Do not let their names fool you. The silicon places—Silicon Slopes, Silicon Prairie, Silicon Beach, Silicon Peach, Silicon Bayou, Silicon Shire, Silicon Desert, Silicon Holler, Silicon Hill and, separately, Silicon Hills—do not aspire to become “the next Silicon Valley.”
Sure, the country’s burgeoning tech enclaves in Utah and Kentucky and Oregon draw inspiration from the original. And sure, they’d love to have even a tiny fraction of the wealth, power, and jobs provided by a massively successful tech company. And sure, the only proven way to do that is to follow the Silicon Valley recipe of accumulating engineering talent, venture investors, incubators, and mentors. And sure, for the last decade, many cities around the country have tried to import the valley’s spirit, work ethic, and culture. Plenty have copied the Valley’s penchant for hype, too. “Could Toledo, Ohio, be the next Silicon Valley?” the PR blasts wonder. “How about Jacksonville, Florida? Care to take a media junket to tour the St. Louis tech scene?”
But leaders from these communities bristle at the idea that they’re emulating Silicon Valley. (Plenty of Los Angeles techies, for example, hate the name “Silicon Beach” because of the comparisons it invites.) They’re doing their own thing, which just happens to mirror a lot of the things that worked in Silicon Valley.
That message hasn’t really changed in the last year, even as Silicon Valley suffers from charges of unethical business practices, sexual harassment, racial and gender discrimination, addictive products, and a toxic culture of greed and hypergrowth. As the tech backlash builds, the leaders of smaller tech scenes elsewhere remain eager to foster the good aspects of Silicon Valley—jobs and innovation—while avoiding any association with the bad. Everyone is aware of the pitfalls, but the promise of job growth and progress that comes with a booming tech industry is too appealing to abandon. It creates a delicate dance, where a model with many ugly flaws still holds a lot of appeal.
Of course, it’s not that delicate in many cases, because these aspiring tech hubs are so far from the scale of Silicon Valley. Worrying about the evils of startup unicorns requires actually having startup unicorns. There’s little need to warn against a toxic “move fast and break things culture” in places where leaders say they and their peers value more community-centric, slow-growth strategies.
Phoenix, for example, isn’t known for its ambitious business culture, according to Greg Head, a local serial entrepreneur. He sees no risk of Phoenix becoming as big