Midwesterners are known for their friendliness, and Madison is no exception. With its casual, laid-back atmosphere, the city is an easy sell for tech entrepreneurs looking for a new place to call home. We also gave Madison an honorable mention for its easy access to the outdoors. The city recently launched Madison BCycle and is gunning to become the bike-commuting capital of the country. Want something more extreme? Visit Devil's Lake State Park (a mere 40 miles away) for mountain biking thrills. And once the snow flies, there are more than 20 miles of groomed cross-country ski trails to choose from.
According to a report [PDF] by the Madison Region Economic Partnership, close to 18,000 people in the greater Madison region work in IT, with the sector experiencing nearly 31 percent growth from 2010 to 2015. Meanwhile, a report by Forbes named Madison one of the five best cities in the United States for young professionals. Our conclusion? If you're young and work in tech, you may want to make a beeline for Madison.
One of the major drivers of IT startups in Madison is actually one of the city's largest tech companies. Epic Systems, the leading developer of electronic medical records, employs about 10,000 people, but it's rumored that 1,000 leave the company each year – many to launch their own IT firms.
Recognizing the need to encourage tech development (by means other than landing and leaving a gig at Epic Systems), entrepreneurs and community leaders will be launching StartingBlock Madison in 2017. The 50,000-square-foot entrepreneurial hub will serve as a space where entrepreneurs, investors, advisors, and community members will be able to connect, collaborate, and launch new businesses.
Other benefits of freelancing or starting an IT business in Madison? A low cost of living and family-friendly environment.
"It's incredibly affordable and the city itself is really progressive," says Katie Ginder-Vogel, marketing and communications manager for Ionic, a cross-platform mobile development technology stack. "The schools are great, it offers a lot for families at any stage, and it's really a pretty mellow, pretty affordable lifestyle."
Other pros to an IT career in Madison include access to the talent and resources of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, numerous tech Meetups (including Ionic Madison), and numerous co-working spaces, like Madworks. The community is also collaborative and welcoming to newcomers.
"When we moved here I was only freelancing and I had such an easy time networking," says Ginder-Vogel. "I was surprised at how easy it was to come from a different place and make professional contacts. There's a lot of willingness to support each other, lifting everybody up, and that’s really nice, to say that’s possible here."