Neal St. Anthony
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CEO Mynul Khan of Minneapolis-based Field Nation has a problem common among growth companies in the region’s booming software and IT services industry.

There’s a shortage of experienced talent in the Twin Cities.

“This wasn’t [a problem] a few years ago,” said Khan, 36, founder of the 10-year-old firm that employs 165. Field Nation matches contract IT and other freelancers with corporate clients. It has doubled in size in three years.

Khan, who came to Minnesota nearly two decades ago from Bangladesh to study computer science at St. Cloud State University, just moved the firm into 35,000 square feet of refurbished space in the Baker Center downtown with an option for more space next door.

“We are growing 30 to 40 percent year-over-year,” said Khan. “And we have a growth plan. We just need more talent. Once they get through the door, they stay here.”

Khan once hired only experienced talent. Now, he has joined other IT employers in raising pay and hiring more college interns to groom for full-time work. He has also lured older workers back into the workforce for projects or part-time work, and outsourced some work.

The company employs 100 in Minneapolis and about 65 in Bangladesh.

“We hire our software architects, product managers, user experience designers and critical functions such as customer-facing positions in Minneapolis,” Khan said. “We need people who live in the U.S. and understand U.S. business and customers. We are constantly looking for good engineers here. We have more support folks in Bangladesh.

“We are now hiring more interns and new college graduates to help create a career pipeline.”

The Twin Cities added 3,300 technology jobs last year, up 1.6 percent to 199,200.

The area is one of the nation’s 15 largest tech-employment hubs, according to the Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA).

These jobs typically pay seasoned workers $75,000 to $100,000 or more a year.

We’re not Silicon Valley but not we’re not Dogpatch either.

Minnesota’s unemployment rate fell to 3.1 percent according to figures released last week, the lowest since July 2000.

The economists tell us the lack of skilled workers generally is the biggest threat to economic growth.

CEO Chris Heim of HelpSystems of Eden Prairie, a global software business of 600-plus employees and arguably Minnesota’s largest independent IT firm, said there is virtually no unemployment in the fast-growing local IT trade.

So, his company has made acquisitions of smaller software firms in places such as Ashland, Neb., kind of the Silicon Valley of Nebraska between Lincoln, home of the major university, and Omaha, Nebraska’s largest city. Also, Heim’s company has operations in Clear Lake, Iowa, as well as in Armenia. More locations means more sources of tech talent.

Phil Soran, who moved to Minnesota 30-plus years ago with IBM and went on to start three successful software firms, said a pattern is emerging.

“You need the core group of guys here,” Soran said. “And if you treat them right and pay them well, they stay. You can add some of the support people elsewhere.”

Employers have been creative in the scramble for IT support folks.

Two weeks ago, I wrote about Javier Martinez as an important part of our tech economy and economic future.

Martinez, 26, an immigrant from Mexico, worked as a paper carrier and cleaned houses after graduating from St. Paul’s Johnson High School.

Today, Martinez is a certified IT professional at a northeast Minneapolis small business.

Martinez has doubled his income to more than $45,000, and now has good benefits and a career pathway. He and his family are St. Paul homeowners.

Martinez graduated in 2014 from the IT-Ready training program of CompTIA.

It and similar training programs, including employer-backed Prime Digital Academy, train tech-inclined workers without formal computer training for internships and placements in support positions with career pathways.

Neal St. Anthony has been a Star Tribune business columnist and reporter since 1984. He can be contacted at nstanthony@startribune.com