As Boomers leave gaps in Michigan’s workforce, there’s hope for the boomerangs who return.
Diploma in hand, Ryan Landau left for the East Coast as soon as he graduated Michigan State University in 2010. Landing a job as a federal consultant at IBM in Washington D.C. he was leaving behind his hometown of Detroit.
“I immediately left Detroit not because I didn’t want to be in Detroit just because there were no opportunities in Detroit,” he said.
Now Landau is the founder of Purpose Jobs, the largest Midwest startup community headquartered in Detroit. He returned home to tap into the Midwest’s tech potential coupled with its quality of life.
Purpose Jobs connects tech talent with startups as well as corporations like General Motors and KLA.
“Not only is there a big pool of candidates that are here already but the pools are getting bigger because we see the movement also known as boomerangs that are also moving back home too,” he said.
The state seems to be fertile ground for tech. Nationally recognized universities and a legacy of auto innovation can give Michigan the advantage as remote work moves tech inward from the coasts.
Michigan’s net tech growth is projected to be around 1,800 new jobs this year, according to The Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA).
But before Michigan can become a tech hub it needs to have the workers in state to build it.
Detroit’s startup scene is paving the way.
A job offer from Amazon pulled Ian Sefferman away from Michigan and into Seattle’s tech space in 2006. He stayed in Seattle for nearly 10 years launching his own tech endeavors.
Sefferman was drawn back to Michigan as a place not only to start a family but to start a network. He founded a startup studio in Detroit. The goal was to marry the technical talent he was seeing in the state with his expertise in growing and managing a startup.
“I think there’s a ton of really amazing talent here that we are training here and then we are shipping off to places like San Francisco or Seattle or New York or Chicago,” he said. “And it’s a lot of really untapped talent.”
Sefferman’s gut instincts were right. Through his studio Undefined he and his co-founders helped grow health and wellness software companies. The studio ended up being ground zero for his own next venture, Goodbill, a healthcare app that analyzes hospital bills for inaccuracies or inflated charges.
Since the pandemic, Sefferman and his company have gone completely remote – a trend that’s opening the Midwest to coastal talent.
“All of these people who have been waiting to find reasons to come home to Detroit, people who grew up in Detroit, [remote work] has allowed them the opportunity to do so,” Sefferman said.
In some cases, Michigan talent is being poached by coastal companies now offering remote work. While this can be frustrating to Michigan-based companies Sefferman said he sees it as an overall gain for the state’s economy and tech presence.
“That’s a major win,” he said. “It keeps the people here, it keeps those salaries here, raises the wage level here. Those people will turn around and be the next founders 10 years from now.”
Related: Michigan tech companies ‘fending off talent competition’ from the West Coast
Tech wages in both the state and the city of Detroit are 99% higher than the overall state median income, according to CompTIA.
The Dice tech salary report placed Detroit in the top ten fastest growing tech hubs by salary competing with cities like Pittsburgh, Atlanta and Chicago. In 2021, technologists in Detroit saw an average salary raise of 10.3%.
Indeed salary data for software engineering, programming, data science and IT all showed Michigan salaries 20 to 40% lower than salaries offered in California.
Even with neighboring Illinois, salaries in Michigan trailed by 10% or more for popular tech jobs.
Related: Electric vehicles boost Michigan’s tech presence, intensify talent competition
Jessica Willis, founder and CEO of financial wellness platform Pocketnest, said trying to match compensation from big tech is unlikely, but she sees the tech shift as a talent equalizer for Detroit.
“We’re not San Francisco,” she said. “I don’t think any of us want to be San Francisco or one of the big tech hubs on the coast, but there is a hell of a lot going on.”
Willis describes the Detroit startup scene as having grit, innovation, and the rarest commodity in tech – kindness.
“We’re Midwesterners,” she said. “We’re all trying to push for success for one another. I would not want to raise my startup anywhere else besides here.”
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