NEW YORK — Dallas, Austin, Atlanta, Richmond, Charlotte. These are some of the cities that people in New York City’s Central Park pointed to as the largest tech hubs outside of Silicon Valley.
Which city didn’t they mention? Seattle.
In fact, most people in GeekWire’s random survey shook their heads and said technology isn’t something they’ve ever associated with Seattle. France and Germany made an appearance, but not a single shoutout to the city that’s home to tech giants like Microsoft, Amazon, Expedia and Zillow.
When I asked about these industry titans, almost no one knew they had anything to do with the Pacific Northwest. One person said Amazon was based in Chicago, another thought Microsoft was in Texas.
You can watch my interactions for yourself and be the judge. But I warn you Seattleites, this one may sting a little bit.
Michael Schutzler, CEO of the Washington Technology Industry Association, has long said Seattle has a “huge branding problem.” I must say, I witnessed that problem first hand after just a few hours in Central Park.
I thought I had my breakthrough when I stopped someone named Stephen. He was wearing a hoodie with an Apple logo and said he was a techie who worked in an Apple retail store in Texas. Stephen didn’t flinch when I asked where Google, Apple, Facebook and BuzzFeed are headquartered. He even got the right answer for Amazon with some hesitation.
But as for Microsoft? “I want to say Virginia,” he said
“Everybody always talks about Silicon Valley being the hub of innovation and whatnot. Nobody really associates technological innovation with Seattle,” said another person, Danny Gallagher, after failing my quiz. “They associate coffee with Seattle.”
The most surprising interaction came after I stopped a computer science graduate from Kansas City named Jeremy. He was convinced Amazon was based in his hometown, and I played along just to see where the conversation would go. Asked what he thinks about the way Amazon is reshaping the face of Kansas City and raising questions about things like transportation infrastructure, he said, “We actually need it.”
“We’re really growing, so I think [Amazon’s presence in Kansas City] is going to be a really great thing,” Jeremy said.
To be clear, Kansas City does not have a larger technology scene than Seattle. Neither does Atlanta, Richmond or many of the other cities that came to mind before Seattle.
Silicon Valley is clearly No. 1, with a powerhouse startup ecosystem, tons of venture capital floating around and tech behemoths like Facebook and Google. But there’s some debate as to who’s the runner up, mostly between New York and Seattle.
GeekWire has compared the markets more than a few times over the years. New York consistently brings in more venture capital, with companies there claiming four times as much as Seattle startups. But New York doesn’t have any industry giants on par with Microsoft or Amazon.
Clearly, both should at least be in the conversation.
In the end, Schutzler said it doesn’t matter all that much who has more name recognition in Central Park. He thinks the results of my unscientific survey would have turned out a little different had I asked the same questions around college campuses, where Seattle really needs to build a name for itself to recruit talent.
But he said there’s also clearly a branding problem.
Schutzler added that the Seattle tech community needs to became more involved in public policy to get our political leaders to champion the industry on a national stage. That would help raise the profile of Seattle’s tech scene and make it easier to recruit talent and businesses to the area.
But more than anything, it’s about ego.
“It’s a matter of pride, honestly,” he said. “But I think most of us in this sector really take pride in the products we build and customers we satisfy. The fact that people in Central Park don’t know we exist is a head-shaker. Really?”