Should the office be in Portland, Boulder, Salt Lake City or N'awlins?
May 14, 2014 4:20 AM   Subscribe

Company is looking to open an office in Portland, Boulder, Salt Lake City, or New Orleans. What is it like to hire programmers and designers there? What is the talent pool like? What do people get paid?

Company is considering opening a new office. For legal certification reasons too complex to mention here, they are looking at the following states: Oregon, Colorado, Utah, or Louisiana. We'd like to be near a major airport with lots of connections, so probably Portland, Denver/Boulder, Salt Lake City, or New Orleans, but are open to other cities in those four states.

We'd be hiring technical staff (engineers, designers, etc.) for an internet startup type environment as well as other types of staff.

Do you live in/work in/hire people in any of these four cities?

- Portland
- Denver/Boulder area
- Salt Lake City
- New Orleans

What is it like to hire programmers and designers there? What is the talent pool like? What do people get paid?
posted by 3491again to Work & Money (30 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
New Orleans is going to to have a smaller cost of living but lost site downtime to hurricanes is an issue. Yes Many programmers will work remotely but or takes hours upon hours to get out of the city. And if your server is stored on site then you may have other connection issues. Then employees are worried about their property and wouldn't have all that great of work anyway. Depending on the company's morals and risk Management mentioned there is lot of conflict over when to allow employees to leave work to prepare for an evacuation. Of course emergency events can happen in any city but there are many more evacuations and precautions than other cities I think.

I love NOLA. I want jobs in NOLA. I think money wise NOLA has many tax breaks and incentives for businesses. I think there are many weather related cons.
posted by AlexiaSky at 4:43 AM on May 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

A friend was telling me recently that a software company she occasionally consults for in SLC was opening branch offices in other cities, because it was impossible to find enough programmers locally. They had completely tapped out the local software dev market.
posted by instamatic at 5:02 AM on May 14, 2014

Timely! Read this:

New Orleans Attracting Tech Start-ups
posted by polly_dactyl at 5:18 AM on May 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

I would look at New Orleans. Tell the local chamber of commerce and city hall about your search and see what they can offer you in terms of tax breaks and the like.

There are computer science programs at Tulane, UNO, Xavier, etc., and you shouldn't have trouble finding graduates from other places willing to relocate to New Orleans.

I don't know how much I'd worry about hurricanes. Keep all your data in the big magic cloud. Make a point of having everyone work from home regularly (every morning, once a week, or once a month, depending on the position), mainly to reduce commute costs and traffic jams and pollution and parking problems, but also to make sure everyone in the company is always prepared to work from home (or from a hotel when they are on the road) five days a week if ever necessary. Make telecommuting an actual part of work.
posted by pracowity at 5:19 AM on May 14, 2014 [3 favorites]

I live just outside of Baton Rouge (near New Orleans) and the talent pool is great! We have a growing economy. The cost of living is still reasonable and you can't beat the culture. If you do settle anywhere in La., do consider adding a fitness room to your office space- most newbies gain at least 10 pounds their first month here, the food is so good.
posted by myselfasme at 5:32 AM on May 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

I assume you are already doing this, but just in case you aren't, every city has an economic development office whose job it is to provide information and help facilitate exactly this kind of thing. They all want companies to open offices in their cities, but only talking directly to each of them will make it clear who is able to offer the right concessions and help, and who isn't.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:56 AM on May 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Portland is best on your list for national recruiting; like Austin it's a smallish metro that people will consider strongly for relocation. Local talent pool is strong and costs aren't super high.

New Orleans is weakest. Limited talent pool. Poor travel logistics. Big recruiting challenge: weather as noted above, but also big issues with crime and schools in the city itself and most tech staff types aren't going to love the suburbs where crime and schools aren't an issue.
posted by MattD at 6:18 AM on May 14, 2014 [4 favorites]

Salt Lake City is pretty much all captured near-shoring drone workers. It's pretty creepy! Like Goldman Sachs has a giant office there, for one, and that's because it's a stable, non-transitive, English-fluent population of people who don't need to make a lot of money. They can hire all the non-accented people they want to work for 1/8th of what they'd make in New York or London. It's pretty gross. (Also the NSA is a major employer there.)

