For Tech Jobs, the Rich Cities Are Getting Richer


Earlier this fall, during a town hall meeting at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, Mark Zuckerberg addressed his flock with a common Silicon Valley lament: that the cradle of tech is losing its luster—“tapped,” as he put it. Zuckerberg brought up the cost of housing, the snarled traffic, the crumbling infrastructure. What that meant, he said, is that Facebook would now look elsewhere to expand. But there was a hint of cognitive dissonance to the complaints. Facebook may indeed plan to look elsewhere, but for the foreseeable future, the company and the Bay Area are thoroughly intertwined. The company has real estate and lease proposals in the pipeline that will bring thousands of new workers to the region.

Despite such hand-wringing, Silicon Valley’s role as a tech capital continues to grow in scale and importance, according to a new report. The region, and a few other coastal tech hubs, are gobbling up a greater share of high-tech jobs than ever. The data suggests just a few places are pulling away from the rest, taking the highest-paying jobs and investment with them.

Researchers from the Brookings Institution and the Information Technology and Innovation Fund, a tech-industry-backed think tank, arrived at their conclusion by looking at a fairly narrow slice of jobs—13 industries that involve the highest rate of research and development spending and STEM degrees per worker. That includes much of the software industry, as well as jobs in areas like pharmaceuticals and aerospace. The researchers found that, between 2005 and 2017, five metro areas—San Jose, San Francisco, Seattle, San Diego, and Boston— not only added lots of jobs, they were also becoming more dominant in those industries overall.

There are other ways of measuring success. Judging by total job gains, other large metros like Austin and New York appear to be doing just fine, as are many smaller cities. The takeaway also depends on how you slice the job market. Looking at a broader set of innovation industries, or more narrowly at just software, a different set of cities join the ranks of the successful. But the goal was to show where the center of gravity is shifting in research-intensive industries, says Mark Muro, a senior fellow at Brookings and coauthor of the report. The answer is that it isn’t moving much. “Many cities are adding jobs and that’s great. The question is whether that’s really moving the dial,” he says. The industries he examined tend to be among the highest paid, and largely responsible for venture capital investment and the growth of a host of related industries.



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