Market Review: Louisville invests in growing tech workforce, positions itself as emerging tech center

Many tech companies choose Louisville because it is a cost-competitive environment. It’s also affordable for the employees to live in Louisville, which has many high-quality amenities, including 18,000 acres of urban parkland and internationally recognized culinary and bourbon scenes.

Louisville – a city known globally for bourbon, logistics and the Kentucky Derby − is positioning itself as an emerging technology center able to meet the workforce needs of all industries that must grow and innovate through technology.

With bold but attainable pronouncements like its plan to quintuple the growth of its tech workforce, Louisville is forging a tech talent pipeline that will connect skilled workers to high-quality jobs.

The city is investing in growing its current 17,000 tech jobs through existing programs like Code Louisville, new initiatives such as the Bit502 tech apprenticeships, and partnerships with educational institutions, private business and nonprofits.

Growing tech talent is critical as economies in the United States become more high-tech and traditional jobs face automation. Because of its strong manufacturing history, Louisville is vulnerable to automation.

“In the near future, all jobs are going to involve some technological expertise, and we need to ensure that Louisville’s workforce is prepared,” said Mary Ellen Wiederwohl, chief of Louisville Forward, the city’s economic and community development arm. “Our employers and workforce are ahead of the curve, investing in and embracing this future. Louisville is a future-ready economy.”

Through multiple programs and partnerships, residents can gain skills from entry-level IT to high-tech, setting them up for competitive, high-paying jobs. The tech talent pipeline starts at Jefferson County Public Schools’ Academies of Louisville, where students can graduate with entry-level tech skills, and it continues into college and beyond.

In April 2019 the University of Louisville announced a partnership with global tech giant IBM that will provide modern curriculum and educational tools in fast-growing sectors such as artificial intelligence, blockchain, cybersecurity and cloud computing through its newly created Center for Digital Transformation. IBM is partnering with only five U.S. universities.


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The same month, Louisville was named one of five AdvancingCities by JPMorgan Chase. Part of the funding from that grant will create TechLouisville, a free program that will help hundreds of residents from the city’s lowest-income neighborhoods learn skills to obtain entry-level IT jobs.

TechLouisville will expand the work that nonprofit KentuckianaWorks is already doing through Code Louisville, a successful public-private partnership started in 2013 that provides software development classes, mentoring and customized training for companies’ specific needs. More than 1,100 Louisvillians have completed courses through Code Louisville.

While those programs help fill companies’ workforce needs, Louisville’s strong partnerships continue to bolster the entrepreneurship side of tech.

The city’s startup scene is strengthened through entities like Louisville Entrepreneurship Acceleration Partnership (LEAP). LEAP is backed by heavy-hitters, including UofL, the Louisville Healthcare CEO Council and nonprofit XLerate Health, and is supported by Greater Louisville Inc.’s (GLI) Enterprise Corp., research and development firm MED Institute and seed accelerator Techstars.

Louisville Metro posted strong long-term performance on growth indicators tracked by Brookings Metro Monitor, buoyed by a sharp increase in employment at young firms, an indicator of healthy entrepreneurship. Jobs at young firms grew 19.1% in from 2016
to 2017 and more than 9% from 2007
to 2017.

“Talent is critical to growing a cutting-edge startup ecosystem. Expanding our tech talent, our tech culture and our tech education pipeline is key to growing a tech economy,” said Kent Oyler, president and CEO of GLI. “We see the success that local companies are having in their growth and the need for an increased number of tech-related positions.”

One reason that companies such as Appriss, Humana, Waystar and UPS − whether they are purely tech focused or investing in tech within their industry − call Louisville home is because of its competitive cost of doing business.

Office lease rates in Louisville are affordable – half the price of Austin and one-third the rate of San Francisco – allowing companies to reduce overhead costs. The city also was named among the top 10 affordable cities for workers by Forbes.

The decision to choose Louisville also comes down to its high quality of life.

“Increasingly, jobs aren’t tied to locations, and workers are moving to cities with high-quality amenities,” Wiederwohl said. “In Louisville, residents have access to more than 18,000 acres of urban parkland and internationally recognized culinary and bourbon scenes − and they can afford a nice home for less than $200,000.”

In Louisville, businesses and residents can do more for less, and tech is driving growth and opportunity.

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