All that nearshoring affects the economics of the region strongly. You should disqualify it from your list in favor of any of the others.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 6:30 AM on May 14, 2014 [6 favorites]

The main reason people don't move to Portland is because there aren't enough jobs. You are the missing link.
posted by oceanjesse at 6:50 AM on May 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

I don't know about the other cities but Boulder has a Google office so you'll have to compete with that.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 6:57 AM on May 14, 2014

Anecdotal, but: I work in tech on the East Coast. I know lots of tech types who want to, or at least would be willing to, relocate to Portland. I know some who'd look seriously at Boulder or Denver. I've never heard anyone talk positively about New Orleans or SLC. This isn't to say they're without their benefits, but neither has an especially large pool of local talent relative to metro size, and that means you're looking at more recruits from elsewhere in the country - and "Move to Salt Lake City" is a much harder sell than "Move to Portland" for your average startup-interested developer or designer.
posted by Tomorrowful at 6:59 AM on May 14, 2014 [3 favorites]

The Pacific Northbest has a lot to offer employees in terms of quality of life. The University of Washington just a few hours north has an extremely well regarded computer science program (thanks for the support Paul Allen) so recruiting grads shouldn't be a problem. And getting people to relocate from either Seattle or the Bay Area isn't a huge stretch.
posted by brookeb at 7:16 AM on May 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

Others have posted information about the growing tech sector in New Orleans so I'll just put in a +1 to the vote and leave it at that.
posted by komara at 7:30 AM on May 14, 2014

Wow, RJ Reynolds, I'm not sure where your anecdata is coming from. I work and live in Salt Lake City as does my husband, who is in the tech industry and was recruited here. Goldman Sachs recruits nationally for their office here. The majority are not local "drone worker" residents -- and the local workers are hardly what you describe. For the industry in question, tech, Salt Lake City has earned the nickname "Silicon Slopes" for its large tech industry corridor (local and national recruiting) in direct proximity to its world-class ski resorts and other major outdoor recreational opportunities. The industry is anchored by the University of Utah, home to Evans and Sutherland (birthplace of Silicon Graphics, Pixar, and Adobe), which helps anchors the local tech industry today with its USTAR initiative. Utah continues to grow jobs faster than almost any other state in the country, with tech in the lead. Far from being "drones" the local workforce in Salt Lake City is well-educated, multilingual, and much more diverse than you would expect, with progressive political leaders, one of the best public transport systems in the US, every major art form, professional basketball, soccer, and easy access to an international airport, that world-class skiing, five national parks in-state, etc. etc. Utah's GOED office is specifically there to answer questions like yours.
posted by beanie at 7:38 AM on May 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

With all due respect RJR is pretty much spot on with what the NYC based onshoring crowd says about SLC.

That view may or may not be correct of course.
posted by JPD at 7:48 AM on May 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Are there really that many hurricane-related days off in New Orleans? I mean, in Boulder you'd lose manhours to snow days, but I wouldn't advise avoiding the city entirely because of it.
posted by maryr at 8:04 AM on May 14, 2014

I lived through Katrina (I evacuated and really lived outside of NOLA. But maybe I'm bitter.
When I lived there I remember 1 every few years. Of course it depends on the part of NOLA. In addition Baton Rouge is close and more inland so the number of evacuation s drop dramatically.
Some of it has to do with the waiting. When a hurricane enters the gulf everybody starts prepping as if it's over a cat 1 somebody is going to have to evacuate somewhere on the coast.
Besides I've been in New Orleans during a measly tropical storm where there wasn't an evacuation order except for some Low lying areas right on the coast. The whole town floods and you can't get anywhere anyway. But it's manageable.
posted by AlexiaSky at 8:14 AM on May 14, 2014

Sorry for the messed up typing. On my cell and the train.
posted by AlexiaSky at 8:18 AM on May 14, 2014

You can't trust New Yorkers to deliver a reasonable assessment of other burroughs. Why would you trust what they say about a city half a continent away? There is probably some truth to the inshoring view, but it is ridiculously narrow.

I grew up in SLC, left for college with no plans of returning, but I still have family there. The university of Utah was one of the first ARPANET nodes. It had a computer science program back when computer science programs were still rare. It may not be a top program these days, but it is a serious program with a real history.

It is really the birthplace of commercial 3d graphics. Evans and Sutherland was founded there by two pioneering computer science professors. Ed Catmull, John Warnock, Allan Kay, James Clark, and other luminiaries were all part of the golden age of computer science and computer graphics in Utah. BYU in Provo also has a long standing CS program. Between the two of them they spawned Novel and Wordperfect, both dominant firms in the first half of the PC era and while both have waned, they helped lay off a foundation for the current industry.

I don't love the politics of the state, but SLC has always been more liberal and culturally diverse than many assume. Cost of living is still relatively low. Outdoor amenities are fantastic, with skiing and hiking nearby, and all sorts of great backpacking and camping further out. The airport is a western hub. Public Transportation is remarkably good for a city of its size and political persuasion. There is good eating to be had. Microbrews if you want them (Utah's first microbrewery was founded within a few years of other early craft brewers, like Sierra Nevada, RedHook, etc).

