Exodus: Silicon Valley Is Getting a Breath of Fresh Air in the Rocky Mountains

By Brandon Ristoff
April 12, 2021

California’s Silicon Valley is known across the globe as the hub of tech innovation. But some lesser known tech hubs, affectionately called “Silicon Slopes, “Silicon Mountain” and my personal favorite name, “Silicon Spuds,” are showing themselves as the Davids to the Goliath of California’s Silicon Valley. While many are talking about Texas, Florida, and Arizona as the main recipients of many relocating Californians, states like Utah, Colorado, and Idaho appear next in line. 

Some major Rocky Mountain cities, including Provo, Salt Lake City, Boise, Denver, and Fort Collins, have all recently been named among the best performing large city economies in the United States, according to The Milken Institute. While cities in the Mountain West have climbed in the rankings, California’s once thriving tech centers have fallen down far. San Jose dropped from fifth to 22nd place over the span of a year, while San Francisco plummeted from first to 24th. Nearby Oakland and Salinas dropped 48 and 90 spots, respectively. 

Unsurprisingly, with high-performing economies come the people. 

Idaho saw the highest net domestic migration rate of any state. Montana, Colorado, and Utah also experienced high move-in rates, and are now home to some of the youngest adults in the country. Meanwhile, California continued its years-long-trend of excessive out-migration.  

While California may have been able to rest on the laurels of its scenic views and temperate weather for many years, the pandemic has led to questions as to whether those features are enough to make up for state’s taxes and harsh business climate. According to The Tax Foundation, Wyoming, Montana, Nevada, and Utah among the top ten states for business taxes, while California is 49th, leading only New Jersey. The Rocky Mountain states also have lower public sector unionization rates than California, which indicates less public spending than California.

Rocky Mountain states are making a concerted effort to brand themselves as the next, more-desirable tech hubs of the world. Utah’s Silicon Slopes are now home to Ancestry.com and Overstock.com headquarters. Colorado’s Silicon Mountain houses Palantir Technologies, a former Bay Area company, which moved last year. Even Idaho is developing “Silicon Spuds.”

While all eyes may have been focused on moving vans headed from California to Texas in recent years, tech centers closer to home have been quietly attracting more and more California companies and residents, and there’s no sign of this trend reversing. As more companies make permanent their work-from-home policies and more relocate their headquarters east, California lawmakers must take note and implement pro-business policies that make its economic climate as favorable as its weather.

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Brandon Ristoff is a policy analyst for the California Policy Center.

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