Convercent In The News

Amazon HQ2 could actually help Denver’s talent-starved tech sector

-Greg Avery

There’s a tight job market and hundreds of unfilled positions in metro Denver’s technology industry — but that doesn’t make local tech executives nervous that Amazon.com Inc. could choose the area for its second headquarters employing tens of thousands of people.

The Seattle-based online retail giant (Nasdaq: AMZN) has announced plans for a second North American hub, dubbed HQ2, where it will add as many as 50,000 employees, and is awaiting offers from interested cities. Most observers rank the Denver area near the top among places that fit Amazon’s criteria.

Tech-startup executives laud metro Denver as a place to hire employees locally as well as for recruiting from out of state. Many of them say Amazon being here could help Denver’s talent shortage by bringing thousands of new people here.

“Those skilled workers Amazon hires would bring a lot of talented spouses and partners with them,” said Bryan Leach, founder and CEO of Denver-based Ibotta Inc., the booming maker of a shopping app. “I see it as a net positive for the business community.”

It would also put Denver on the map for having a big, tech-centric employer, something it doesn’t have today.

Tech employees tend to jump to new companies every few years. They think about who their next employer might be when they weigh an offer involving relocation.

Denver’s current lack of a nationally recognizable industry headquarters can dissuade in-demand tech professionals — especially those with families — from leaving larger hubs on the coasts.

An Amazon HQ2 would change that, local execs say. And it would also throw off a lot of workers as employees there decide to work for other companies or to start their own businesses, benefiting companies hiring in the metro area, executives said.

“Big companies draw a massive amount of talent to a community,” said Jon Shanahan, president and CEO of Des Moines-based Businessolver, maker of insurance benefits software for corporations. “And not all of them find that being at a big company is right for them.”

Businessolver is focusing a lot of the company’s national growth in Denver because of its success attracting skilled employees here. Amazon HQ2 landing in the Denver area would likely improve Businessolver’s recruiting prospects, Shanahan said.

‘Jeff Bezos is selling soap’

But not everyone is convinced HQ2 would be entirely good for Denver tech companies.

“Overall I think it would put tremendous strain on the talent pipeline that’s already stressed,” said Chris Glode, CEO and founder of HumanCode, a Denver startup that makes software analyzing genetic testing data. There’s little overlap between the skills HumanCode hires for and what Amazon would likely seek, Glode said.

In his previous job, at MapMyFitness in Denver and Austin, he regularly had to contend with Amazon trying to recruit MapMyFitness employees to Seattle, usually without success, he said.

Amazon would make worker retention harder for other employers, particularly companies like Arrow Electronics, SendGrid and CenturyLink with a broad range of skills on the payroll locally, Glode predicted.

Amazon, being mainly a retailer, wouldn’t be an automatic draw for many software developers. Many tech workers are drawn to companies working on solving particular problems they’re passionate about, said Patrick Quinlan, CEO of Denver-based Convercent, which makes software to help big companies police internal ethics and regulatory compliance.

Quinlan says landing Amazon HQ2 would be a big win for Denver’s scene, and not something that would change Convercent’s ability to recruit.

“We’re solving ethics, and people are reporting child slavery in our system. Jeff Bezos is selling soap,” he said.

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