That said, I don't know how the market is for development talent. I think, in general, the market is pretty tight even in the smaller secondary cities. A company I am working with in Portland commented that they seemed to have run through the open market for developers in a few months.
posted by Good Brain at 8:34 AM on May 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

The weather-related work issues in New Orleans boil down to three scenarios:

1.) You can't physically get to work but the electric and internet infrastructures are still up, so you can telecommute at least.
2.) You can't physically get to work and the power's out across great parts of the city so there's no telecommuting to be done.
3.) You're evac'd and likely able to telecommute.

In the few years I lived here before Katrina I'd say I evacuated maybe twice for a total of 2-3 days each. Since I returned in 2008 I have not yet evacuated, though I did have a stretch of 96 hours without power thanks to Hurricane Isaac in 2012. I don't know how those hours compare with the average snow days in Boulder but they should give a vague idea of how often weather factors into work delays.
posted by komara at 8:42 AM on May 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

It is true that there is a radioactive wave of discontent constantly coming from the Goldman Sachs building and the apartment building where all the non-locals seem to live during the week,etc. Also, the NSA thing is super creepy and the facility is way out in the isolated desert. I just chalked that up to the particular employer/industry.

I am sure both versions are true -- it depends on what you want, what company you are, what you are looking for as an employer and as an employee (or as a collective start up). I know lots of folks who have lives far different than what I imagine those who are holed up at GS and the NSA facility are experiencing. A surprising amount of people who have relocated here are surprisingly happy. Us included. The environment (professional and funding) here is definitely friendly to start ups, talent development, and people who love an active lifestyle in a gorgeous setting.

It's true someone who lives in and wants NYC-based experience is not going to be happy here. Probably radioactively unhappy.
posted by beanie at 8:46 AM on May 14, 2014

As a young single non-white non-skiiing tech worker, I would take a lot more convincing to go to SLC or Boulder than a coastal city.

but maybe you can recruit from solid programs at Midwestern state schools where kids marry soon after graduation and won't demand the walkable hipsteriness. Can pay less, too.
posted by batter_my_heart at 8:48 AM on May 14, 2014

Boulder area (Boulder and the burbs between Boulder and Denver) is a really beautiful place if people like skiing/hiking/nature. Easy travel access to DIA over the e470 toll road. Good availability of people. Developers are probably 80k-120k or so I'd estimate. Weather can be bad at times, but good work from home infrastructure can help.

Of those 4, I'd think Boulder or Portland you could attract people better than SLC or New Orleans, but maybe that is just my bias.
posted by cmm at 9:08 AM on May 14, 2014

Well, you've clearly asked this in a way that draws out a lot of local boosterism. But as someone who's recently lived in two of the places you're considering (New Orleans, Portland) and has tech-worker friends in a third (Boulder), I can tell you at least that I would never for a minute consider locating a business of my own in New Orleans. The local infrastructure, workplace culture, and talent pool are all extremely poor compared to the other places you're considering. Even if you can, potentially, use the city's tourist image to convince some skilled tech workers to relocate there, you'll still be hiring non-technical staff from, and depending on, a local population which is undereducated, underskilled, and astonishingly unmotivated compared to what you'd find in other American cities. The local culture is, to put it mildly, not congenial to efficiency and getting things done. The infrastructure of the city is in constant near-collapse; you'll have to deal with frequent power outages, flooding and weather closures, road disrepair, and major crime. (And calling MSY a "major airport" is pretty generous, too.) Tax incentives and low wages aside, there's not much to say in favor of the place. Portland and Boulder/Denver also seem to me like far better locations in terms of tech talent and desirability for relocation, but even putting that aside they're places with far more functional and efficient fundamental infrastructure and work culture.
posted by RogerB at 9:26 AM on May 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

We live in Denver, and my husband is in IT here. There's a pretty good pool of talent and the Denver area is one of the fastest growing areas in the U.S. It's a really cool place to live, and one of the healthiest. There's a number of other industries here, including oil & gas, health, federal/state/local gov't, and military-industrial complex like companies, which could be good for spouses and drawing talent.

....but Denver is also one of the fastest growing areas in the U.S., and housing here is crazy. The inventory for both buying and renting is extremely low, and that includes Boulder. Vacancy in Boulder in March was about 3.5%, and rent increased 8.5% from last year to this year so far. So that means most people have to live in a bedroom community of Boulder and commute.

Denver proper isn't much better. Its ranked #2 in the nation for low inventory, just behind San Francisco. That doesn't mean there isn't housing available in the "suburbs" of Denver but prices are still pretty high. Not trying to drive your company away, but it's something to consider for your employees. Public transportation is steadily improving and there's lots of good long-term plans for expanding it, but in the meantime you could have a really mean commute or spend a disproportionate amount of your income on housing. It's one thing to do that when you're young and single, but that isn't a state that lasts forever for most people.

