High-Tech Jobs Evaporate By the Thousands in Detroit and San Francisco Bay Area; Boston, San Diego, Seattle Hold Their Own

12/9/10Follow @wroush

In 2009, employment at high-tech companies either declined or stayed essentially flat in all of the cities Xconomy calls home, according to a study of the nation’s top 60 “cybercities” released this week by TechAmerica, a Washington, D.C.-based trade association for the information technology industry.

Though the underwhelming job data certainly accords with most people’s subjective experiences of the recession, there is a glass-half-full way of looking at it: the job losses weren’t as bad in Boston, San Diego, and Seattle as they were in most other places around the country. Between 2008 and 2009, high-tech employment nationwide fell by 195,607, or 3.2 percent. The decline in Boston was far milder—just 1 percent—and tech employment held steady in Seattle (though it declined slightly in neighboring Portland). The TechAmerica report found that San Diego actually added a small handful of jobs—500, an increase of 0.4 percent.

The situation was much worse, however, in Xconomy’s other two home regions, Detroit and the San Francisco Bay Area. Of all U.S. cities on TechAmerica’s top-60 list, Detroit was by far the hardest hit: an alarming 16,737 tech jobs evaporated there, representing nearly one-sixth of all tech employment in the region. The Bay Area lost almost as many jobs–16,147—but that represented only a 3.9 percent decline, thanks to the region’s much larger base of technology workers.

Keep in mind that these are 2009 figures, and don’t take into account any gains in employment that may have occurred in 2010. (It takes about 11 months for TechAmerica to compile its annual cybercities jobs report.) But with high unemployment endemic across the country—and likely to persist for years, according to economists—it’s likely that the trends called out in the report are still being felt.

Continue reading for some analysis of the city-by-city data from the TechAmerica report. Because the report sometimes counts cities within a cluster separately, I’ve recombined some of the numbers into aggregate statistics that represent Xconomy’s home cities more accurately. Specifically, TechAmerica counts San Francisco, San Jose/Silicon Valley, and Oakland as separate cybercities; I’ve recombined them into one. Similarly, the report gives separate statistics for Providence, RI, Worcester, MA, and greater Boston. I’ve put those numbers back together into something more representative of the New England technology cluster. And I’ve combined the Seattle and Portland, OR, statistics into a single Northwest category.

If you do all that, then some of TechAmerica’s rankings begin to make more sense. The report claims, for example, that New York City is the country’s leading center for high-tech employment, with 316,971 people working in areas like computer manufacturing, communications, software, engineering, technical services, and biotech R&D in 2009. But in aggregate, the Bay Area is larger, with 394,290 jobs, and so is the Washington, D.C-Baltimore area, with 369,782.

TechAmerica represents some 1,200 U.S. technology companies and was formed in 2009 from the merger of AeA (the American Electronics Association), the Cyber Security Industry Alliance, the Government Electronics & Information Technology Association, and the Information Technology Association of American. As part of its effort to highlight the importance of high-tech jobs to the overall economy, the organization has long produced an annual “Cyberstates” report contrasting high-tech industry growth in the 50 states. Three years ago, it also began publishing a sister “Cybercities” study focusing on the places within states where innovation is concentrated.

To their credit, TechAmerica’s analysts recognized that high-tech cities often spill across state lines—Boston, for example, extends all the way into southern New Hampshire, by the report’s reckoning, and New York City extends all the way into Pennsylvania. But I’d have argued for an even more liberal interpretation of cybercities, combining neighboring cities that have close ties. There’s obviously enormous interdependence, for example, between innovators and investors in San Francisco, Silicon Valley, and Oakland/Berkeley.

Here’s a look at how the country’s top 15 regions stack up in high-tech employment, after recombining individual cities:

1. Bay Area (Oakland + San Francisco + San Jose/Silicon Valley) 394,290
2. National Capital Area (Washington, DC + Baltimore) 369,782
3. New York City (including Long Island, Westchester County, northern NJ, and Pike County, PA) 316,971
4. Greater Los Angeles (including Orange County, Riverside, and San Bernardino) 289,847
5. New England (Boston + Worcester + Providence) 262,920
6. Northwest (Seattle + Portland) 211,005
7. Dallas-Fort Worth 174,848
8. Chicago 161,799
9. Philadelphia 134,235
10. Houston 127,760
11. Atlanta 123,582
12. San Diego 110,985
13. Minneapolis-St. Paul 98,583
14. Detroit 95,042
15. Denver 88,936

Continue to the next page for selected details on Xconomy’s home regions.

New England (Boston + Worcester + Providence)

Jobs 262,920
Establishments 11,612
Payroll $25.7 billion
Employment change 2008-2009: -3900

Detroit

Jobs 95,042
Establishments 4,206
Payroll $7.6 billion
Employment change 2008-2009: -16,700

San Diego

Jobs 110,985
Establishments 4,402
Payroll $10.3 billion
Employment change 2008-2009: +500

San Francisco Bay Area (Oakland + San Francisco + San Jose/Silicon Valley)

Jobs 394,290
Establishments 12,941
Payroll $48.6 billion
Employment change 2008-2009: -16,100

Northwest (Seattle + Portland)

Jobs 211,005
Establishments 9,431
Payroll $19.8 billion
Employment change 2008-2009: -4100

The full Cybercities report contains more details, including the average wages of high-tech workers in each city, how those wages have changed since 2007, and employment breakdowns by industry sector. It’s available from TechAmerica for $150.

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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