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The 10 cities that are secretly great for tech grads

Sure, Silicon Valley and New York get attention for being the best places to work in tech. But for new graduates looking for growth and mentorship, hoping to stand out, and facing their first student loan bills, paying $2,000 a month in rent is less than ideal. As college seniors are weighing offers, negotiating salaries and trying to decide where they'll be after graduation, DataFox crunched the numbers to find 10 cities with the networking opportunities, affordability and growth potential that should put them on the radar of any new grad who wants to work in tech.

The big takeaways:
  • Close-knit communities are the foundation of strong networks. For young grads just starting to build their professional networks, a small tech scene can actually be better. Cities with a collaborative rather than cutthroat mentality provide opportunities to find mentors, grow new skills and build a durable network.
  • Affordability can't be overstated. The average four-year university student can expect to graduate with over $26,000 in student loan debt. Between loan payments and the stratospheric cost of living, graduates who go to New York or Silicon Valley will probably struggle to save for retirement or other goals. If you can find a job in an affordable area, you'll get the millstone off your neck that much faster.
  • Partnerships between large and small companies give the best of both worlds. Whether you want the stability and mentorship opportunities of an established company or the fast-paced, hands-on startup experience, there's something to be learned from companies of all sizes. Many of these cities are anchored by large companies who invest in and advise smaller ones, giving new graduates the chance to learn from veteran CEO's and newly minted founders alike.
10 cities that are secretly great for tech grads

1. Reston, VA

Just outside the nation's capital, Reston is home to both established companies and investors looking for the next big thing. Home to five of the DC area's twenty largest venture capital firms as well as blue chips like VeriSign and ComScore, Reston has firmly established its place in Silicon Hill. Most importantly for new graduates, though, the city ranked well above average in all four categories we track: its resident companies are poised to grow and are both influential and financially stable, it's much more affordable than nearby DC, and it's home to strong management teams. In fact, it scored higher in our leadership metric than any other city on this list. Reston's tech scene offers Washington's networking and growth opportunities, without the high cost of living.

2. Indianapolis, IN

Like Reston, Indianapolis offers a vibrant community that's affordable with an entry-level tech salary. The city stands out for two reasons: its low cost of living, and the quality of its business' leadership. Indianapolis' startups have the strong management to develop young talent, and the influence to provide introductions for second and third jobs out of college. The city is fully committed to developing talent, supporting initiatives like the Global Cities Exchange and Plan 2020. With a less congested atmosphere than New York or San Francisco, an ambitious graduate can catch the eye of a mentor who can accelerate her career. Indianapolis offers learning opportunities and clear growth paths for people entering its growing tech scene.

3. Raleigh, NC

The Research Triangle area boasts a fast-paced tech scene, bursting with intellectual as well financial capital, but Raleigh stands out as a great city for young people to make the transition from college to working life. Home to North Carolina State University and others, the city combines a college town vibe with real professional opportunities. With name-brand biotechnology and engineering companies, it's no surprise that Raleigh is well above the national average in its resident companies' influence and recognition; and its strong management teams give graduates the chance to learn from the best. With both mentorship and career growth opportunities, Raleigh offers a chance for young graduates to grow personally and professionally.

4. Portland, OR

Known for promoting work-life balance, Portland offers a thriving tech scene and stands out on our list for its strong mentorship and growth opportunities. Portland companies' brand recognition and management quality are well above the national average, providing young graduates the opportunity to learn quickly and get a name-brand job on their resume. Between new startup opportunities and established companies like Nike, newly minted professionals can put their tech skills to use in Silicon Forest. Portland also has a lot to offer outside of work: a 2014 survey ranked it #23 in the world for quality of life, and its natural beauty, intellectual capital and culture draw young professionals from around the country.

5. Nashville, TN

The Music City is making a name for itself as a tech hub: the Nashville Entrepreneurship Center accelerator graduated more than 200 companies in five years, and is also a Google for Entrepreneurs Tech Hub, with all the resources and connections that implies. New graduates won't be fighting with thousands of other people in their cohort for mentorship or growth opportunities; Nashville's sneaky-great tech scene offers career resources without the frenzy. The city ranked above average in our metrics for finance and mentorship: its low cost of living is a major draw for those paying student loans, and its businesses have the brand recognition to help land second and third jobs. Though we didn't track this metric, Nashville also ranks #24 in the country in startup density; between that and its startup support, it's a great place for tech grads to found new companies as well.