Obviously that wasn't a deal breaker for us to relocate, nor is it a deal breaker for the many tech start-ups and branch offices here. But if you really are considering Colorado, it might be worth researching other towns like Colorado Springs or Fort Collins.
posted by barchan at 9:57 AM on May 14, 2014

Pretty much every city is begging for high-tech jobs, and paying handsomely for them. To that end, here are the various incentives to locate your business in the cities you've selected:




New Orleans

Startup NY might be worth looking into as well.
posted by melissasaurus at 11:18 AM on May 14, 2014

Hey there! My brother is a software engineer in New Orleans and heavily involved with the tech community there. MeMail me and I can put you in touch with him. From what I can tell it seems to be a very vibrant community, though small and not heavily prioritized by the surrounding government policy/infrastructure in the way that a place like Portland or Boulder probably is (oil and to a lesser extent seafood/fisheries is the name of the game in Louisiana). But they're young, scrappy, and doing really interesting things.

Re things like airport connections, heh. I say this as a native Louisianian who uses the NOLA airport as my main transit point several times a year, but you may find that it's not nearly "major" enough for your purposes. (Though I've only been in the Portland airport once and have never been to SLC. I think the Denver airport is larger/better facilities.) It's great for tourism -- lots of flights to the major air hubs as well as Atlanta and Houston -- but not really ideal for convenient direct flights to all US destinations, and international destinations aside from maybe Cancun and some parts of the Caribbean are laughable.

I would not even remotely consider any other Louisiana city besides New Orleans.

I would not worry about the weather in New Orleans. Yes, there are hurricanes every few years (most of which don't actually affect NOLA proper). There are blizzards in Colorado and probably SLC, and I dunno they probably have weather of some kind in Portland. (Besides, can you say Seasonal Affective Disorder?)

I would not let thoughts about Katrina prevent you from moving your business to New Orleans. It's a fact that there's a catastrophic hurricane that actually affects New Orleans itself every half-century or so. But all in all New Orleans doesn't tend to be as impacted by them as the more coastal parishes to the south and the Mississippi coast. New Orleans' specific geography protects it from (the disastrous effects of) hurricanes more than one would assume from its national reputation. Katrina is a huge, huge outlier.

I'm pretty sure that site downtimes due to hurricanes is not really an issue, but it's something my brother would probably be able to speak to as someone who actually works in the NOLA tech community.

Re the talent pool, one thing I've noticed is that there are a lot of young hip techy transplants flocking to New Orleans right now. It probably depends what you're looking for (and again please feel free to reach out, because these are questions my brother can totally answer as someone on the ground doing what you want to do), but if you just need programmer meat, it's probably not the problem folks are implying it will be. You will have a harder time finding more senior people, especially as compared to somewhere like Portland or Boulder which have long established tech communities and are sort of part of the Pacific Northwest world where this is already totally a thing. The tech community in New Orleans is very, very young.
posted by Sara C. at 12:51 PM on May 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

3491again: "We'd be hiring technical staff (engineers, designers, etc.) for an internet startup type environment as well as other types of staff.

Do you live in/work in/hire people in any of these four cities?
- Portland
- Denver/Boulder area
- Salt Lake City
- New Orleans

Boulder in particular is absolutely nuts in terms of rent. Like, nearly SFBay area prices, from the few apartments I checked out on padmappr. And this will not change, because the long term residents who actually vote like it that way. The rest of Denver may be less challenging, but I assume they're fairly tightly coupled markets.

I live an hour and change south of Portland, and I'd recommend Portland. There's a wealth of startups already, major tech conferences in town, and several large and established software firms from which to pluck talent. The MAX lines (rapid public transit) actually goes to the airport. You're also a very short plane ride to SFBay, and a short drive away from Seattle. Housing isn't nearly as precious as SFBay or Denver/Austin, and the downtown area, particularly Pearl District, has undergone significant urban renewal. There's ample skiing to had towards the interior, a public coastline, and plenty of microbrews.

Techwise, Google Fiber has is under public under consideration for a rollout, the Pittock is a pretty important network interconnect, and Columbia River hydro powers several large scale datacenters cheaply. There is actual chip fabrication going on in the Portland area, making it a legitimate Silicon Forest. There's two major colleges in Portland, and two flagships to the south along I5 to recruit from.
posted by pwnguin at 9:50 PM on May 14, 2014

I'm curious, why have you considered SLC and NOLA and not Durham, NC?
posted by oceanjesse at 4:20 AM on May 15, 2014

Probably the legal certification reasons mentioned.
posted by maryr at 7:49 AM on May 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

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