It’s the original home of the first web browser, Siri, plasma TV, advanced MRI technology.
Its current and former residents created YouTube, PayPal, Yelp, and whipped cream in a can.
Who’s to thank for this hotbed of innovation over the years?
“You’re welcome,” says a sassy new ad campaign for the twin towns of Champaign-Urbana.
Long known to its northern metropolis neighbor Chicago for cornfields, college football, and crazy nights, Champaign-Urbana is embarking on a campaign called “You’re welcome” to remind people of its spot in the innovation history books. Their aim is to showcase the high caliber of tech jobs, intellectual community, growing cultural diversity, and low cost of living, in hopes of reminding recent grads and far out alums of the benefits of the college town.
“From the MRI to the Web browser to LED technology, the Champaign-Urbana community has a rich legacy of innovation that is virtually unmatched,” the campaign reads. “You’re welcome for all that, by the way.”
The campaign, which is a joint effort of UIUC, Urbana-Champaign community, and various tech companies, highlights the cities’ low cost of living, restaurant and music scene, and diverse community. The median home price is approximately $120,000 (compared to Silicon Valley’s $980,000). The university offers extensive opportunities for innovation and collaboration, including access to one of the country’s most powerful supercomputers, Blue Waters. Yahoo, State Farm, John Deere, Caterpillar, WolframAlpha, and Dow AgroSciences are among the bevvy of high profile companies with a concentration of tech jobs in the area.
“It’s an alternative to living in a place with long lines and an expensive cost of living,” said Laura Frerichs, director of University of Illinois’ Research Park. “This is a place where you can let your inner geek out and be amongst others that are also brilliant people who want to invent things, but still be relatively close to Chicago and be able to get back and forth.”
Aside from retaining college students who otherwise may head up to Chicago, or even more likely out to Silicon Valley, they also are aiming to attract older graduates who have spent their time away from home and are looking for somewhere more comfortable (and affordable) to raise a family.
“Everyone doesn’t want to live in a place where your home is going to have a median price of over a million dollars and you have a 90 minutes in the car,” added Frerichs. “You can choose to have a different lifestyle, still make a lot of money, and have a really cool tech…projects that would be analogous to what you would expect in Boston, Austin, and Silicon Valley.”
The challenge for Champaign-Urbana, however, is clear: the university’s ecosystem produces top tech talent, but that talent is desired nearly worldwide.
Of 44,000 students at UIUC nearly a fourth are engineering students alone, and that program is ranked 4th in the world. Due to this, UIUC is one of the biggest college feeders for Silicon Valley’s workforce, a Jobvite survey recently found. And though UIUC is a top university for producing venture-backed entrepreneurs, its biggest success stories (such as Avant, Affirm, Grand Rounds, and Doctor on Demand) are in Chicago or San Francisco.
But as tech continues to become a bigger part of everyday life, more companies are going to have to find ways to cater to the changing needs of tech workers, and cities outside the top startup ecosystems are going to have to think more creatively about making their case to future residents.