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Lawrence listed as fast-growing tech hub in recent study; that could snowball, industry leader says

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Lawrence is making an impact on America’s technology landscape. 

Data from the Brookings Institute revealed the latest trends in technology across the country and how the pandemic has disrupted the geography of tech jobs. It listed Kansas City as a “rising star” metro, and also showed how Lawrence has grown substantially in recent years.

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Lawrence lost 1,570 tech workers from 2015-2019; however, in 2019-2020, Lawrence saw growth of 151 workers, according to the data. 

A closer look at the report from Axios shows that, at 19.3%, Lawrence is the No. 1 city for growth in tech workers per capita for 2019-2020. Per capita growth shows how much a population is increasing in proportion to the general population — in other words, Lawrence’s tech worker population rose rapidly even when taking general population growth into consideration.

Lawrence Lowdown

Brian McClendon has deep roots in Lawrence and tech. He grew up in Lawrence, and went on to be a top executive at Google, building features like Google Earth, Street View, and more. Even with such accolades, McClendon never forgot home — in fact, Meadowbrook Apartments, where he grew up, is the default center point of Google Earth.

Now, he’s senior vice president of engineering at Niantic, known for creating popular games such as Pokémon Go, a member of the board of directors for Ainstein, a venture partner and an adjunct professor at the University of Kansas, his alma mater.

“It’s good to see I wasn’t crazy coming back home,” McClendon said in a tweet about the recent report.

The Brookings data shows that, from 2015-2019, Lawrence’s compound annual growth rate was -21.7%. In 2019-2020, it jumped to 16%. McClendon said some of the growth may be attributed to the pandemic.

Brian McClendon

“I think part of it is that remote work and COVID allowed, possibly, some of the KU students who would have otherwise gotten a tech job and moved to California to be able to stay in Lawrence and work remotely,” McClendon said. 

That said, not all of the growth is due to remote work; McClendon said that the appeal of a college town and seeing Lawrence as “a place where they can settle down” may have something to do with it. He also said he’s seen several startup companies in Lawrence that are hiring for technology and engineering jobs.

“I think that the future of job creation in Kansas and in the country is all around startups, and technology-based startups have the best opportunity for large growth,” McClendon said.

“A high growth technology startup that gets funded with venture capital can grow from a few founders to thousands of employees. We need more of those in the state of Kansas, and certainly we’d like to have a couple of those in Lawrence.” 

The more tech workers Lawrence has, the more likely it is that startups will choose Lawrence for their headquarters, he said. 

“So they may initially come in working for the bigger companies, but eventually tech workers tend to like to do something and create new companies,” he said.

This growth may be temporary — big tech hubs still boast the majority of tech jobs, and the jobs that moved out of the larger cities could come back, according to Axios.

Despite the trend of moving from the Midwest to the coasts, McClendon has found a lot of joy in returning to Lawrence.

“I’ve enjoyed (being back in Lawrence) quite a bit. I missed the weather … it’s far more exciting than the climates of California,” he said. “But I’ve also enjoyed, obviously, working with a lot of different startups, and I’ve also been spending a lot of time with KU students — mentoring them and guest lecturing and hearing their excitement about both technology and business startups.”

Lawrence Lowdown is a feature on developments around town. Have a tip? Let us know.

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Emma Bascom (she/her), reporter, can be reached at ebascom (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here.

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