The tech scene in the U.S. has been expanding beyond the borders of the West Coast for several years. In fact, in 2015 Silicon Valley lost more than 7,500 residents, marking the first time in four years that the technology hub has experienced a net loss in population, according to a study by the Silicon Valley Competitiveness and Innovation Project.
The East Coast — with New York and its fast-paced metropolitan area serving as the epicenter of startups and entrepreneurial vision — has long been a bastion of tech growth. But now, with more cloud-based companies and a growing emphasis on worker quality of life, the opportunities are expanding for businesses looking to offer staff a better work-life balance than can be found in the more established urban tech centers.
One location that is ready for its own tech boom may surprise you: Portland, Maine. This small city is an up-and-coming tech-friendly locale due largely to the fact that today’s tech companies want not just work-life balance for their employees but also locations with great quality of place — access to nature and culture, and availability of talent.
The state’s home sales grew almost 12 percent in 2016, compared to less than 1 percent for the rest of the country. That serves as just one indicator that Maine is a place families want to be. Another important indicator is the fact that the state placed the nation’s top 10 in economic performance for 2016.
The local tech scene in this scenic region has grown substantially over the past few years, as well. Portland, Maine, now offers a powerful mix of companies specializing in software development, app development, health informatics, payment systems, clean technology and more. And the opportunities — and advantages — to entrepreneurs looking to launch the business of their dreams in the Portland area are only growing.
Some of the forward-thinking businesses located in this fairly small city include some very big names, such as CashStar, WEX, IDEXX Laboratories, L.L. Bean, Bottomline Technologies (headquartered in New Hampshire but has a piece of business located in Portland), and Tyler Technologies, among others.
One small group that has recently garnered a great deal of attention is the Portland Research and Development Center of California-based Esri. It’s evidence that more companies are choosing to house divisions in the region — or even just workers. I know of at least two tech companies that employ high-level staffers to work remotely from the Portland area, and I would bet there are many more.
As a Mainer who returned to the Portland area after almost 30 years away, I can state with great conviction that the draw here is the focus on quality of life. Those are the core attributes that inspired me to move my family of five back to the area where I grew up. And honestly, I never imagined being able to do that, after living and working in the Washington, D.C., region, as well as the New York Tristate area. But in WEX, I found a company in the tech sector doing business globally and enjoying double-digit growth all while affording the benefits of living in Maine. The transition was remarkably smooth — and I know there are scores of people looking for the same who may be surprised to know they can have it all in this off-the-beaten-path location.
The Portland-area vibe is all about quality of life. The energy and culture here is rich with arts and innovation, amazing restaurants (our culinary scene is one of the hottest in the country) and hopping microbreweries, fun and funky stores, beautiful backdrops for sporting and outdoor activities … the list goes on. Not to mention that it’s just a short ride to Boston if you’re really craving a big-city experience. To have all that on top of a short 20-minute commute to work each day is as enticing as it sounds. And my kids are just as thrilled — from the very first day in their new school their stress levels dropped. They were pleasantly surprised to enter a public school that wasn’t overcrowded and didn’t have buzzers and bells to shepherd them from one class to the next — they don’t feel rushed or pressured. I think that’s a sentiment many of us in the Portland community can relate to. So it’s not surprising that Maine’s schools consistently rank in the top 10 in the country.
It’s all those things and more that have created a real, hidden penchant for attracting people with entrepreneurial spirit who want to start something new. My father was an early example, as one of the founders of the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in 1974, which exemplifies the pioneering quality of this great coastal state. After all, where else can you find world-class marine research facilities, cutting-edge industry efforts and a quirky museum of cryptozoology all in a few square miles? Nowhere but here — Portland, Maine.
Nicola Morris is SVP of Corporate Development at Portland-based WEX Inc., a global leader in corporate payment solutions, with over 2,500 associates in the Americas, Europe, Australia and Asia.