Business startups tout Spokane’s cost of living, appeal to prospective employees

October 5, 2018

Five years ago, Austin Garner was Egnyte Inc.’s first Spokane employee, working out of an office in his basement.

Today, he’s a vice president for the Mountain View, California, company, leading a Spokane-based sales and customer service team of about 80.

Egnyte’s local office is a good fit for Garner, who said he enjoys working for a late-stage Silicon Valley startup while living in Spokane, where he grew up.

“I can fit into the professional world even with a beard and a plaid shirt,” he joked.

Garner said his commute to work in downtown Spokane takes about 20 minutes, compared to the three hours he spent in traffic daily when he lived in Seattle.

Garner, 33, was one of the speakers at Thursday’s Triangle Venture Expo, which showcased local startups and larger companies that have located part of their workforce here. The annual event is sponsored by the Spokane Angel Alliance, an organization of accredited investors.

Speakers praised Spokane as an affordable place to do business, saying their employees appreciate short commutes, average housing prices below $300,000 and the local public school systems.

Egnyte stumbled upon Spokane by accident when the company hired Garner’s former boss, said Rajesh Ram, Egnyte’s co-founder.

“We came looking for a talent pool,” Ram said. “We struck gold.”

Among Egnyte’s other offices, the employees in the Spokane operation have a reputation for “hunger, drive … and humbleness,” Ram said. “Spokane has a certain vibe and value system.”

Egnyte was founded in 2007 as a cloud-based file sharing company. “We help companies collaborate, share and protect their data,” Garner said.

Egnyte’s Spokane office occupies two floors above Luigi’s Italian Restaurant at 245 W. Main St. The company anticipates hiring about 20 more people here before the end of the year.

SmartRecruiters has a similar story. Last year, the San Francisco-based company opened a Spokane sales office. SmartRecruiters sells systems that companies use to recruit and hire employees, including background checks and video interviews. A significant part of its sales is in overseas markets.

The company employs 21 people in Spokane and also is growing rapidly, said Taft Love, SmartRecruiters’ global director for sales and operations.

Both companies said the presence of local universities is a plus for helping them recruit workers.

In Spokane, the opportunity to work at a tech startup is considered “a really interesting opportunity, as opposed to the Silicon Valley, where your company is one of many,” Love said.

But hiring a diverse workforce in the Spokane area remains a challenge, the speakers said.

SmartRecruiters would like to increase the number of women and racial and ethnic minorities in the company’s Spokane workforce.

“I want something other than an office of 25-year-old white guys,” Love said.

Spokane-area wages also can be a deterrent to recruiting workers from outside the area, “regardless of what I show them about cost of living,” he said.

But if prospective recruits look at the cost of housing here compared to other West Coast cities, they come to understand how much more their dollar buys in Spokane, Love said.

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