Silicon Valley, please don’t forget the rest of America

The rest of the country needs you.
The rest of the country needs you.
Image: Reuters/Joshua Lott
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As entrepreneurs, you, the builders of Silicon Valley, are our heroes and role models. You have forged a place where billion-dollar companies that didn’t exist a decade ago dominate the landscape. A place where “entrepreneur” is actually a respected career path as opposed to a cue for confused follow-up questions. Where investors regularly plunk down $10 million bets on untried ideas, and they actually work out (sometimes)! Where failure is, genuinely, a pothole on the path to success, often because you can join a different company across the street.

I’m writing with a plea—please don’t leave the rest of us behind.

By “us” I mean the rest of the country. Most of you grew up someplace else—like Michigan, Maryland, Missouri, or New Jersey. You have parents, friends, family, and classmates who are still there—you see them when you visit for weddings and holidays. Chances are you think to yourself something like, “Wow am I glad I left,” and “I can’t wait to get home (by which you mean your new home of SF).”

I get it. Things are awesome where you are. The air is clean and crisp. It gets chilly in the mornings when the fog rolls in, but as soon as it leaves, every afternoon is glorious. There’s a bit of traffic, but your commute goes from leafy suburb to mammoth office complex—one that could easily serve as a movie backdrop (and has)—and back again. Plus, your produce is better, which means you have the best fresh-squeezed juice anywhere.

I’ll tell you something you already know—things are a little bit less awesome in other places. There are a ton of communities throughout the country where “change” is a four-letter word, something to be feared. Because the only changes that Johnstown or Grand Rapids have experienced in the past number of years have been bad. Companies leaving, plants closing. And in their case, nothing else has sprung up to restore the vitality. Good people start leaving too, looking for richer opportunities.

You uniquely know what’s possible if smart people hunker down and try to make something better. Whole industries can be built. Ideas can come to life and transform entire economies. New business models can be born. Who knew people would rent their homes to perfect strangers? You don’t fear the future because you build it.

The rest of the country needs your optimism, ingenuity, passion, and energy. Badly. We need you to share some of what makes Silicon Valley amazing with the rest of us, to make innovation and growth the drivers of our economy.

I know, you’re cringing a little just thinking about it. You’re afraid that we’re bureaucratic and slow, unimaginative, and resistant. Trying to get us to get with the program would be painful and difficult, as we’re hamstrung by legacy processes and sclerotic institutions.

And all that is correct, particularly compared to you. But isn’t solving painful and difficult problems what you’re all about?

By helping us, you’ll help yourselves and people you care about. We’re your friends, families, customers, and fellow citizens.

You’re more than economic actors—you’re cultural carriers. You exhale the essence of Silicon Valley each day. You have seen what’s possible and made it happen. Simply meeting you and talking to you will open our minds.

It’s amazing when Sheryl Sandberg takes on female empowerment, or Mark Zuckerberg donates $100 million to Newark schools. But you don’t need to be at their level to have an impact. A friend of mine, Eric Bahn, advises startups in Detroit where he’s from. Chris Schultz moved to New Orleans and started investing in and mentoring startups there. Chris Olsen from Sequoia went back to Ohio in a bet that great companies will be built in the Midwest—and he’s helping make that happen.

We’re not asking you all to move back. That would be a bit much. But the next time you’re home, take an extra day or two. Find a business or organization to support. Connect with a local entrepreneur to advise and mentor. Speak at a school. Reach out. I promise you that you will be stunned by how eager people are to have you. You will be welcomed with open arms, so much so that you’ll find it embarrassing. Everyone will look up to you and be grateful. Your time and energy will go farther than you can imagine. Soon you’ll be hooked. You’ll tell your friends in the Valley about how the food in your hometown isn’t so bad. Your parents will be pumped and have something else to talk about. It’ll be good for the soul and great for the country.

The more Silicon Valley the rest of us get, the better off we’ll all be. Please help us get excited about the future too.

And if you’re interested in Baltimore, Detroit, Cincinnati, Nashville, St. Louis, Columbus, Providence, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Newark, San Antonio, Miami, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Charlotte, Denver or Birmingham, give me a call—I have some people that would love to hear from you.