Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Tech Job Are Increasing in Orlando

The Orlando metropolitan area has added about 2,500 technology jobs -- making it the state's third-largest technology hub with 42,639 jobs, according to a report released today.

The report looked at technology job growth from 2004 to 2005, the most recent data available, and found that most of the growth was in fields such as computer-systems design and engineering. Defined as Orange, Seminole, Lake and Osceola counties, the Orlando area finished behind Miami/Fort Lauderdale and Tampa/St. Petersburg.

The Palm Bay/Melbourne area had the fourth-highest number of technology jobs -- 20,930 -- while the Deltona/Daytona Beach area had 3,349 technology jobs -- the fewest among the 10 metropolitan areas included in the study.

The goal of the Florida Cybercities report was to raise awareness about the state's technology industry, said Maryann Fiala, the executive director of the Florida Council for AeA. Formerly known as the American Electronics Association, AeA is the nation's largest technology trade group.

"From the tip of the state up in Fort Walton all the way down to Miami and everywhere in between, Florida has solid pockets of technology that are trying to grow but are having a hard time doing so because we don't have the work force," Fiala said.

Fiala said the AeA decided to produce a Cybercities report for Florida after seeing this year's Cyberstates report, which the association released in April. That study found that Florida had the fourth-highest number of high-tech jobs in the nation in 2005 and added the second-highest number of jobs from 2004 to 2005.

As of 2005, the Orlando area had 2,382 technology firms with technology workers earning an average annual wage of $63,561, the second highest in the state.

AeA only includes companies whose main industry is technology in their study, so IT professionals working at many of the area's largest companies are not included.

Although Orlando lost about 800 technology jobs from 2000 to 2005, technology employment has been increasing in recent years, and Fiala said the local technology sector is strong. She cited research being done at the University of Central Florida, in such areas as photonics, as a driving factor in attracting technology companies to the area.

She also said that technology companies in Orlando and other parts of the state are more isolated from the housing slowdown and other market forces because of their size."

The bulk of the companies in Florida and in Orlando are small," Fiala said. "They are entrepreneurial, they are nimble and they are able to shift course in a heartbeat. Those companies did not shed as many jobs. They were able to adapt their business model and adapt it to the marketplace a lot more quickly."

But not all technology sectors in Orlando fared well from 2004 to 2005, as the area lost about 100 telecommunications jobs. Those types of jobs have been declining nationwide during the past 10 years as companies have had to shift businesses to focus on providing wireless communications, Fiala said.

"It's becoming more difficult for companies that have a vested stake in the wireline business to be competitive," Fiala said.

Technology companies in Brevard County also fared well in 2005. The Palm Bay/Melbourne area had the fourth-highest number of technology jobs in the state with technology companies employing 119 out of every 1,000 private sector workers, the highest concentration in the state. Brevard was also tops for average annual salary for technology workers -- about $65,799.

Melbourne-based defense and government contractor Harris Corp., which employs about 7,000 people in Palm Bay and Melbourne, is the major reason behind Brevard's robust technology economy, Fiala said. The largest high-tech company based in Central Florida, Harris has been rapidly expanding its work force during the past few years.

The Deltona/Daytona Beach area lost about 600 technology jobs from 2004 to 2005 and was ranked 10th in the Cybercities report. Rick Michael, Volusia County's economic-development director, said those numbers may reflect some high-profile closing and layoffs during that period, including when General Dynamics shut down a facility in DeLand that employed 320 people.

One bright spot for Volusia was that from 2004 to 2005, technology wages rose by 6 percent, the highest in the state. And Michael said the number of technology jobs in Volusia has been on the rise in recent years.

Fiala said she hopes elected officials and the public will take notice of the report and put more focus on improving education to train technology workers. She would also like to see more promotion of Florida as a technology hub, like Silicon Valley.

"That's what we want to see in Florida," Fiala said. "There isn't a one of us that couldn't give directions to Disney. But how many of us could give directions to Harris?" Courtesy of Orlando Sentinel 9/25/07.