Cities covet high-tech jobs. Economic development professionals talk about them like they are the holy grail of the modern employment landscape. They pay well, attract young people and are perceived to be less vulnerable to automation.
Creating a flood of tech jobs in any given city isn’t easy. In fact, it’s so hard that only a handful of metro areas have pulled it off, leaving places like the Tampa Bay area to fight for scraps.
How bad is the imbalance? From 2005 to 2017, the country created 256,063 jobs in what the authors of a new study called the innovation sector — 13 of the highest-tech industries, including satellite telecommunications and semi-conductor and pharmaceutical manufacturing.
Five metro areas — Boston, San Francisco, San Jose, Seattle and San Diego — accounted for more than 90 percent of the job growth. Another 35 metro areas posted minuscule gains. The rest of the 382 metro areas broke even or saw their slice of the pie shrink, according to the study released Monday from the Brookings Institution and the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.
The divergence has crowded 33 percent of the high-tech jobs into just 16 counties, none of them in Florida. Half of the jobs are concentrated in 41 counties.
The Tampa Bay area has picked up 1,789 innovation sector jobs since 2005, the study found. Still, we didn’t increase our share of the total. We remain a blip, though we have lots of other blips around the country to keep us company.
The concentration of high-tech workers in a handful of cities — agglomeration in economists’ lingo — allows new ideas to spread quickly and helps businesses find the workers they need. Research shows that the more high-tech workers who congregate in one location, the more productive they become, which isn’t the case in most other industries.
But, the authors noted, the clustering has spawned a system of superstar metro areas and “most everywhere else." They called it “a grave national problem” that leaves the country at a competitive disadvantage.
Too many college-educated workers are flowing to a small handful of cities, they said, leaving other metro areas to make do with a thinner talent reservoir. The cost of living and doing business in the five tech hubs is also skyrocketing, they said.
"The result is that investments flow to places such as Bangalore, Shanghai, Taipei, or Vancouver, rather than Indianapolis, Detroit, or Kansas City,” they said.
To remain competitive, the authors suggested a massive federal effort to transform 8 to 10 metro areas into vibrant, low-cost innovation hubs. The move would include $100 billion in federal spending over 10 years on research, tax benefits, workforce training, transportation improvements and other programs.
They identified 35 metro areas that have the right mix of size, educated workforce and established track record for innovation to warrant the investment. Madison, Wis., Minneapolis, Minn., and Albany, N.Y., ranked highest.
The Tampa Bay area didn’t make the cut. Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville, with its aerospace industry, was the only Florida metro area to make the list.
The report is another reminder that Florida and the Tampa Bay area must keep making strides when it comes to education and innovation or they risk losing the slice of high-tech jobs they have now.
The high tech hubs
The 10 metro areas that increased their share of innovation jobs the most between 2005 and 2017.
1. San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, Calif
2. Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, Wash.
3. San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, Calif.
4. Boston-Cambridge-Newton, Mass.-N.H.
5. San Diego-Carlsbad, Calif.
6. Madison, Wis.
7. Raleigh, N.C.
8. Denver-Aurora-Lakewood, Colo.
9. Charleston-North Charleston, S.C.
10. Provo-Orem, Utah
Source: Brookings Institution and the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.