Burgeoning IT Sector Exists Beyond Big Metros

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While much has been said about big metros and the talent they possess leading to rapid growth, the IT sector is also growing in smaller metros and rural regions of the US as dissimilar as North Carolina and North Dakota. A host of local start-ups as well as companies attracted to these regions by their exceptional quality of life are finding the IT infrastructure and talent to thrive.

Technology is evolving faster than ever and dizzying arrays of gizmos are pervasive in everyday lives. Nearly everything we do is in some way affected by information technology (IT) and the demand for IT employees is growing with the industry’s rapid expansion. While IT has a strong influence on our personal lives, it has a growing influence on the business world as well as on communities. Technology giants Apple and IBM recently announced a partnership which aims to transform enterprise mobility through a new series of business apps which would bring IBM’s big data and analytics to the iPhone and iPad. (1) While mobile devices are relatively new to the enterprise landscape, IT has long-served as the backbone of modern organization which is driven by the need for talent.

While much has been said about big metros and the talent they possess leading to rapid growth, the IT sector is also growing in smaller metros and rural regions of the US as dissimilar as North Carolina and North Dakota. A host of local start-ups as well as companies attracted to these regions by their exceptional quality of life are finding the IT infrastructure and talent to thrive.

A Team Approach

One eastern NC company scoring big in the IT industry is Game Theory Group (GTG). Founded on the idea that student athletes have a better than average set of transferable skills for the workplace, GTG has developed a software platform for college and university athletic departments and employers to help student-athletes.  The company assists athletes in their respective transition periods to better aide in their continuing education, sporting lives and professional career paths.

GTG employs workers in a number of locations around the country yet its headquarters are in the small metropolitan city of Greenville, NC and it is finding the talent from across eastern NC that it needs to succeed. The lead developer lives in the small town of Ayden, just south of Greenville, which is home for the company’s Chief Technology Officer. (2) The East Carolina University (ECU) Colleges of Business and Engineering & Technology offer a steady stream of well-qualified employees. GTG relies heavily on software developers and database managers to serve their ever growing list of clients.

One of the great things about being in the IT industry is the ability to serve clients remotely. From its base in Greenville, GTG is serving more than half of the top 100 academic institutions in the US as well as clients abroad. (2)

“The entrepreneurial culture and framework that is developing in eastern NC is promising,” said Vin McCaffrey, Founder and CEO of GTG. (2) Resources like Inception Micro Angel Fund (IMAF) East, Greenville SEED and the ECU Entrepreneurial Initiative are helping great ideas, like GTG, come to life.

“Eastern NC is like a teenager with all of the potential in the world that is starting to grow up,”McCaffrey added. (2)

Major Impacts

A fourth party logistics (4PL) company, Transportation Impact (TI) in Emerald Isle, NC has accomplished a rare feat for any company. TI has been ranked by Inc. Magazine for the second year in a row as one of the fastest growing companies in the world. Ranked #547 in 2013, TI is ranked #728 in 2014. The company has experienced explosive growth over the last 3 years – 627%! (3)

The success has been so great that it is constructing a three story, state-of-the-art office facility in Emerald Isle to accommodate its rapid growth. Emerald Isle is located on a southern Outer Banks island in Carteret County (the Crystal Coast), just down the road from Beaufort, NC which was recently voted the “Coolest Small Town in America.”(4) From its base on NC’s Crystal Coast, TI serves clients all over the world including Fortune 50 companies by instructing them how to reduce costs through small package negotiation and parcel auditing services. (5)

“We can do this from anywhere but, we genuinely love where we live and work,” said Keith Byrd, Co-founder and Principal Partner of TI. (5)

“We’ve recently relocated our IT group to Greenville because of the talent at ECU,” Byrd added. (5)

Transportation Impact anticipates big growth for its IT division in 2015.

