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Silicon Valley techies are fleeing to Seattle

Josh Lipton

Silicon Valley might be considered the center of the technology universe, but other cities across the country are also attracting some of tech's best and brightest, including one located 800 miles north of the San Francisco Bay Area: Seattle.

There are now 250,000 people working in technology-related jobs in the state of Washington, according to the Washington Technology Industry Association (WTIA), which says the industry is growing at about 10 percent per year. Nearly 90 percent of those jobs are located in King County, which includes Seattle, where Amazon (AMZN) is headquartered, and neighboring cities like Redmond -- Microsoft's home -- and Bellevue.

In Seattle, many of these software engineers, developers and data scientists are working for the two local tech giants, Amazon and Microsoft (MSFT); the satellite offices of Silicon Valley-based companies like Alphabet (GOOGL) and Facebook (FB), which now employs about 1,000 people in the city; as well as a range of startups that collectively raised $583 million from investors last year, according to CB Insights.

Demand for those with technology skills is outstripping supply. Last year, there were 4,000 jobs needed in Washington for those with computer science degrees, but only 500 university-credentialed candidates. The remaining 3,500 workers had to be found outside the state.

"We are the number one tech-importer of talent in the country," Michael Schutzler, the CEO of the WTIA, tells CNBC.

According to a recent report from LinkedIn, San Francisco has been the top source of new workers moving to Seattle in the last 12 months, followed by New York City and Chicago, with many seeking work in the technology sector. Four of the five top employers are tech companies including Amazon, Microsoft, Google and Facebook.

Why Seattle?

One of Seattle's biggest draws is more affordable housing. For example, the average software engineer's salary is $180,000 when adjusted for the cost of living, compared to $134,000 in San Francisco, according to job search marketplace Hired. The dollar stretches further in Seattle, where the median home price in the metro area is $414,000 versus $834,000 in the City by the Bay, according to Zillow (ZG).

Pranav Shah is a 28-year-old software engineer who recently moved from the Bay Area to Seattle to work at a startup called Rover, which connects pet owners with walkers and sitters. He says his rent is now about 50 percent lower than what he paid in California.

"Compared to San Francisco, I do end up making slightly less," Shah says. "But you have to remember that Seattle doesn't have a state income tax, and that factors in."

Glenn Kelman, the CEO of Redfin, says Seattle's more affordable commercial rent allowed him to scale the real estate brokerage in a way that would have been much harder in another city. He also says that his hometown benefits from a significant cultural difference.

"People have a different mindset here," Kelman says. "In Silicon Valley, there is more opportunity, but there is also more opportunism. In Seattle, I have found that people settle in for long careers at a company. If you want to build a company for the ages, that is a good mindset to have."

Kelman adds, "There is a civic pride. People do want to build Seattle into a real technology hub."

However, becoming a tech epicenter also creates its own challenges.

Residents in Seattle complain about traffic, and high-income engineers moving into the city have impacted the cost of living. According to Zillow, the median rental payment is now $2,100 per month, a jump of 8 percent over the past 12 months.

There is also cultural backlash, with some Seattleites criticizing the impact that an influx of tech workers has on their community. Local bands have even penned songs bemoaning the "tech boy invasion."

Despite these challenges, those living and working in Silicon Valley are clearly considering making the move to the Emerald City. In the fourth quarter, Redfin says that nearly 20 percent of Bay Area residents on its site looking for properties outside California were specifically searching for homes in Seattle, the most of any city.

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