Management & Labor

Advanced Industry Jobs Expanding Unevenly Across U.S.

According to a new report, some regions are adding high-skill, high-paying jobs, while others are seeing them decline.
by | August 4, 2016

As regions seek to create more types of tech jobs thought to be key to future prosperity, it appears that the rich are getting richer.

The Brookings Institution has identified a select group of “advanced industries” employing high-skill workforces that invest heavily in research and development. While supporting many other jobs, they play a crucial role in advancing innovation. Yet in recent years, advanced industry growth has narrowed across regions, a trend that authors of a new report say should be concerning to policymakers.

A total of 50 advanced industries span different segments of the manufacturing, energy and services sectors. While they account for only about 9 percent of the nation’s employment, the sector’s average wages, productivity growth and share of exports far exceed the rest of the economy. The sector further conducts 89 percent of private-sector research and development, while owning more than 80 percent of U.S. patents. Every advanced industry job creates another 2.2 jobs domestically, according to Brookings.

Given the sector’s outsized contribution to the economy, it’s worth paying attention to where the jobs are spreading. The report details that while most larger metro areas experienced gains in both advanced industry employment and output, the geography of the growth contracted. The top 20 metro areas accounted for 81 percent of the sector’s employment growth in 2014 and 2015, up from 71 percent over the previous four years. Similarly, only 47 of the largest 100 metros experienced an uptick in the share of their output derived from advanced industries.

“These trends mean that while a dynamic shorter list of metropolitan areas continued to make real progress towards an advanced economy that supports inclusive growth, half of the nation’s large metros was actually moving away from that vision. That drift should be deeply troubling for policymakers and city and metropolitan leaders,” said Brookings’ Mark Muro, who co-authored the report.

Nashville is one area that’s fared particularly well lately. Since 2013, the area’s advanced industries job growth is the highest nationally (8 percent), while its output expanded at nearly double the national rate. Two of the larger advanced industries there, motor vehicle parts and management consulting, are driving much of the increase, along with several smaller emerging industries.

San Francisco’s advanced industry sector grew at a similar rate, while its output expanded an impressive 9 percent since 2013.

Many other regions, however, lag far behind.

Thirty-six of the 100 regions that Brookings studied either lost advanced industry jobs or expanded less than 1 percent annually since 2013. Overall, the sector registered a compound annual job growth rate of 2.5 percent.

A big reason behind the variable growth across regions is that individual industries experienced different fortunes. Just three booming auto-related and four digital services industries generated about two-thirds of the country’s total advanced industry growth since 2013. Other areas of advanced manufacturing saw only meager growth. Employment in the energy segment of advanced industries, which includes gas extraction and electric power generation, didn’t add any net jobs over the two-year period.

Accordingly, regions home to a greater presence of the few industries with strong gains are outpacing the rest of the country.

Brookings identified computer systems design as the single largest driver of recent growth. In the short two-year period, the industry added nearly 200,000 jobs nationwide.

While it’s true that some of the established tech hubs -- Boston, New York and San Jose, Calif. -- maintain large concentrations of these jobs, the industry is more widespread than some may assume. Brookings found that, in 71 of the 100 largest metros, computer systems design accounts for one of the top three largest sources of advanced industries employment and growth. Regions like Grand Rapids, Mich., and Harrisburg, Pa., all benefited from the industry’s recent surge.

Two measures of the sector’s growth -- total employment and output -- have followed different paths over the longer term. Since 1980, employment has remained relatively flat while output has grown by 4.3 percent annually, according to Brookings.

Areas with only a small talent pool of tech workers are struggling to attract these key economic engines. Muro said regions with research universities enjoy an advantage. San Diego; Greenville, S.C.; and Provo, Utah; are among those that have successfully managed to increase their specialization by prioritizing advanced industry growth.

“There is a lot of focus on this now,” said Muro. “The question is, can we expand these industries at a time when it feels like there’s a narrowing of the base.”

Advanced Industries Data

This table lists employment and output compound annual growth rates for the 100 largest metro areas in the Brookings study. (View profiles for each area.)

SOURCE: Brookings analysis of Moody's Analytics data
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