October last year A local couple from the small midwestern city of Greensburg, Indiana asked to be everyone’s grandparents on request. The couple, Tami and Dan Wenning, volunteer to babysit and accompany them to Father’s Day at their local elementary school, to attract remote workers to their area. Not to be outdone, the Ozark Mountain town of Bentonville, Arkansas soon began paying freelance tech workers $10,000 in Bitcoin along with a bicycle to get there. These are the latest in a rope belong to efforts to lure tech workers away from hubs like San Francisco and Seattle to more sleepy locales.
If they’re trying to seed the next Silicon Valley Heartland, they’ve done their job. New data from the Brookings Institution found that despite the hope that jobs from anywhere will flourish during the pandemic, most tech workers across the country aren’t amused. Instead, they remain concentrated in a small but growing group of cities.
Over the past few decades, high-paying tech jobs in the US have become increasingly concentrated in a handful of cities, contributing to regional economic inequality. The tech sector grew 47% in the 2010s, and in the second half of that decade, nearly half of all tech jobs occurred in eight “superstar” metro areas: San Jose, New York, San Francisco, Washington DC, Seattle, Boston, Los Angeles and Austin. By the end of the decade, those eight cities accounted for 38.2% of tech jobs.
Mark Muro, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, is co-commissioned for the new report on the geographic distribution of US tech jobs.
So, has the so-called remote working revolution created a massive dispersion of tech jobs? Not really. But it prompted some modest reforms.
Located largely within the nation’s interior, the nine “rising stars” —Atlanta, Dallas, Denver, Miami, Orlando, San Diego, Kansas City, Mo, St. Louis and Salt Lake City — which increased their share of tech jobs before the pandemic posted an average annual growth of 3% between 2015 and 2019. Like the superstars, these cities boast a location near major universities and highly qualified technical workers.
Remote work caused by the pandemic has failed to loosen these cities’ employment curbs. In 2020, the first year of the pandemic, both superstars and rising stars added tech jobs, slightly increasing their overall shares. However, the growth rate slowed, falling from about 5% before the pandemic to 2.9% in 2020.
Instead, another 36 cities recorded higher tech job growth than they did before the pandemic. These include northern business hubs like Philadelphia and Minneapolis, large warm-weather cities like Charlotte, North Carolina, major college cities like Chapel Hill, and resort hubs like Virginia Beach. Wealthy and resort towns like Santa Barbara and Barnstable, Massachusetts saw job growth increase more than 6%, while college towns like Boulder, Colorado and Lincoln, Nebraska increased more than 3%.
George Valdes, head of marketing at architectural software startup Monograph, has one of these jobs. His wife gave birth to a daughter in June 2020, three months after the company went completely away. Valdes lived in Oakland, California, where the air was soon thickened with smoke and fire. When this happens, Valdes will move the family south to stay with his aunt in Los Angeles until the air quality improves. “After doing that a few times, we thought, we need to get out of here.”