The term “high-tech” is hard to define, but it means a lot more than “tech” in the Silicon Valley sense. According to the Workforce Information Council, the high-tech sector includes any industry that employs a high percentage of workers in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) occupations.
That encompasses more than 30 categories, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), including such diverse fields as pharmaceuticals, engine and power transmission equipment, semiconductors, aerospace parts, telecommunications, data processing services, oil and gas extraction, and even forestry.
Though STEM occupations account for only about 6% of all jobs in the American economy (according to the BLS), high-tech industries are vitally important to cities these days. Not only are places with established or emerging high-tech sectors poised for economic growth, but a strong technology industry can help a city weather the economic shocks of a recession and even a pandemic. (A high-tech concentration can be a contributing factor in identifying the best small cities to start a business.)
Concentrations of high-tech industries aren’t found only in big cities. Places like Raleigh, Huntsville, and Denver stand out for the number of high-tech industries they host, but smaller cities are challenging their dominance and offering benefits — like more affordable housing — that they cannot. (These are America’s 25 least affordable housing markets.)
To identify the best small high-tech cities in America, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed data from the Milken Institute’s Best-Performing Cities 2021 ranking municipalities and metro areas according to their “high-tech GDP concentration and the number of high-tech industries” they’re home to, as well as the presence of “scientific research and development services.” (Population figures in the list below come from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates.)
What’s interesting about the results of the Milken Institute study is that no one state or region dominates. Good cities for high-tech are found in the West, the Midwest, and the South and on the East Coast.
Topping the list is Tuscaloosa, Alabama, home of such companies as BFGoodrich Tire Manufacturing, Hunt Refining Company, and Nucor Steel (and 20 miles from the Mercedes-Benz International assembly plant). Second on the list is Lawton, Oklahoma, one of the state’s key manufacturing centers.
Rounding out the top five, in descending order, are one Midwestern locale (Springfield, Illinois), one in the Northeast (Lebanon, Pennsylvania), and one on the West Coast (San Rafael, California). All are well positioned to thrive in the coming years.
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