Byrd continued by saying, “Larger clients have locations all over the world. So we are negotiating global agreements…and it is important that we have an IT group that can sustain such work.” (5)

Military Installations Develop Talent

The US military serves as one of the largest producers of IT talent in eastern NC. The Air Force is present in Goldsboro (metro population of 105,000) and the Marine Corps dominates the communities of Havelock and Jacksonville.(6) Jacksonville (a city of about 170,000 in its metro area) is home to one of the largest Marine Corps installations in the world – Camp Lejeune – and several associated facilities including New River Air Station.(6) Total military personnel on board Camp Lejeune exceeds 50,000, including many in various support roles such as logistics, health care, and information technology.(7)

One of the largest concentrations of workers engaged in simulation in NC is at Camp Lejeune – estimated in excess of 200.(8) Marine Corps and Air Force installations in ENC discharge in excess of 7,000 members each year, providing a significant number of well-educated, drug-free, workers, many of whom prefer to remain in the area.(9) As a result, NexxLinx expanded its call center facility in Jacksonville because they were confident they could find the necessary technical talent. (10)

Bandwidth to Thrive

Typically, only large metropolitan cities can attract big companies like those recently announced by MetLife (1,000+ jobs each in Charlotte and Raleigh, North Carolina) and IBM (900 jobs in Austin, Texas). (11) However, companies employing less than 200 high-skilled workers can easily find the labor force they need in smaller cities like Greenville, NC or Fargo, North Dakota.

About 200,000 people reside in the Fargo/Moorhead, ND area and many residents work in the IT industry. (12) Major companies have established a presence in the region including Microsoft, who acquired Great Plains Software, Nokia (acquired Navteq), and GPS company, Garmin. (12)

“North Dakota is experiencing phenomenal economic growth. While most of the attention has been on the energy industry, we are also emerging as a hotbed for technology. Part of the reason for our IT growth is the large Microsoft campus in Fargo with over 1,500 employees. There seems to be a clustering effect, with IT venders and value added resellers expanding to the area,” said Laura Willard, Project Manager with the North Dakota Department of Commerce.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics 3,300 people are employed in the IT industry within the Fargo MSA; a 3.1 % growth from this time last year. (13) More than 30,000 nearby college and university students are supplying a steady stream of talent. (12)

“Entrepreneurs forming start-up companies have also added to the IT growth. North Dakota was recently ranked #1 for the highest percentage increase in STEM job growth in the last year. In order to keep up with the IT workforce needs we have formed partnerships with industry, education and government to inform students of IT career opportunities, provide IT education and by offering incentives for students pursuing an IT career path,” Willard added.

In the dispersed region of eastern NC, typically considered a place for textiles, tobacco and tourism, the information technology industry is becoming one of the area’s avenues for growth. The Greenville, NC MSA employs 1,000 people in the IT industry, an 11% increase over last year. (14)

Greenville, NC is one of the 10 largest cities in NC and has achieved the 3rd fastest employment growth among NC metros; it is a small metropolitan area of roughly 170,000 people. (15) The Greenville MSA was recently ranked as a ‘Leading Location for Economic and Job Growth’ by Area Development magazine. (16) It is also home to the headquarters of one of the state’s largest hospital systems, Vidant Health.

According to Vidant Health human resources, the hospital relies heavily on both East Carolina University and Pitt Community College to provide top notch IT talent to take its organization to the next level.

Greenville is also a community that produces a sizeable number of IT graduates, many of whom choose to stay and work at places such as NACCO Materials Handling Group Americas Headquarters (lift trucks), Patheon (biopharmaceuticals), and Regional Acceptance (auto financing). Most come from East Carolina University, one of the top three universities in the state with nearly 28,000 students. (17)

“There is a high demand for our graduates. We don’t have enough to fill all of the requests we get from companies,” said Dr. Ravi Paul, Associate Professor of Management Information Systems (MIS) in the College of Business at ECU. (18)

“We are preparing our students to be Systems Analysts. They have an understanding of business and IT and can act as a liaison between both groups,” added Paul. “Many of our graduates are migrating to the Triangle because companies there are paying higher salaries. I suspect more graduates would stay in eastern NC with more competitive salaries.”(18)

Aside from its MIS program, ECU also produces graduates from its College of Engineering and Technology with degrees in Computer Science. On the graduate level, students can earn a Master of Science in Computer Science or a Master of Science in Software Engineering.

Pitt Community College, as well as other surrounding 2-year colleges, also produces IT graduates.

Other communities in eastern NC are positioning themselves to take advantage of the burgeoning IT industry. Wilson, NC’s Greenlight service is NC’s only all-fiber optic network and is able to offer gigabit speeds to companies and residents in Wilson. The Upper Coastal Plain Business Development Center in Wilson has 10,000 sf of incubator space available for startups.

So, the bottom line, infrastructure and technical talent can be found in many locations outside the country’s largest metropolitan areas. One simply has to be thoughtful enough to figure out where to go and what operational scale makes sense given the characteristics of individual companies and communities.