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When you’re trying to hire tech talent in a metropolis, you have to be a billion-dollar company to get the attention of competitive candidates. Startups just can’t compete. Even when your company’s product and culture are a natural fit, candidates simply cannot find you through all the noise.

At the peak of the dot-com era in New York, when hiring got impossibly hard, I resorted to all sorts of unorthodox methods to attract candidates to my startup. I saw anyone riding the subway who happened to be reading a programming book as a prospective candidate. I placed ads in the Village Voice recruiting “hackers”. Our relative invisibility to top engineers made this a dark period for recruiting.

Hiring is better when you’re in a small pond

Today, the hiring market is nearly as tight, but I chose to build my current startup in Charlottesville, Virginia. As a result, the hiring landscape I face today has completely changed. Though still young by industry standards, our company is a key employer here in Charlottesville with high visibility. Our funding round was big news around town, big enough to put us on everyone’s radar. Simple efforts such as sponsoring pizza for the local JavaScript meet-up (Charlottesville JavaScript Enthusiasts) ensures that we’re on people’s minds. When someone is switching jobs, they find us.

Small towns do require a different approach to hiring. Big cities are like ponds teeming with fish, except most need to be thrown back. A small town is like a slow, meandering river. To be successful, you have to keep a hook in the water and always be hiring. It’s a worthwhile trade-off. You’ll get fewer applicants but overall higher quality — and candidates who feel they’ve made the right choice.

Reputation matters — and that makes for a strong workforce

People tend to be a bit more deliberate in a small town. You’re likely only one degree of separation from others, so perception is carefully cultivated. Employees tend to take their jobs very seriously, not only because there’s less mobility but also because reputation precedes. Yesterday’s boss is tomorrow’s reference — and references in small towns are for real. There’s a positive social pressure to do well and get along, a pressure that applies equally to employers as it does to employees.

Less mobility can be a good thing though. When you have 1,000 candidates for each position, employees can be hesitant to take risks. In a less cut-throat environment, I’ve found my employees appreciate that there aren’t hundreds of people lined up behind them. They are more willing to take chances and be willing to fail. Employees simply do better — and businesses do better too.

Small towns breed better corporate attitudes

With fewer businesses competing to be seen as “the best” place to work, companies in small cities find themselves high on the list. If a recruit has the option to work for the coolest company in town, why would they pass that up?

Employees enjoy being a part of a community of innovative companies. Rather than compete with other local startups, we benefit from working with them. In NYC, the general feeling is “me versus everyone else.” In a small town, it is “us versus the world”.

At the end of the day, we are a technology company that must continue to innovate to stay relevant. The benefits of having started this company in a small town continue to present themselves. Perhaps as we see more and more tech companies settling down in Charlottesville, things may get even better. The tech hub boom in Charlottesville is underway. It’s a small pond, but a great place to be.

Terry Thorsen is co-founder and CTO of ChartIQ. In 1994, he wrote the first online trading system which later became Ameritrade. He then went on to found Automated Financial Systems, a provider of financial software to banks and brokerages. He has held senior management positions at SunGard and Brokat AG. He co-founded ChartIQ in 2012 out of a barn in rural Virginia. The firm won the Charlottesville Business Innovation Council’s Business of the Year Award.

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