Apple Expands Seattle Footprint in Bid to Compete for City’s Tech Talent

Apple Expands Seattle Footprint in Bid to Compete for City’s Tech Talent

Apple is adding a floor to its offices in downtown Seattle, giving the company enough room to seat nearly 500 employees there, Nat Levy reports at GeekWire:

Apple is preparing to move into another floor at Two Union Square, a 56-story office tower in downtown Seattle, giving it all or part of five floors of the building, GeekWire has learned through permitting documents and visits to the building. The latest move brings Apple to more than 70,000 square feet, which equates to room for somewhere between 350 and 475 people, based on standard corporate leasing ratios for tech companies.

The iPhone maker announced big plans to expand its presence on Puget Sound last year, as Levy’s colleague Todd Bishop reported at the time, after buying up the Seattle-based machine learning startup Turi and establishing a $1 million endowed professorship in artificial intelligence and machine learning at the University of Washington. Competing for AI talent is decidedly the name of the game here, Levy explains, as the northwestern city is emerging as a hub for this new technology. Amazon and Microsoft are based in or near Seattle, while Facebook and Google both have significant footprints there.

All these tech giants are racing toward potentially transformative innovations in AI and machine learning; to this end, they have been grabbing all the experts they can get their hands on for the past few years, often by acqui-hiring startup founders and talent.

The big tech companies have an edge here because they are uniquely able to offer the outsized salaries AI talent demands, which can be as high as $300,000 to $500,000 a year or more in cash and stock for a fresh PhD graduate. AI talent is expensive in part because it is rare, with at most a few hundred thousand subject matter experts available throughout the entire world. Part of their attraction to AI and machine learning is that these technologies are expected to have a wide range of enterprise applications: A Gartner survey earlier this year found that nearly one half of Chief Information Officers have plans in place to implement AI in some form in their businesses in the coming years.

Cities like Seattle are eager to be the place where big tech comes to build their AI divisions, with local, state, and even national governments courting tech companies with offers to make it easier for them to do business in their jurisdictions. Washington State legislators, for example, have been trying to pass a bill banning the use of non-compete agreements in most employment contracts, in an effort to replicate what they see as one of the features of California law that enabled the growth of Silicon Valley. That effort failed for the third time in the last legislative session, but lawmakers are likely to try again.

Another North American city competing to be the Silicon Valley of AI is Toronto. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been aggressively pitching the city’s talent pool to American tech companies, selling them also on the relative ease of hiring foreign talent in Canada at a time when the US government is cracking down on skilled worker visas and immigration generally.