3 Reasons Why New Grads Are Choosing the Midwest Over Madison Avenue

Coastal cities aren’t all they’re built up to be

An animated map of the U.S. in blue with the Midwest highlighted in darker blue and an image of the Empire State building in N.Y. as a plane flies to the Midwest.
Big cities don't hold the same appeal that they once did for recent grads. Animation: Aanya Gupta, Sources: Getty Images
Headshot of Meghann Craig

When you think of America’s hotbeds of entrepreneurial, innovative talent, you probably think of familiar places like New York, Los Angeles and Silicon Valley.

Life in the big city was once the destination for wide-eyed college graduates looking to make their mark, but bigger isn’t always better—in cities or the agencies inside them. The epicenter of innovation has slowly shifted from the coasts into the heartlands where one must not sacrifice ambition, talent or quality of life.

While it may sound too good to be true, here are three clear truths on why Midwest-living and mid-sized agencies are enabling people and businesses to flourish.

Midwest living is attracting top talent, entrepreneurs and movie stars

Artisanal, maker-level talent is flocking to Midwest cities in Illinois, Ohio and Missouri to escape the unsustainable pace and exorbitant cost of living in cities like N.Y., San Francisco and L.A.

And who would have thought that communities in Ohio would be wooing filmmakers across the country for its urban character and charm? Recent films shot include Dry Run starring Mark Ruffalo, Anne Hathaway and Tim Robbins; Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile with Zac Efron; and The Public, starring, written and directed by Emilio Estevez.

And the Midwest is cultivating more than just talented artists. As Forbes noted, cities in Indiana, Michigan and Iowa are becoming hotbeds for up-and-coming entrepreneurs that don’t want their big break resting solely in Silicon Valley.

The result are these vivacious communities of smart, hungry and talented people nurturing subcultures that produce the same level of innovation and marketing savvy (if not more) as their coastal counterparts.

Indie Midwest agency employees have more skin in the game

People work for people and are more likely to share in company values when leaders are present and accessible. That’s because good company culture is contagious. Sure, name-dropping a big agency name on the table at happy hour is cool, but bragging rights seldom measure up to meaningful, purpose-driven work. Clients experience this firsthand in the work being delivered and the process behind it.

Independent agencies offer a unique setting in which employees are like entrepreneurs themselves. When anyone from marketer to strategist can help secure new business or help cement existing business, you feel like you have more skin in the game. Because there is no holding company, indie agencies answer only to themselves.

Brands value real consumer insight and relationships

The Midwest offers a unique level of authenticity. When you pair informed intelligence and data with real people who mirror the brand’s target audience or at least live near the target, it brings an unparalleled competitive edge and understanding.

It’s this human touch that enables indie agencies to resonate with target audiences. It makes day-to-day work more meaningful as well. While the coasts boast high-profile agency names and awesome aesthetic, much of America is rooted in the Midwest. So, it’s no surprise that work out of indie agencies feels rooted in something real. It’s clear that the major markets no longer have a monopoly on forward-thinking innovation, which makes the Midwest an ideal destination for fostering young talent.

So, will the mid-sized midwestern agency become the new melting pot for the future generation of ad execs and creators? While Madison Avenue isn’t quite going out of business anytime soon, the playing field has officially leveled out.

@MeghannCraig Meghann Craig is senior director of marketing at creative media agency Empower.