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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Over the past few years, big-name venture capitalists and flashy PR campaigns have boasted about replicating the Silicon Valley tech boom in second-tier cities around the country. But so far there is no stampede to the hinterland.

The big picture: Existing U.S. tech hubs are not only holding on to their imprimatur as primary magnets of top tech talent, but increasing it, persuading the best candidates to take jobs and stay put. Second-tier cities remain just that.

What's happening: A small number of U.S. cities — Boston, Austin, and of course the soup of cities making up Silicon Valley — still host almost all the Big Tech headquarters, while parceling out mere morsels of satellite offices or data centers elsewhere, away from the action.

New data from Indeed, the jobs site, shows that Silicon Valley's share of the nation's tech jobs has actually increased by 10% between 2017 and 2018. Austin's share grew by 9%.

  • "It's the revenge of geography. Geography really does matter," says Eric Weiner, author of "The Geography of Genius."
  • "The reason that these wannabe Silicon Valleys have not evolved past the wannabe stage is that you can't manufacture a genius cluster or a hub of creativity from scratch."

How they are doing it: "Not only do the Bay Area, Seattle, and Austin have a bigger concentration of tech jobs, but the tech jobs they have tend to be more cutting-edge and pay more," says Jed Kolko, chief economist at Indeed.

  • The most common job postings in tech hubs tend to be in robotics or deep learning, while the bulk of openings in second-tier cities are for roles in quality assurance or hardware engineering, Kolko's research found.

Time moves on: Though he sees Silicon Valley as a weighty and immovable object at the moment, Weiner says that, throughout history, creative hubs like Athens and Florence have led the world — before withering away after about a century.

  • If that is a measuring stick, Silicon Valley has another few decades to go, but may be waning around mid century.
  • "These huge, growing companies like Google and Uber, with their enormous market caps and the salaries they're giving to get people to stay with them, could actually hurt innovation," Mark Kvamme, a venture capitalist at Drive Capital in Columbus, Ohio, tells me. "Why go to a startup when Google is paying you $500,000?"

For now, the Valley is on top.

But venture capitalists and startup CEOs in middle America attempt to paint a glass half-full picture of the data.

  • Despite increasing their share, the tech hotspots still have just 32% of the country's tech jobs. Silicon Valley has just under 10%. The rest are scattered around the other cities and states.
  • "I think satellites matter a lot," says Bryce Roberts, a VC in Salt Lake City. "There’s a synergy between satellite offices and endemic startup creation in second- and third-tier cities that I think is hard to spot sitting inside a first-tier market."
  • "Silicon Valley is going to be important because all the major tech companies are already there, and it's got 50% of the venture capital," says Kvamme. "But you've got fast-growing, innovative companies all across the U.S."

What to watch: Some major companies — like Salesforce in Indianapolis and Netflix in Albuquerque — have built massive offices outside of the tech hubs. But so far it hasn't been easy getting workers to move there.

  • One reason is the lack of critical mass — there is something unsettling about relying on the only game in town.
  • And, highly paid workers are not necessarily sold on the argument that a second-tier city has a cheaper cost of living, Weiner says.

The bottom line: When smaller places like Austin succeed, it's because they've managed to put together some magic themselves. "They're a tech hub because they're cool; they're not cool because they're a tech hub," says Weiner. "The coolness has to come first, and it has to be organic."

Go deeper: The future of innovation outside Silicon Valley

Go deeper

DOJ watchdog to probe whether officials sought to alter election results

Former President Donald Trump and former First Lady Melania Trump exit Air Force One in West Palm Beach, Florida, on Jan. 20. Photo: Alex Edelman/AFP via Getty Images

The Justice Department's inspector general will investigate whether any current or former DOJ officials "engaged in an improper attempt to have DOJ seek to alter the outcome" of the 2020 election, the agency announced Monday.

Driving the news: The investigation comes in the wake of a New York Times report that alleged that Jeffrey Clark, the head of DOJ's civil division, had plotted with President Trump to oust acting Attorney General Jeffery Rosen in a scheme to overturn the election results in Georgia.

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Google's chief health officer Karen DeSalvo on vaccinating America

Google on Monday became the latest Big Tech company to get involved with COVID-19 vaccinations. Not just by doing things like incorporating vaccination sites into its maps, but by helping to turn some of its offices and parking lots into vaccination sites.

Axios Re:Cap goes deeper into what Google is doing, and why now, with Dr. Karen DeSalvo, Google's chief health officer who previously worked at HHS and as health commissioner for New Orleans.

Biden signs order overturning Trump's transgender military ban

Photo: Tom Brenner/Getty Images

President Biden signed an executive order on Monday overturning the Trump administration's ban on transgender Americans serving in the military.

Why it matters: The ban, which allowed the military to bar openly transgender recruits and discharge people for not living as their sex assigned at birth, affected up to 15,000 service members, according to tallies from the National Center for Transgender Equality and Transgender American Veterans Association.

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