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Salem is known for a long list of famed, occasionally regretful things — but its bubbling tech industry doesn’t make the cut.
A network of insiders is working to change that, hoping to attract some of the solid talent that nearby Cambridge, Boston and Somerville enjoy.
City leaders, alongside tech-centric partners scattered throughout Salem, launched its quietly developing InnoNorth initiative at an invitation-only VIP event Tuesday night. The event was held at the softly opened BitBar, a new arcade-themed restaurant in the old Salem jail.
The program aims to connect people in the tech industry for networking purposes, while also getting them to talk up Salem in an effort to make the city shine brighter to those looking to launch businesses.
“We recently started having conversations with folks in the tech community in Salem,” said city planner Andrew Shapiro. “It’s folks that build websites, do a lot of web-based marketing, user experience design, software development, IT security, IT consulting and recruitment, a lot of that.”
Many of those attending the event wore name badges with business names that people outside of the industry have probably never heard of.
Take, for example, Steel Root, a two-man operation that recently opened on Essex Street.
“We offer IT security services for businesses,” said Scott Freedson, one of two managing partners in the operation. “We help with employee training, security monitoring on email accounts.”
Two hours into the event, Freedson and managing partner Ryan Heidorn had “made three or four great connections,” he said.
“We’re looking to do some hiring,” Freedson said. “We found a great marketing person, found a good web design person. It’s been an awesome opportunity for us to network and bring in some resumes.”
Hiring can be tough, however. Just ask Mathew Poussard, a developer with JD Software, an enterprise software firm in Shetland Park with 11 employees.
“It’s not easy anywhere,” Poussard said.
The hiring woes of Salem were also firmly echoed during a three-person panel held at InnoNorth’s launch.
During the panel, ZeroDegrees partner Glenn Kennedy offered to “tear off the Band-Aid” and pinpoint the city’s greatest challenge.
“No disrespect to all of us that do marketing, but we need product,” Kennedy said. “We need a company that builds a product — health care, innovation, real technology.
“There are smaller startup companies. There are significant companies that are small and making a big impact,” Kennedy continued. “We’re doing a small part trying to get what we can, but getting product, product development — that would really help us in getting that core out here.”
InnoNorth is centralized around a website — InnoNorth.com — through which companies can post jobs and those looking for work can see what’s available on the North Shore. The site also includes a page to direct people looking to start a company from scratch to the first steps they need to take.
“We think the downtown has an opportunity, and presents them with the same opportunities that places like Cambridge, Somerville and Boston offer — albeit with more affordable rents to live here and more affordable office space,” Shapiro, the city planner, said.
“We’re only 15 miles north of Boston, a 30-minute ride on the MBTA, with a lot of highly educated professionals in the area.”
What happens next, outside of growing the network, hasn’t been determined, Shapiro said, but that’s part of the point.
“This is just the beginning,” he said. “We want to kick off the process. We don’t know where it’ll go quite yet, but we’ll take it as it goes organically.”