March 26, 2007

High Hopes For Local High-Tech Job Growth

By: by Dennis Yusko, Times Union


Local high-tech jobs are growing, and a future surge of tech-related employment is expected to change the face of the Capital Region economy.

The category -- which includes scientists, engineers, computer experts, system specialists, technicians and more -- grew by 1,016, or 2 percent, from the second quarter of 2005 to the same quarter a year later.

The nearly 48,566 high-tech jobs from Greene to Washington counties accounted for almost 10 percent of the area's total work force and $785 million of the region's $5 billion in wages paid in the 2006 second quarter, according to a new report from the state Department of Labor.

High-tech jobs grew at a faster rate than total jobs in the region during the period, and they paid better: an average annual salary of nearly $65,000, vs. $39,000 for non-high-tech jobs, the report stated.

Of the 1,439 total jobs added from 2005 to 2006, 41 percent were in the high-tech field. And high-tech manufacturing outpaced all area manufacturing in job and wage growth, according to the report.

The number of high-tech positions in the region in 2006 was about 5,000 less than the total shown at the height of the Internet revolution in 2000, when 11 counties were included in the study (compared with eight this time), said James Ross, the state's labor market analyst for the Capital Region. When the nation's tech bubble popped, it caused years of decline in high-tech industries.

But that slide has been halted and reversed by the introduction of the College of Nanoscale Science & Engineering at the University at Albany and, likely very soon, the construction of a chip fabrication plant by Advanced Micro Devices Inc. in Saratoga County. They and others could lead to giant gains in high-tech jobs for the region starting in the next few years, Ross said.

Although 1,016 high-tech jobs were added in the region over the course of the year, the 1.2 million-square-foot AMD plant being considered for the Luther Forest Technology Campus would create an immediate 1,200 high-tech jobs and thousands of spinoff jobs of all kinds.

"The area could experience some of the fastest growth of high-tech jobs in the country once AMD plants and ancilliary services are built," Ross said.

The state has promised $1.2 billion in economic incentives to AMD, and the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based company has until July 2009 to decide if it will build the factory.

High-tech jobs are defined by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as positions in science, computers, the Internet, pharmaceuticals, electronic equipment, energy and more. But federal government positions, excluding U.S. Postal Service positions, are also counted, as well as manufacturers of things like paint and fertilizer.

Research and development makes up the biggest sector of the region's high-tech economy, Ross said. More than 800 scientific R&D service jobs were created in the region from 2000 to 2005, thanks mostly to investments at the UAlbany Nano College, he said.

The complex employed 72 people when it debuted in 2002. More than 1,500 people now work for the university and private firms at the site, and that is projected to increase to 2,000 or more by the end of 2008, said Steve Janack, communications director at the Nano College.

More than $3 billion in private and public money has been invested in the futuristic-looking complex on Fuller Road that houses the work. It currently encompasses 450,000 square feet, but construction of a new 250,000-square-foot building by 2008 has been announced.

"We are in-sourcing jobs," Janack said. "The growth of the Nano College has presented opportunities for New York state residents, lured former residents back to the region, and has brought people here from all over the world. That is critical to building our future economy."

Ross said new positions at the Nano College would count toward the area high-tech total only if they are hired by the private firms based there and not by UAlbany, as education-funded positions do not qualify for inclusion.

Meanwhile, GE Global Research remains one of the biggest high-tech employers in the region. The center in Niskayuna, one of four worldwide for General Electric Co. and headquarters for all of its R&D, employs more than 1,900 people, including 1,300 scientific researchers. New products are created and tested there.

Employment is up about 19 percent since 2001 at the River Road complex, where the company is in the final stages of a $125 million expansion, spokesman Todd Alhart said.

"It's probably the world's largest and most diverse industrial resource lab," he said.

Ross said the wave of high-tech jobs expected to come into Tech Valley is likely to transform a historically stable economy built on state government, education and health care.

"With the growth in the technology sector, we'll see a stronger long-term growth rate, but we'll get more ups and downs in the business cycle than we have currently," he said. "When demand for chips goes down, things will slow down."

He envisions a slow and steady growth of high-tech jobs, more demand for high-end services and continued low unemployment.

"One of the challenges is to make sure we have a work force to fill the jobs coming in," Ross said.