The problem for a startup here is money and customers. There is some local money, but in practice, you will be raising from firms in SF or Boston. To do that well, you will be sending a founder on trips a high percentage of their time: Our CEO was out 50 percent of the time this year. It’s OK with three founders or a small team already, but the seed stage is very rough, especially for a solo founder.
There is also the matter of customers. If you are doing B2B for startups, or straight sales to developers, the market isn’t here. Consumer? Any physical bits are not going to grow the fastest here. Do you want to start selling to large masses of people with little time and loss of disposable income? Not the best test market. So you better be doing something that is better done from here. An agriculture startup, with farms across the river, for instance. Still, it will be rare for this to be your ideal location there.
Still, I wish for more startups here, but the negatives are very visible, and we have very few success stories that tell people it’s worth trying.
That $140k number might be a reasonable 50th percentile for what a junior engineer would make at a startup in the Bay Area, but compensation can increase quite a bit after several years in the industry, especially for engineers who move to large companies which give stock compensation. They will far outpace the earnings growth of engineers elsewhere.
It's much easier to achieve that kind of career trajectory in places with high concentrations of tech companies, e.g. the Bay Area and Seattle.
Now I'm sure the BA people average better but somebody in the top 5% from St Louis is going to be pretty good.
Note: I'm from Auckland, New Zealand and $US 100k would be a very good salary.
Even if I concede to your assertion that a vast majority of the top 10-20% of developers from these cities leave for the big tech centers- most startups are not doing the kind of work that requires their tech team to be made up of "rockstar" top 10-20% developers.
Although maybe it would work if some of the second tier cities agreed to pay off the debt and contribute to the savings of people that agree to work there.