Traverse Connect hosted the first Economic Strategy Session of 2021. While the overarching theme of these events is focused on strengthening the Grand Traverse entrepreneurial system, this session focused on building the Traverse region into a thriving technology hub.

When you think of Cape Girardeau, Missouri, a thriving technology hub isn’t exactly what first comes to mind, but this small town was front and center during discussions at Traverse Connect’s first Economic Strategy Session of 2021. Conducted in partnership with 20Fathoms and TC New Tech, this virtual event, hosted on April 7, allowed attendees to listen to and interact with keynote speakers from both the Center on Rural Innovation and Codefi, both of whom believe the Traverse region has the building blocks necessary to become a thriving technology hub.

The purpose of these economic strategy sessions is to engage high-level investors and community leaders to set guidelines for the Traverse region’s economic development. Annually, there are three strategy sessions, each with its own focus related to economic development leadership. The 2021 series theme focuses on attracting entrepreneurs and innovation to the Grand Traverse region.

The first speaker of the day was Molly Pyle, entrepreneurial ecosystem development lead at Center on Rural Innovation. Highlighting the largest rural opportunity gap in history, Pyle explained 97 percent of innovation sector growth has come from only five metropolitan areas. This means that only five percent of tech workers live in rural America, even though tech jobs make up 15 percent of the workforce. Pyle and her team are working to close this gap.

“We partner and work side-by-side with rural ecosystem builders and take a comprehensive approach to support communities holistically,” says Pyle. “We help communities apply for digital grants, develop economy ecosystem strategies and build capacity resources sharing economic data and insights.”

Currently seen as a growing tech hub, Traverse City and the surrounding areas are taking the steps necessary for growth, innovation and technology opportunity, according to Pyle. This growth can be attributed to a multitude of things such as co-working spaces like those at 20Fathoms, development of programs like tccodes, the Grand Traverse Region’s coding community, and tccyber, Traverse City’s cybersecurity learning community and access to scalable tech entrepreneurship. Ultimately, what’s most important to the Traverse City region is driving the future of global tech talent and continuously finding ways to do so, according to Pyle.

Following Pyle, the second speaker of the day was Chris Carnell, co-founder of Codefi. During his session, he told the story of Cape Girardeau, Missouri, a small town Codefi has helped expand its digital economy. In Carnell’s daily work in Cape Girardeau, he strives to perfect their model of learning, working, innovating, and connecting to power rural communities across the country. While Codefi is not directly connected to Traverse City, Carnell’s findings, model and experiences can help Traverse City develop a successful and thriving technology hub.

“We share in our learnings so we can all get places faster and grow more effectively than we would have alone,” says Carnell. He believes the growth of Cape Girardeau can be mimicked in cities across the country. “We’re never going to be the next Silicon Valley, we’re Cape Girardeau. We have a lower cost of living, the support of the community and we get to be a big fish in a small pond,” says Carnell.

Through the work of Carnell and Codefi in Cape Girardeau, smaller, rural communities across the United States are starting to expand their technology innovation. Using Codefi’s extensively studied methods, communities are working to make coding and technology as exciting for students as being the high school quarterback or a cheerleader. Because of these efforts, young women and men alike, in cities like Traverse City, are studying technology, joining local programs and collecting the tools necessary to rapidly grow the future of technology hubs.

According to data from the US Census Bureau, Traverse City has been named the fourth ‘Most Popular Micropolitan Areas (Small Cities) for Startups.’ This is showing us that the Traverse City area already possesses the ingredients to further a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem, but there is still work to be done. Events like this, community involvement, the development of tech programs and finding ways to bring more tech talent to town, will chart that path forward.

Photo(s) by 20Fathoms