and the lifestyle I can afford here in comparison is beyond comfortable. When it comes to my professional development and growth, I'm in the best place I could be."
That old sense of isolation, of being "out in the sticks," is no longer an issue, according to many Midwesterners. Advances in telecommunications and transportation and their decreasing costs make it easier than ever to communicate, research and travel. Thanks to the Internet, a software writer or a stockbroker in a small, remote town has the same access to electronic resources as anyone in New York or San Francisco.
Home is where the Heartland Is
Meagan Grandgeorge is an example of a young grad who left the Midwest to make it in the big city, but found herself longing for the greener pastures of the prairie. "I graduated from Drake (in Des Moines) in May of 2001 and moved back to the Chicago suburbs to start my job search," she recounted. "By the next spring I had found a secretarial position that paid next to nothing and was across the street from my parents house --not that dream job every college graduate is looking for! I was an hour from the city and missing out on all the post-college fun.
"In November of 2002 I decided that something had to give. I was stuck in a rut and thought, "If I do not leave home now, I may never leave." That thought spurred my decision to move back to Des Moines. I thought that in Des Moines, I would be a big fish in a small pond. I moved just days before the New Year wanting to have a fresh start in 2003.
"I quickly made connections in Des Moines and took a seasonal job with the Arts Festival. I was pleasantly surprised how easy it was to meet people and make connections. In my four years at Drake, I never really experienced Des Moines as a city. It has all the benefits of a large city (great restaurants, public transportation, amazing events, great parks, I could really go on and on) without the hassle (expensive cost of living, traffic, parking, crime, etc). Having a 13-minute commute doesn't hurt either!"
Now owns a "great home," works for the Iowa State Fair and owns a restaurant with her husband. She also gets involved with the community by taking classes at the Greater Des Moines Leadership Institute and participating in Junior League activites. A full life like that makes most major city dwellers' heads spin. It seems like something their parents might have been able to achieve a couple decades ago, but is now beyond their reach.
Of course, there are still those who scratch their heads and ask, "You're moving where?" when informed that the Midwest is calling. Aust admits she had to get over the shock that she was moving to Iowa: "Quite the switch from New York," she told people. "But when Forbes featured Des Moines among its best places, I knew I was in a city I was proud to call home."
Naysayers are invited to stay put and enjoy the smog, traffic, and sky-high living expenses.
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