Southwestern Connecticut’s economy is programmed to grow its technology sector for years to come, according to industry experts.
Job-search giant Indeed’s recent announcement that it would increase its Stamford contingent by some 500 people in the coming years represents a milestone for the local economy. Many see the company’s expansion as proof the area is developing into a top destination for technology talent and that Indeed’s plans speak not only to its own success but the potential for other firms in the field.
“Any time a large tech company is expanding their operations and increasing staff, it’s a positive for the state,” said Matt McCooe, CEO of Connecticut Innovations, a state-chartered business investing and consulting organization. “I expect you’ll see more big announcements of tech companies coming to Connecticut. There is a a lot of real estate available. That creates opportunity for people to come and negotiate good deals.”
Growing in Fairfield County
Indeed’s growth demonstrates how a technology firm can quickly scale up its operations. When it moved in 2011, with about 50 employees, to its current base at 177 Broad St., it took a half-floor. It now employs 750 and occupies six levels. The firm plans to take two more floors.
“What we found is we were very able to access a great talent pool,” said Indeed Chief Financial Officer Dave O’Neill. “We’ve been able to have a niche where we’re one of the only significant tech companies up in this area, and we’ve been able to attract talent that way. But I would expect it to get more competitive in the suburbs as time goes by.”
Indeed’s growth aligns with gains throughout the tech sector in the state, especially in the southwest corner. The “information” sector, which relies heavily upon digital skills, added 600 jobs last month.
Seven Connecticut companies ranked on professional-services firm Deloitte’s 2016 Technology Fast 500 rankings of the fastest-growing tech companies in North America, matching the state’s representation on the previous year’s list.
Trumbull health-insurance solutions firm HPOne placed first among Fairfield County firms, at No. 357 overall, with 199 percent growth. Norwalk-based software company etouches ranked No. 461, with 132 percent growth.
To support companies like those on the Deloitte list, public-private partnerships in southwestern Connecticut’s cities have increasingly sought to build up their local technology infrastructure and recruitment efforts.
Danbury, Norwalk, Stamford and New Haven applied for Innovation Places funds from Connecticut Innovations subsidiary CTNext. Stamford and New Haven, along with Hartford and New London, were announced earlier this month as the winners that will share a pot of $6.9 million in the current fiscal year.
Building up the city’s high-speed internet capabilities represents a top goal for the Stamford consortium.
“By putting in gig(abit) service at six places in our innovation district, we’re hoping to build the infrastructure that would then in turn build the market demand so small business can afford to get gig service whereas previously it was really expensive for them to do so,” said Jackie Lightfield, executive director of the nonprofit Stamford Partnership, which played a leading role in advancing Stamford’s CTNext application.
Other recently launched initiatives are also supporting emerging technology businesses in Fairfield County. Westport-based business accelerator The Refinery started last year Fueling the Growth with UberPitch, a business pitch competition for women-led technology companies. Stamford served as one of the competition’s home cities for the initial round and hosted the finals.
The Refinery co-founder Janis Collins said she sees Stamford and New Haven as the state’s top hubs for technology innovation.
“By going to Stamford for events, we get exposed to New York companies,” Collins said. “But New Haven is an exciting place, too. It doesn’t have the same accessibility to New York as Stamford, but it’s more science-focused and it has tremendous upside with so much coming out of Yale.”
An industry for the future
McCooe said he sees the confluence of tech firms in cities such as Stamford, Norwalk and Danbury as a boon for attracting new talent to the area.
“If you’re recruiting an employee to go to Des Moines, Iowa, and it’s a tech company, he’s terrified that if he loses his job where will he go afterward in the area,” McCooe said. “Here, you’ve got the likes of Indeed and Kayak in Stamford and FactSet and Datto in Norwalk, and all these other great companies. There’s fluid job growth, so if an employees choose to leave a company, there are lots of places in this area where they can be gainfully employed.”
Those technology positions not only help the state’s employment rolls, but also provide high-quality work that pays well and brings in tax revenue for the state, said Pete Gioia, economist for the Connecticut Business and Industry Association. As of the first quarter of 2016, computing jobs in the state were paying an annual average of about $86,000, according to the state Department of Labor.
“That sector has serious potential,” Gioia said. “All of those jobs are welcome additions to our economy.”
The industry looks likely to continue expanding in the coming years. Connecticut’s contingent of workers in computing professions is projected to rise from about 45,000 in 2014 to some 52,000 in 2024, according to the Labor Department.
“The issue for us is not so much is there demand — projects show tremendous demand — but will be there will enough skilled workers to take these jobs?” said Patrick Flaherty, assistant director of research in the Labor Department. “Connecticut has tremendous education institutions in computer science and related fields, and hopefully folks will take advantage of them.”