Zach Brandon: Shedding a Tier
The Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce president responds to "The Tier-Two Tradeoff"
“What Madison lacks in scale, it makes up for in a density of cool sh*t.”
Four months ago, a group of young, talented international entrepreneurs called the Pop Up Agency came to Madison during a fifteen-city innovation tour that included New York, Shanghai, Tokyo and London. Our city was the smallest and on its face the least likely stop. Pop Up’s summation, quoted above, reminds us that scale and density are not synonymous and that Madison has a competitive greatness too often overlooked by others and ourselves.
In a column last month titled “The Tier-Two Tradeoff,” Rebecca Ryan compares living in Madison to life in San Francisco. Madison, she says, is “too small,” “less vibrant” and without “the density of young, ambitious talent” in a simply “affordable, Midwestern college town.”
Rebecca’s assessment saddens me. Not because of her lament but because someone who has spent her career analyzing “what’s next” is missing what is happening right under her nose.
Her words read like Madison’s final chapter. Yet this month’s cover story tells a different story. A story of potential. I’m fortunate to hear these stories every day, so let me share another.
Recently I was having dinner at Merchant, surrounded by the twenty-something talent Epic recruits here in droves. There I happened to meet the CEO of Zendesk, a software company with more than 30,000 clients, millions of users and roughly three hundred employees.
Zendesk was here to make a simple decision: Madison or Austin? They were siting an office, the first U.S. location outside San Francisco, and had settled on two finalists.
I gave my best impromptu pitch but it was another chance encounter that put the two cities in perspective. A senior executive from Shoutlet, a rapidly growing Madison-based start-up, told Zendesk: “Madison is Austin in the 1980s. It’s what’s next, and being here now puts you on the ground floor.”
Madison’s next generation of talent, highlighted on the pages of this magazine, are not focused on what Madison lacks. Instead, they are actively building Madison as the place to be.
And Zendesk? It’s actively building a 14,000-square-foot office and hiring dozens.
A community of innovators, thought leaders and highly regarded collaborators in manufacturing, agriculture, environment, sports, education, bioscience, technology and more. A place where fourteen million visitors enjoy coming each year. And some stay and build.
That is the story that is just beginning to unfold.
Zach Brandon is president of the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce.
Madison Magazine welcomes and encourages feedback from readers. Letters to the editor may be sent to Brennan Nardi at firstname.lastname@example.org or 7025 Raymond Rd., Madison, WI 53719.
For Rebecca Ryan’s follow-up to her discussion-provoking October column, click here.