6. Ann Arbor, MI

Though anchored by the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor's tech scene has a lot to offer for any graduate. The city scored above the national average in three of four categories tracked: its companies are financially stable and well-run, and the overall climate offers growth opportunities further down the road. With a close-knit community, it's unsurprising that Ann Arbor's companies have pedigreed, well-connected management teams. Leveraging their coworkers' connections, residents can build the networks that are the foundation of a successful career. And while nearby Detroit is often mentioned as an up-and-coming tech scene, Ann Arbor's college town feel and high-powered companies make it an ideal choice for new graduates.

7. Cincinnati, OH

Cincinnati's tech scene relies on a symbiosis between big corporations and tiny startups. The established companies - including Macy's, Proctor & Gamble and eight others in the Fortune 500 - provide capital and support for entrepreneurs, while new companies offer innovations and talent. For new grads who aren't quite ready to join a three-person startup, Cincinnati offers the chance to interact with companies of any size. Its companies rank above the national average in management team quality, brand recognition and financial stability, three key qualities for those just coming out of college. And for those who want to make the leap to entrepreneurship, the city's accelerators and incubators offer ongoing support as well as funding, which isn't easy to find in highly competitive Silicon Valley.

8. Las Vegas, NV

The Las Vegas tech scene mostly makes headlines for its biggest promoter, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, but underneath the hype, there's a strong foundation for tech graduates to build on. The city's low cost of living, combined with no income taxes, can help pay off student loans before it's time to think about buying a home or starting a family. And paradoxically, because the city flies under the radar for many engineering grads, those that do go out to the desert can enjoy being courted rather than competing in an oversaturated talent market. Las Vegas' affordability is a draw, but its companies also stand out with above-average leadership quality and brand recognition. Tech graduates who go to Vegas will have the opportunity to learn from the best, while still building a startup scene from the ground up.

9. Denver, CO

Though the cost of living is slightly higher than in other cities, Denver companies have above-average bank accounts: they're well-funded and stable, providing assurance to graduates who go the startup route. Additionally, it ranks well in company growth, management quality and recognition, offering opportunities for entry-level hires to rise up the ranks and gain new skills. Denver is the number one relocation destination for Americans age 25-44, and it's no wonder: the city's thriving startup scene offers a way to rise quickly up the ranks, while outposts for established companies like Lockheed and Oracle deliver stability and learning opportunities. Between career opportunities, a vibrant culture and a commitment to quality of life, Denver increasingly getting its due as a destination for young people in tech.

10. Minneapolis, MN
Minneapolis stands out in our study for both its growth opportunities and its companies' brand presence. Neither of those should be particularly surprising: its tech community is known for its close-knit support and resource network. Home of Best Buy, Target and other big-box sources of capital, Minneapolis also boasts a thriving startup scene focused on sustainable revenue. That focus is reflected in Minneapolis' above-average finance score: not only is it very affordable, but its startups are more financially stable than most. For new graduates looking to pay off loans, live decently or even - yes - start saving money, Minneapolis provides the intersection of affordability and innovation.

Our metrics:
  • Financial stability: To determine whether a new graduate can afford to live with some degree of certainty, we used two metrics. First, we used the real purchasing power metric from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (sourced from the Tax Foundation) which measures how much a dollar spent goes in each metro area. Second, we used our proprietary Finance Score, which measures investor quality, revenue, liquidity and other factors to estimate a company's solvency.
  • Mentorship opportunity: To determine if young graduates would have the opportunity to learn from and be managed by quality supervisors, we used our HR Score, which proxies management team quality using factors including number of LinkedIn followers, retention rate and educational prestige.
  • Name recognition. Having a well-known company on your resume can open many doors down the line. We averaged local companies' recognition using our Influence Score, which measures the company's presence through news mentions, conference sponsorship, social media and more.
  • Growth opportunity: To analyze whether a new graduate would be able to grow within his or her company, we used our Growth Score, a measure of whether a company is likely to grow in revenue and headcount. The score includes headcount growth, investor quality, job listings and other factors.
Because of the increasingly heavy burden of student debt and the uncertainty that goes along with joining a startup, we weighted the financial stability metric twice as heavily. We studied metrics of over 11,000 Series A through C companies, which hit the sweet spot of growth and solvency, and included cities with at least 30 such companies in our database. For more information on our Finance, Growth, HR and Influence scores, check out How Do DataFox Scores Work?

This article originally published on DataFox
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