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Ohio cities loom large as IT job generators

The Brandery, Cincinnati, OH. Photos Submitted and by Bob Perkoski
The Brandery, Cincinnati, OH. Photos Submitted and by Bob Perkoski
Silicon Valley. Boston. Austin. When it comes to technology jobs, those familiar locations top the list.

Unless you consider a report issued in February by Dice.com, a career site with more than 8,000 customers who advertise or post their tech jobs nationwide. Based on the number of job postings that month, three Ohio cities -- Cincinnati, Cleveland and Columbus -- ranked second, third and fourth, respectively, in the percentage increase in job opportunities over the previous year.

Silicon Valley ranked 10th.

While those Ohio cities dropped out of the Dice.com top 10 this summer, similar reports by those like Monster.com and BusinessWeek indicate that one or all are consistently in the mix for new IT job opportunities. And with average salaries ranging from $66,000 in Cleveland to $74,000 in Columbus -- at least among employers posting on Dice.com -- those opportunities are significant, say those who follow Ohio's economy.

Alice Hill, Dice.com's managing director, says part of the surge is related to a recovery that has not yet come to many other economic sectors.

"A lot of jobs were on hold due to the recession," she says. "Hiring managers are now more confident. We saw that start in California, spread to New York and then we started to see the recovery happening in technology segments in smaller cities."

The Northeast Ohio Software Association (NEOSA) notes in its 2010 IT report that both 2008 and 2009 were difficult for tech firms in the region because of the economy. That turned around last year, when nearly 60 percent of firms surveyed said they planned to increase staff. And NEOSA's report for the second quarter of 2011 found that 66 percent of IT firms surveyed plan to hire in the next 12 months.

"The fact that we're seeing growth in IT jobs is really not surprising at all because there's this pent-up demand for the new equipment, new software," says Bill LaFayette, a former economic analyst for the Columbus Chamber who recently launched his own economic consultancy, Regionomics, LLC. "But in terms of why Ohio, the important thing to understand is that IT jobs are not simply in IT companies, they are pervasive. "

All three Ohio cities are home to large corporations in vital industries -- all of whom need IT professionals, he notes.

"When you look at Columbus specifically, (and the) industries and organizations that really propel the central Ohio economy forward, there is a whole host of industries that are voracious consumers of data."

That includes financial services companies like J.P. Morgan Chase and Nationwide Insurance, retailers like Limited Brands and logistics providers who are increasingly making central Ohio home base.

Similarly, large, established companies are driving the need for IT jobs in Cleveland and Cincinnati, say observers there.

"There is a tremendous amount of competition here in Cincinnati for technology talent," says Mike Venerable, executive-in-residence at CincyTech. "The region has such a strong traditional coporate IT base here -- P&G (Procter & Gamble) and the people who serve them, Fifth Third Bank, CINTAS -- we have a kind of headquarters mentality down here, so there are a lot of enterprise software people inside the corporate world. "

That corporate world, and corporate IT talent, help feed new startups as opportunities arise, he says.

So strong are Ohio's metro areas in IT, that in many cases IT jobs make up a disproportionate percentage of local economies, LaFayette says.

"In Columbus we have more than 42,000 people working in . . . IT occupations, and that is 61 percent more than you would expect in an economy this size. Cincinnati has 30,000, which is five percent above average, and Cleveland has 26,000, which is about 10 percent below. Dayton, which has 14,000 people (in IT), is 30 percent more than you'd expect."

Yet for all of the promise of high-paying new economy jobs, the silver lining has a cloud: There aren't enough skilled IT workers to go around.

TechColumbus plans to release a regional skills analysis in the next two weeks that will show a significant gap between the needs of business and skilled IT workers in central Ohio, says Tim Haynes, VP, member services and marketing.

"What we're finding in the skills gap assessment is that there are a lot of new economy jobs," Haynes says. "With all the changes going on in the Internet, mobile and the cloud, all of that is creating so much change they don't have the right kinds of skilled workers to meet their needs."

For example, Haynes says, a quick search for IT jobs on Indeed.com results in some 6,000 open jobs in the Columbus area.

The skills assessment notes three specific areas where talent is lacking, he says. One is new technology skills, such as developers conversant in Java and other software languages. Another gap is the number of IT workers who can cross business lines and understand marketing, finance and other important business functions. And the third is what Haynes refers to as "soft skills" -- those like communication, teamwork, leadership and project-management savvy.

The assessment -- which LaFayette conducted -- was initiated as a way to begin solving the problem.

"We want to create more awareness of these issues so that those who can do something about it, like the universities, like the staffing and recruiting companies, can focus on the issue and do something about it."

The skills gap isn't concentrated in Columbus, or even Ohio, says Robert Hatta, VP entrepreneurial talent for JumpStart Ventures.

"There are two main reasons," Hatta says. "High schools are not graduating enough people with sufficient math and science skills for IT careers, and immigration reform. We're training all these (international) people in our colleges but then sending them home -- people who could do these jobs."

CincyTech's Venerable, who works primarily with startups, says filling IT spots is one of his organization's principal challenges.

"We're being very proactive," he says. "We're building university relationships both locally and out of state where we think we can get world-class talent, bring them into these companies, and get them socialized as co-ops or interns so they can turn into employees. We and our portfolio companies have had good success with that, but I wouldn't say we are redoubling our efforts -- I would say we're quintupling our efforts."

While it may be harder to find good IT talent these days, growing companies around the state are having some success. One is Fathom, n Cleveland-area online marketing firm that has grown from 20 employees five years ago to 130 today. With the exception of 20 employees added in the company's recent acquisition of Webbed Marketing, all of those jobs have been added organically, says CEO Scot Lowry.

"For us, (northeast Ohio) is a great place to be because there's a lot of colleges in the area and a lot of really talented folks coming out," Lowry says. "We're able to hire people who are smart, hard working, teachable and know how to get things done. We've been blessed by the number of people we've been able to hire."
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