We keep hearing about the growing prevalence of information technology companies and jobs in Southeast Michigan, comparing our beloved D and its burbs to high-tech talent meccas like Austin, TX, Charlotte, NC, and San Jose, CA. Does our region live up to this hype? When you compare monikers like “Research Triangle” and “Silicon Valley” to that “Rust Belt” albatross, it is easy to doubt that Detroit really could be the “next Silicon Valley.”

The truth is, our region will never be something it’s not: it’s a local grit and pride thing that has sometimes helped us and sometimes gotten in the way. But when it comes to IT, we are a player, and a real one.
If we are going to transform this place that we call home, it is important to understand who we are, before we carelessly shrug off labels that, in fact, represent our fundamental make up. We are one of the nation’s fastest emerging tech hubs and a center for high performance computing. Our tech focuses especially, but not exclusively, on applications in mobility, engineering, science, modeling, simulations, etc. This isn’t an opinion — it’s a fact — and we’ve got the data to back it up:
IT is here in our region: In the third quarter of 2011, there were 8,950 IT establishments statewide, 4,450 establishments in the SE MI Region.1 There were 85,500 jobs at IT establishments statewide, 58,000 jobs at IT establishments in the SE MI Region2. But IT jobs are not restricted to IT establishments—other major employers include health care, automotive, etc. In the top IT occupations3, there are currently nearly 64,000 IT employees in Southeast Michigan4.
IT is hiring: According to Burning Glass, an aggregator of national online job postings, in the last three months, Southeast Michigan had more than 21,0005 IT job postings, primarily computer programming and software development in applications, network and systems analysts and administrators, user support, systems engineers/architects, and web developers.
IT is growing — quickly: Southeast Michigan online job postings increased by two-thirds between 2010-2011, outpacing more commonly known national IT hubs. Though the total number of IT postings remains below that of Silicon Valley and Boston, Southeast Michigan has more than both Austin, TX and the Research Triangle in NC, and our demand growth has been outpacing them all.
IT has more job postings than job seekers: According to CareerBuilder, there are four active jobseekers for every five online job postings. Looking at specific skills such as Java or SQL — computer languages needed for many of the programming and development positions — labor pressure drops to two jobseekers for every five job postings. The active labor pressure for computer systems engineers/architects is one jobseeker for every 10 postings. Low labor pressure is good news for jobseekers, who will find it easier to find work if they have the right skills and aptitude for learning.
IT is diverse: Southeast Michigan’s IT base represents a cross-section of core-business IT companies like Compuware, Hewlett Packard and IBM, and an array of end-user companies in financial services (Quicken, Credit Acceptance), health care (BCBSM, Beaumont, St. Johns), cyber-security (Barracuda), and various creative firms. Of course, regional IT demand also is driven by the rapid computerization and integration of vehicle systems, as well as advanced energy solutions. Fields like design, manufacturing, machine tooling, and engineering are becoming increasingly high tech, as are the products they offer. The region also has a substantial base in robotics, mechatronics, and “modeling, simulation and visualization.” All of these elements make the region an epicenter of high performance computing, epitomized by applications of information technology into different industrial fields.
As a comparison, Silicon Valley IT tends to be focused more on core IT development firms (computer companies like Apple, CISCO, Dell, HP, Intel and web-based giants like Google, EBAY and Facebook). Boston’s IT is concentrated more heavily in financial services and health care, and Austin’s emphasizes computer systems design and equipment manufacturing, but with elements of aerospace and semiconductor and other electronic component manufacturing mixed in.
IT’s diversity in Southeast Michigan requires talent diversity: Having integrated skillsets and industry-based experience can help candidates stand out. Careers in software development, computer programming, and web development often (but not always) require a Bachelor’s degree and a skillset that includes knowledge of Java, Sql, .net, Oracle, and other computer languages. Careers in computer user and network support, database or network administration, IT project management often require less formal education but knowledge of operating systems, linux, unix, network configuration and administration, and firewalls, for example.
IT needs to focus more on its pipeline: Talent gaps need to be filled, and regional partners are working with employers to ensure both short and long-term talent. Other regions do a better job, however, of giving people hands-on, on-the-job experiences. A comparison of job titles in different regions reveal that in areas with more established IT clusters, such as San Jose and Boston, internships are far more prevalent. Compared to other IT job titles, interns rank #2 and #4, respectively, when reviewing job postings. Even Austin, which had fewer IT job postings overall, had more internship positions available than in Southeast Michigan.
The bottom line? Southeast Michigan has a wealth of well-paying IT jobs and diverse, thriving employer companies that make our region an even better place to live work and play. Right now, our region is rallying to develop and retool the skills of our workforce to meet employers’ needs for talent. WIN is forming an initiative to help ensure that industry drives efforts to attractretain, and grow the talent we need to ensure that this industry continues to thrive.We’re not Silicon Valley, and we’re not the Rust Belt: We are part of the Detroit Regional Innovation Network and a national IT leader.

1 Establishments and employment data is available through the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages, an administrative database maintained by the Bureau of Labor Market Information and Strategic Initiatives.

2 Livingston, Macomb, Monroe, Oakland, St. Clair, Washtenaw, Wayne, Genesee counties.

3 Top occupations include Computer Systems Analysts, Computer Support Specialists, Computer Programmers, Computer Software Engineers, Applications, Network and Computer Systems Administrators, Computer Software Engineers, Systems Software, Computer Specialists, All Other, Database Administrators.

4 Source: EMSI Complete Employment – 2012.

5 Source: Burning Glass for the Detroit, Ann Arbor, Monroe, and Flint MSAs

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