Posted on Tue, Sep. 25, 2007
S. Florida’s tech job base is vulnerable
BY BRIDGET CAREY
Florida is ranked fourth in the nation for tech industry employment, and South Florida is the state’s leading area for the high-tech industry, according to the Florida Cybercities 2007 report. But industry experts say unless state officials nurture this industry, Florida’s economy will lose valuable tech businesses to other states.
”There’s so much competition, not just nationwide but worldwide for these jobs,” said Maryann Fiala, the executive director of the American Electronics Association’s Florida Council.
The association released the Florida Cybercities report Tuesday, highlighting the state’s rankings in high-tech employment, wages, payroll and establishments. The Miami/Fort Lauderdale area — which includes Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties — had 75,278 tech industry workers in 2005, which is the most current year available for data. It was an increase of roughly 50 jobs over 2004. But since 2000, South Florida has lost 5,500 jobs, a decrease of about 7 percent, according to the report.
The Orlando area added the most tech industry jobs in the state, up by 2,500. Statewide, the high-tech industry added 10,900 total jobs, which is up 4 percent.
South Florida high tech workers workers are paid an average annual wage of $61,600, much greater than the average private sector wage of $39,200. The best paid tech workers in Florida were in the software publishing industry, earning $86,400 on average.
The greatest growth in the South Florida area was in engineering services, which added 1,400 total jobs in 2005. But that gain was offset by telecommunications services, which lost 2,200 jobs. Also losing jobs was the computer systems design and related service sector, where employment declined by 300 jobs to a total of about 16,100.
”The legislature has absolutely no understanding of what this means to Florida,” Fiala said. “We want them to understand just how important this is.”
It is the first time the association has published a detailed report on Florida’s cities. Fiala said the association published the report to show how important technology industries are to Florida’s economy.
Florida ranks as the second-fastest growing ”cyberstate,” a fact that Fiala said ”shocks the heck out of people.” Florida is ranked fourth in tech industry employment, behind California, Texas and New York.
Fiala said Florida has huge potential to grow, but there are problems to overcome. The biggest challenge for Florida tech firms: finding workers here, she said.
Gilbert Wilmer, a senior recruiter for the Mergis Group, said it’s because many candidates in South Florida don’t have the certifications and experience that employers require.
He said for companies to get a greater selection of employees, they should broaden their search to outside the state and ”allow some sort of relocation package,” Wilmer said. “Let us look outside of Florida.”
He said there are many qualified people who would like to move to Florida, but working here versus California or Texas is asking job candidates to take a pay cut because of the cost of living.
And without enough qualified people to choose from here, Wilmer said he is seeing an increase in South Florida tech firms using contract-based workers.
”It’s kind of like going to a car dealership,” he said. “You’re not just going to buy a car without test driving it first. That’s the mentality of some of these employers.”
Wilmer said the industry has much potential for continued growth, but it may mean companies will need to pay higher salaries or hire cheaper workers from outside the United States. And if firms could invest in their current employees through IT certification and tuition reimbursement programs, that would catapult the IT candidate pool with the likes of such states as Texas and California, he said.
Fiala said that she hopes this report will bring greater attention to the needs of Florida’s tech industry.
”Companies go to where they can get their workforce,” she said, and if there isn’t much in Florida, firms will move elsewhere.