Suggestions welcome as Madison builds technology brand

(Read part 1 of this story here.)

As a first step in promoting the local technology industry, the Madison Region Economic Partnership (MadREP) is developing a new map of information communications technology organizations, and it has coastal site selectors to thank for the idea.

The suggestion came during a familiarization or “fam” tour last summer when site selectors from Newmark Cornish & Carey in San Francisco, one of northern California’s largest commercial real estate brokerage firms, visited Madison to get a better understanding of the local ICT industry, including companies, supporting organizations, and related resources.

“We do ‘fam’ tours every year, and we bring site selectors from across the country here that normally wouldn’t think of us,” explains Michael Gay, senior vice president of MadREP. “We try to change their minds.”

The ICT, or information communications technology cluster map, could be an agent of change because it features a combination of logos, business descriptions, and geo-coding to postal addresses. The idea of identifying and describing components of the local information technology ecosystem will extend to Dane County and then the south-central Wisconsin region, and then to industries such as biotechnology, advanced manufacturing, and health care.

Getting familiar

However, a map isn’t the only thing that came out of that June 2016 familiarization tour. MadREP also showcased local real estate assets such as University Research Park, which allowed them to explain UW–Madison’s considerable role in the ICT ecosystem, and properties owned or managed by Urban Land Interests, where site selectors visited Zendesk and Filament Games, plus Hovde Properties, the Epic campus in Verona, and Raven Software.

In so doing, Gay says MadREP tried to answer the following questions for site selectors: If I bring you 100 people or 200 people from our IT regional office for one of these national ICT firms, where are you going to put them? Where would you put them in Madison?

“When we talked to them, they said ‘these are the assets we’re interested in,’” Gay notes.

Another of those real estate assets is the multifamily building boom because it’s attractive to the young talent that tech firms must attract. “Epic has been driving it, but they are ‘graduating’ a ton of people each year, and we want them to stay in our community,” Gay notes. “The ties of a lot of these companies to Epic are pretty strong. If we can help the developers downtown with density and diversify their class A office space structures, that’s a huge benefit because then the commercial and retail gets stronger downtown.

“Then, like any downtown, shops don’t close at 5 p.m. They don’t close at 7 p.m. They close at 9 p.m. and you just have a bigger market.”

While here, site selectors also were brought to the Madison Club, where they heard presentations from representatives of HealthX, a local venture fund for health care companies, and Redox, one of the health care companies HealthX has funded. Their point about doing business in Madison was compelling and music to MadREP’s ears. “They said, ‘Listen, we can do this anywhere. That’s why we’re here. We can afford talent. We can afford space. We have excellent talent here. We don’t have to go to the coast to get it. It’s a great place to raise a family with a great quality of life.’

“I could not have scripted it better,” Gay states.



Mapping benefits

Forrest Woolworth, chief operating officer for PerBlue, a Madison-based social gaming company, echoed those sentiments. Woolworth says the idea of visualizing Madison tech companies via the ITC map is a very powerful way to convey the density and the local economic impact of the industry, including tech giants such as Google, local emerging tech companies, and area resources.

“We view doing business in Madison as a competitive advantage in a number of ways,” Woolworth says. “A lot of it comes down to the university and access to a lot of strong, emerging tech talent. Most of those employees in the Bay Area are relocating there from other areas that have really strong computer science schools like UW–Madison, so that’s one of the biggest advantages that we’ve found to being here — access to that strong tech talent. That’s definitely one big piece and the other ones are lifestyle and affordable cost of living.”

While keeping young talent here is paramount and Madison is getting better at it, Gay adds that keeping senior talent is no small consideration, either. “None of these employers struggle with finding good, entry-level people — that first one-to-three year kind of experience,” he states. “When you get over five year’s experience or 10 year’s experience, that’s when it gets a little bit more difficult.”

Noting the ICT map will include the local spots of tech stalwarts such as Amazon, Google, and Shopbop, MadREP President Paul Jadin says each of those companies has a story related to their decision to locate in Madison — stories that are worth retelling to site selectors. “How is it that Amazon arrived here, or the Shopbop story?” Jadin notes. “How is it that Google arrived here? What about the stories from the professors at UW–Madison? What sort of services are they looking for in our ecosystem, whether it is 100 State, Sector 67, Capital Entrepreneurs, or gener8tor, and so forth? What kind of capital is available? Then we get into the primary issue of the availability of talent, primarily through UW–Madison but also throughout our entire K–12, college, and university system.

“The map enables us to tell a very significant story about Madison and the region when it comes to our hard assets, both human and natural.”

Click here to sign up for the free IB ezine – your twice-weekly resource for local business news, analysis, voices, and the names you need to know. If you are not already a subscriber to In Business magazine, be sure to sign up for our monthly print edition here.