Note: If you live or work in Hoover in the tech field, please email me at mike[dot]shaw@hooverusa[dot]org if you’d like to participate in the roundtables!

So in my prior post I talked about the Hoover Technology Roundtable and how it can contribute to the economic development efforts in our city.  Here’s how that came to be and how I think we can make it a key to our future.

I have worked in technology for 25 years in the metro area.  This includes both downtown and the suburbs.

There is an idea that tech workers want to live in an urban environment.  I think that’s because in popular culture, tech workers are usually presented and perceived as very young.  I’ve always held that younger tech workers want to live in such environments not because they’re tech workers, but because they’re young and that’s what young people like to do.

Movies like The Social Network portray young tech workers in walkable, PJ friendly urban environments.

But when people get into their late 20’s and early 30’s, they start buying houses.  This is also the demographic with the most tech workers.  So I think based on personal experience and the stats, the meat and potatoes of tech (and salaries and revenue) is in suburbs and other areas far outside a city center.

Companies–driven by housing needs, parking concerns, retail/grocer convenience, etc–start to move into areas far outside the city center.  This effect is very visible in Hoover where, according to the Birmingham Business Journal, four of the top 5 employers of software developers are in our city:

1. CGI
2. McLeod
3. Command Alkon
5. Doozer Software

And then there are smaller companies like Ambit Solutions, who provides custom designed phone systems to over 50% of the school systems in Alabama.  Or Shadowdragon, who provides cutting edge investigative software to companies and governments all over the world.  Or GIS, Inc and their brilliant way-finding tech…the list goes on.   We are surrounded by smaller tech companies that are making their mark on the world from right here in Hoover.

So Hoover is already a significatn technology hub, but there has never been an effort to recognize or promote this.  I wanted to bring attention to the technology industry in our city.  To my knowledge nobody had ever coordinated the tech community specifically in Hoover.  So I started putting together a list….

I emailed people I knew.  I emailed companies that looked technical in nature.  I looked for news reports about tech companies in Hoover.  I literally browsed Google Maps and drove around looking for tech sounding companies and cold called them.  We slowly built a pretty solid mailing list.

I planned meetings that highlighted cool things about our city, hosted interesting speakers, and showcased the tech companies in our midst and what they do.   We started with around 15 in attendance, and we moved up to 40-50.  When COVID hit, we did a couple Zoom meetings that focused on relevant topics.

Even with 25 years in the area, there are so many companies I was unaware of.

There are so many cool techie things to see in Hoover, such as our 911 ops center.

During the pandemic, we went virtual, as with this AI primer from AICentrix’ Yuan Zhao

Right now, the Tech Roundtable is a fun and informative way for people to get to know each other and what’s going on in Hoover tech.  But it can be so much more.  What can we do in the future?

It’s my hope that this informal group can be moved into a more formal approach to really move Hoover forward in a big way.   Here are some ideas:

Use the meetings to recruit new companies.  We have already quietly hosted companies who are thinking about moving to Hoover.  We could easily pipeline this and put together a real economic development effort.

Incorporate as a 501c6 and begin formally promoting the city in technology circles through literature and online communication (website, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn).  The leaders in our community could assist in introducing potential businesses and lending a hand to existing businesses.

Recognize companies and individuals in Hoover who have contributed to the community and the industry with awards and spotlight media events.  We have people achieving world-class levels of excellence in our community.  We should recognize them.

Partner more directly with existing entities in the city on projects where our companies can help.  Groups like Leadership Hoover and the Chamber of Commerce could collaborate in activities that benefit the city.  Partnering with metro area groups like Tech Birmingham would be mutually beneficial.

Create opportunities for HCS graduates.  We have already had some discussions with RC3 and how the tech companies could work with students straight out of high school.  We spend hundred’s of thousands of dollars educating a Hoover student before they graduate.  Why not keep this valuable workforce here?  Why work hard to keep our sons and daughters here in our fine city?

There are plenty of tech trade group examples around the nation that we could use.  If elected, I look forward to four more years of taking technology to the next level in Hoover!