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Best & Worst States: With Tech Jobs Bleeding, States Big In ‘Legacy’ Industries See Opportunity

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Mid-size companies can join Ford in taking advantage of greater availability of tech talent.

Five years ago, economic-development officials from states and cities across the country were practically donning sackcloth and ashes over their inability to land the biggest jobs prize in U.S. history: Amazon’s “HQ2” and its promised 25,000 new positions, which ended up going to Arlington, Virginia.

Now? Not so much. With Amazon having announced a halt on construction of HQ2 because of the megacompany’s financial challenges and layoffs of tens of thousands of its existing employees, vast swaths of America perhaps are enjoying a bit of schadenfreude over the developments in northern Virginia. So are many enterprises that are not part of Big Tech — including manufacturers, logistics providers, banks and other traditional service industries.

But far more important is that these “legacy” industries have been accelerating their own digital transitions since Covid and even before, transforming their prospects, overhauling their industries, and creating more — and more appealing — openings for tech-savvy workers who have been unmoored from Big Tech companies and their locations by the hundreds of thousands over the last couple of years.

Consider, for example, what Ford Motor unveiled in late April in a long-neglected part of Detroit near downtown: Michigan Central, a 30-acre center that will serve as the automaker’s cutting edge on development of mobility technologies, calling for the employment of thousands of digitally fluent workers who won’t just be writing code for the next video game or food-delivery app but helping to create the very future of automotive transportation.

And the symbolism couldn’t be more powerful: To put together Michigan Central, Ford — which is headquartered just several miles up Michigan Avenue in suburban Dearborn — is investing about $1 billion in the overhaul of a nearly century-old, Albert Kahn designed, Art Deco landmark whose highest previous use was as the main intercity rail depot for Detroit. It has sat basically unused for decades.

“We need to accelerate the development and deployment of critical technologies,” said David Belt, co-founder of Newlab, a tech-enterprise incubator on the site. “Michigan Central is building an unprecedented platform to make this possible.”

And it’s the type of place that will benefit handsomely from the inevitable shift of tech talent away from Silicon Valley, Hollywood and some East Coast redoubts, which are still laying off highly capable digital workers, to the rest of the country.

“This should embolden corporates; it’s a moment to take advantage of,” said Andrew Binns, founder of Change Logic and advisor to CEOs. “And there’s an opportunity for traditional midsize firms to take advantage too. But they have to be fast. Silicon Valley is in a moment of dislocation and disruption, but they’ve been through it before and have come back.”


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