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Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Chicago touts a diverse workforce. Morgantown, West Virginia, promises outdoor activities galore. Savannah, Georgia, advertises its historic charm. Indianapolis is proud of its small-town feel.

Why it matters: The post-pandemic workforce reshuffling has given cities and towns a new opportunity — and a new mandate — to market themselves with glitzy ad campaigns and worker recruiting trips, putting a new spin on the conventional municipal economic development playbook.

Between the lines: Instead of trying to attract big companies with tax incentives to bring a new headquarters or manufacturing plant (along with hundreds of new jobs) to town, city leaders are looking for the "micro-talent" — the individual who already has a job somewhere else but is looking for a better place to live.

  • Convince enough people to move to a particular city, and that city suddenly has a new worker ecosystem that can grow organically without having to dole out multimillion-dollar tax breaks to lure corporations.
  • Building out the social and physical infrastructure needed for remote workers — like co-working spaces, restaurants and other urban amenities and faster broadband — can help stimulate local economies.

What's new: Last week, a delegation of Chicago city leaders and serial tech entrepreneurs headed to San Francisco to meet with Chicago natives who'd moved west to pursue their tech careers, with the hopes of luring some of them back.

  • "We've got a lot of very strong, innovative tech entrepreneurs that are setting the world on fire," Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot told Axios from California. "We've got to do a better job of telling that story, both internally within Chicago, but really to the nation and to the world. Chicago is very much in the mix and has a lot of momentum."

Marketing 101 involves touting big wins. Like colleges that advertise their title teams to potential applicants, pro sports teams winning championships helps cities become top of mind for people who might be looking to relocate.

  • "That gets a lot of eyeballs and gets us on the map," said Jeffrey Vinik, owner of the Tampa Bay Lightning, which won the Stanley Cup last week, just a few months after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers took the Super Bowl. #ChampaBay has been trending on social media.
  • Vinik, a longtime investor based in Tampa, spearheaded the focus on attracting knowledge workers to the area about five years ago, establishing an entrepreneur support center and trying to raise the city's profile.
  • "I think it helps to have a spark," to energize a community and get people talking, Vinik told Axios. "I truly believe that in the next 10-20 years, the region from Tampa Bay to Orlando all the way to the Space Coast is going to explode. The message to people is, 'get in on it now.'"

Flashback: The era of municipal marketing arguably began with Amazon's sweepstakes-like contest to find a location for its second headquarters, HQ2.

  • Many of the 200 cities that applied probably didn't have much of a chance at winning the bid, and the campaign was later panned as a publicity stunt when the company ultimately chose Arlington, Virginia — hardly an overlooked market — for the HQ2 location.
  • Yes, but: Still, the process made cities think of marketing themselves in a new way. Clusters of cites realized the need to form a narrative around their unique regional identities.

Rural areas are also competing for attention, and small towns can be just as attractive to remote workers looking for lots of space and the chance to have an impact, said Laurel Farrar, CEO of Distribute, which works with towns to attract, retain and up-skill residents to meet economic goals.

  • “This is really revolutionizing economic development as we know it,” said Farrar.

Go deeper

Updated Oct 19, 2021 - Axios Events

Watch: A Hard Truths event on the tech industry

On Tuesday, October 19th, Axios Editor-in-Chief Sara Kehaulani Goo and chief technology correspondent Ina Fried examined the current inequities within hiring practices, workplace culture and development in the tech industry today, featuring Girls Who Code CEO Dr. Tarika Barrett and TechEquity Collaborative founder & CEO Catherine Bracy.

Dr. Tarika Barrett explained how to engage and empower young girls to learn tech skills, how the pandemic exacerbated access to educational tools, and how big tech companies can address the industry’s gender gap.

  • On empowering the next generation of tech leaders: “Having more representation of women and people of color in tech in particular, can actually be the difference we need to empower a pipeline of young people and girls of color to pursue the tech careers of the future.”
  • On the gender gap in the tech industry: “As we are simultaneously addressing this growing gender gap in tech and trying to prepare our girls and young women for these thriving, exciting careers of the future, we also know that it’s within an industry that continues to sometimes be the source of negative news and troubling instances of discrimination.”

Catherine Bracy highlighted how tech platforms and their business models affect the broader economic well-being of a community, and the importance of improving working conditions for different tiers of workers at tech companies.

  • On inequities for contracted employees at tech companies: “We have done research that shows that not only are they treated differently because of labor laws and whatever else, but they are also more likely to be members of underrepresented minority groups.”
  • On how tech companies can better support contracted workers: “We do think that if they’re going to contract out, that they should ensure with the vendors that they’re using to provide this workforce, that those workers have an equal level of protection, benefits, stability as their full-time workforce. I feel like that’s the least that they can do.”

Axios Chief People Officer Dominique Taylor hosted a View from the Top segment with Goldman Sachs Chief Operating Officer for Global Investment Research Gizelle George-Joseph, who spoke about how structural barriers affect labor market opportunities for minority communities.

  • “We talk about education, and six decades after Brown vs. Board of Education, 70% of Black students still attend a school where the majority of students are non-white. All of these have really broad repercussions for Black women and very large negative impacts on college graduation rates, on the labor market, and ultimately on our life outcomes.”

Thank you Goldman Sachs for sponsoring this event.

Austin tech salaries climb

Expand chart
Data: Hired.com; Chart: Will Chase/Axios

More good news for Austin's tech workers: Local salaries increased 5% in the last year and aren't far behind tech workers' pay in California, a new report found.

Local takeaways: Of the 12 cities examined by job marketplace Hired, Austin ranks No. 6 with an average tech salary of $144,000, coming close to California cities despite differences in cost of living.

  • San Diego trailed just behind Austin, and Los Angeles ranked No. with an average of $149,000, while San Francisco topped the list at $165,000.
  • Dallas ranked near the bottom, with an average tech salary of $124,000, declining 9.5% from the previous year.
Oct 21, 2021 - Axios Tampa Bay

You ask, we answer: Graffiti on the Hillsborough

Rowers' art on the Kennedy Boulevard Bridge. Photo courtesy of Lydia Harvey Hamilton

The first question in our What Are You Wondering series comes from a St. Pete reader.

  • What’s with all the crew graffiti on the Hillsborough River? Why did that become a thing? Do crew teams graffiti other sea walls in other college towns?

What we found: Crew team graffiti has been part of the Hillsborough River's history for half a century.

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