A team of individuals has started a campaign with the purpose of highlighting Champaign-Urbana as a diamond in the rough (or, a diamond amongst the corn) of Midwestern cities. The You’re Welcome campaign launched this fall in efforts to promote our gem of a community, and to highlight the burgeoning tech scene in C-U. According to Carly McCrory, Communications Director at the Champaign County Economic Development Corporation, the purpose of the You’re Welcome campaign is twofold:
First: highlight innovation:
From the MRI to the Web browser to LED technology, the Champaign-Urbana community has a rich legacy of innovation that is virtually unmatched. You’re welcome for all that, by the way. We’re kind of like the Menlo Park of the Midwest, and we have lots to be proud of.
... and second: promote micro-urban development (text from the YW site):
You’re welcome to take part in our unique micro-urban city. Champaign-Urbana is a community with the best of both worlds: active urban living paired with easygoing affordability. Our education system is top-ranking, from toddlers on up to Ph.D.s. We have outstanding farmers markets coupled with world-class entertainment — much of it free. Time magazine ranked us #12 on its “Best Places to Walk or Bike” list. And NerdWallet named us one of the top five cities for work-life balance.
In 2011, the Champaign Regional Planning Commission and the EDC commissioned a report that pitted C-U against 12 other comparable Midwestern cities by 19 metrics, and found the five leading private sectors for C-U: retail, manufacturing, healthcare, food and lodging, and science and tech. And how do we hold up to the other comparable cities? Pretty darn well.
According to the study, from 2001-2009, the tech sector grew by 1,039 jobs and is projected to add 4,276 tech jobs by 2040. Further, we rank third best out of the 12 comparable cities for hourly tech job wages, surpassed only by Madison, WI with an hourly tech wage of $36.45 and Bloomington, IL with an hourly tech wage of $34.83.
What is the major driver of the tech scene? As McCrory puts it, and as was stated in the You’re Welcome campaign video, the University of Illinois Research Park is a big factor in driving the tech scene as a hub of innovation. With low property costs and huge tech resources, many tech companies are choosing to set up shop here instead of Silicon Valley. After speaking with many employers in healthcare and tech, the Champaign EDC found that these sectors are growing but are having difficulty reeling in the highly qualified University of Illinois graduates. This, McCrory says, was another objective of the campaign: to connect employers to a highly qualified applicant pool.
As such, the You’re Welcome website hosts a job board spanning over 20 categories of work from Accounting to Engineering. The job board is updated daily and gives job requirement details as well as information about where to apply. I clicked through the job board briefly and was very impressed with how many lucrative (full-time, salaried, with benefits) postings were available. The website, like a very elegant tour guide, depicts everything you need to know about Champaign from jobs, what to do for fun, tech/innovation and community. Another attribute the EDC was sure to inlcude on the website was a slew of videos from the EDC and other promoters, as well as open source promotional materials on the resources page. An example of these promotional ads are the You’re Welcome cards that can be downloaded by anyone and distributed at will. The You're Welcome Cards are meant to be bragging cards and boast anything from canned whip cream to Famous Alumni such (such as Roger Ebert and Nick Offerman).
Oftentimes, Champaign-Urbana is described as “micro-urban”, a term not specifically defined in Urban Planning texts, but refers to a community of 250,000 or less containing big city amenities. when I asked McCrory about the term, she remarked:
"In essence, though C-U is not a big city, we have restaurants, culture, and activities that are reminiscent of bigger cities like Seattle, Boston, and Austin. The goal is to try to highlight these amenities in efforts to draw residents to the area and to connect the expanding companies with a highly qualified applicant pool."
The conclusion: Champaign-Urbana is growing and specifically, the tech sector is growing in a major way. With several new high rises going up around town and new companies and startups flocking to Research Park, it seems we can expect continued growth in the coming years and with the help of the Champaign EDC and the You’re Welcome campaign, we can connect economic growth with an influx of highly qualified individuals to the area.
Images and media courtesy of the You're Welcome website.