Why there is only one Silicon Valley
In my 18 years in Silicon Valley (just writing the number is wince-inducing) I’ve debated more times than I can count the question of whether another region could ever be as important a tech hub. Despite my years served, I’ve always considered myself an outsider here. Put differently, I’m no cheerleader for Silicon Valley; I write about it.
That said, I’ve long rejected the proposition that any city or region will ever hold a candle to Silicon Valley in terms of tech companies formed or wealth created. The concentration of money and talent as well as the culture of risk-taking is orders of magnitude greater here than anywhere else. This perspective is not new. The political scientist AnnaLee Saxenian explained it in her seminal book Regional Advantage in 1994.
As Silicon Valley (and its relatively recent capital San Francisco) become more successful, expensive, and obnoxious, however, the argument for alternatives grows louder. GitHub CEO Chris Wanstrath recently told me Silicon Valley will decline in importance because talented programmers can be found everywhere now. He is talking his book, of course. GitHub’s software allows coders to collaborate remotely. That said, he chose to base his company in San Francisco. Why? Despite his prediction for the future, Wanstrath says the talent concentration here today is too important to ignore.
Glenn Kelman, CEO of online real estate brokerage Redfin, offers a different take. He thinks that while the most important “platform” technology companies — Google, Facebook, Apple — must be in Silicon Valley, no one else can afford to be. He recruits his best software developers in the Bay Area, where he was a co-founder of software maker Plumtree. But Redfin is based in Seattle, where employees with other skills can afford to live.
Kelman has data to suggest people are fleeing Silicon Valley. He says that in 2011 one in seven home searches on Redfin originating in the Bay Area were for homes outside the region. Today that figure is one in four.
The center of the technology industry isn’t for everyone, and that’s good for other places with great alternatives. But I’m not buying any arguments for Silicon Valley’s demise, relative or otherwise. I’m reminded of the scene in the filmGladiator when the provincial promoter tells Russell Crowe’s Maximus that nothing compares to fighting in Rome.
It’s the same with Silicon Valley. There is only one.
This article first appeared in the daily Fortune newsletter Data Sheet. Subscribe here for a daily dose of analysis from Adam Lashinsky and a curation of the day’s technology news from Heather Clancy.