The Worst Best News

So, I was at an event on Thursday where it was announced that a new company was moving to our region that would be employing 400 new software developers and engineers. Great rejoicing occurred, especially since this was only hours after the big tanker contract announcement. And look, 400 new jobs is a lot of jobs, especially high demand jobs that will have multipliers throughout the economy.

But I might be the only person in the room who heard this news and got worried. How the heck are we going to find 400 software developers in this region?

Now, you’re going to say, “Eric, what are you talking about? This is software development paradise! We’ve got more software developers in this town than you can shake a stick at (whatever that means)! To which, I respond, “Yes, we’ve got a lot. But we don’t have nearly enough.”

As I’ve mentioned before, we’re already one of the highest importers of talent of any state in the country. 30.5% of over-25 year olds in this state have a bachelor’s or graduate degree, but that’s only because 40% of over-25 year olds moving here from other states have those degrees and 44% of that demographic moving here from other countries. Yet, with all that in-migration, there are still over 600 tech jobs open and 40% of the jobs that require graduate degrees (and 27% of the jobs that require bachelor’s) in the state are taking longer than 60 days to fill.

So, we’re already straining to barely keep up with growing and attracting enough talent to feed to economy, and it’s getting worse. Anyone who read UW President Phyllis Wise’s letter to the legislature on the impact of budget cuts knows that we’re decreasing the number of high demand degrees we produce in this state. Every time a Facebook or a Hulu moves to town because of the “wealth of engineering talent,” I cringe like the emperor who’s waiting for people to realize that he’s wearing increasingly less clothes. The only thing that’s saving us is companies like Microsoft going out and paying to recruit new people to the region who eventually quit and go to work for the other companies in the region that need their talent. But at a certain point, Microsoft and those other companies will both just open offices where the talent is rather than incurring the expense of relocating it. And that is going to be a very bad day. So there’s a part of me that worries that each new company that moves here is like a straw on the camel’s back of fighting over a limited talent pool.

Of course, the ideal world would be for the state to see all these companies moving here and realize they’ve got a golden goose which they’d best not slaughter. And that’s the focus of our work in this current legislative session in implementing the Governor’s Higher Education Funding Task Force recommendations. Not that this is a silver bullet, but at least it’s a step in the right direction, given the existing constraints of our current state revenue structure. If we don’t do anything, that new company that moves to town is going to be very disappointed in its hiring.

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